The sixth annual ReadOut Literary Festival in Gulfport is a celebration of LGBTQ literature — and this year it’s something of an act of defiance as well.
The free festival, a combination of live and virtual events featuring more than 80 authors in a variety of genres, will be presented Feb. 17-19 by the LGBTQ Resource Center of the Gulfport Library, with support from Florida Humanities.
A state like Florida, where the current government has taken steps to limit diversity, equity and inclusion programs and passed laws forbidding discussion of LGBTQ issues in classrooms, might seem like a less than welcoming setting. But, as one author puts it, that’s a reason to represent.
Maria Ingrande More, a YA novelist who lives in the Tampa Bay area, wrote in an email statement, “As a native Floridian who had the opportunity to study queer literature at the University of Florida, the recent backwards slide into book banning and overt discrimination is breaking my heart. It’s so disorienting to see that high school kids aren’t being given access at school to books I read at school in the ’90s.”
More continues, “Events like ReadOut give teens the opportunity to connect directly with authors and access books that can feel affirming during a time when their very identities are being pathologized and legislated against.
“My contemporary debut, ‘The Immeasurable Depth of You,’ releases this March, and it’s surreal to consider that school librarians here in the city where it takes place will not be able to stock this book for teen readers,” she wrote.
ReadOut’s keynote speaker will be acclaimed author Brian Broome. His 2021 memoir, “Punch Me Up to the Gods,” was bought by a major publisher while he was still a student at the University of Pittsburgh and won the Kirkus Prize for nonfiction and a host of other honors. Framed around Gwendolyn Brooks’ classic poem “We Real Cool,” its account of growing up Black, queer and poor in rural Ohio is by turns hilarious, insightful and heartbreaking.
Broome, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, will speak at noon Feb. 19 at the Gulfport Casino.
Kickoff speakers for the festival on Feb. 17 will be bestselling authors Radclyffe and Ann McMan, speaking about the past, present and future of lesbian and feminist publishing.
Radclyffe, a retired surgeon, is the author of more than 50 romance novels, many of them award winners, and the president of Bold Strokes Books, one of the world’s largest LGBTQI publishing companies.
McMan has won multiple Lambda Literary and Golden Crown Literary Society prizes for her twelve mystery and romance novels and two short story collections.
Many Florida authors will appear at the festival, including St. Petersburg poet laureate Gloria Muñoz, children’s author Rob Sanders, novelists Kristen Arnett and Becky Bohan, poet Tabitha Rose Cervantes, novelist and publisher Sheree Greer, paranormal romance writer Elle Ire, mystery writer J.E. Leak and poet Sander Santiago.
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The festival, which had more than 1,000 virtual attendees in 2022, is a program of the nonprofit LGBTQ Resource Center of the Gulfport Library, which holds the only collection of its kind in a public library in Florida, offering more than 10,000 books, CDs and other media.
If you go
The sixth annual ReadOut Literary Festival takes place 5-7:30 p.m. Feb. 17, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 18 and 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Gulfport Public Library, 5501 28th Ave. S, Gulfport.
To reserve free tickets for the festival and see a complete schedule, go to readout.lgbtqgulfport.org.
The festival also includes a benefit performance of “The Laramie Project,” presented by Ghostlight Young Company, at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18, followed by a talkback session, at the Catherine Hickman Theater, 5501 27th Ave. S, Gulfport. Tickets at www.ghostlightyc.org.