The Twenty-Seventh Annual Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading
The Tampa Bay Times hosted their annual Festival of Reading on Saturday at USF St. Petersburg. With over 50 authors and speakers, headliners included R. L. Stine, Meg Cabot, Edwidge Danticat, Rob Sanders and Dave Barry.
One of the featured speakers for this year’s Times Festival of Reading was Pulitzer Prize winner and best-selling author, Dave Barry. He came to St. Petersburg to share his new book “Lessons From Lucy.”
Barry has written over 30 books along with a humor column that has appeared in over 500 newspapers. He has been writing for 36 years and is, “one of the funniest writers alive,” according to Stephen King.
Over the course of his career, Barry has received praise from such institutions as the New York Times who called him “the funniest man in America.” In 1998, Barry won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary on, “his consistently effective use of humor as a device for presenting fresh insights into serious concerns.” He has not stopped writing since and is now a best-selling author.
Fans flooded into the building, squeezing in for a chance to hear Barry speak. Others decided to head to the Student Life Center hoping to be first in line for the book signing being held after the talk.
Barry’s talk included lively anecdotes and a chapter by chapter synopsis of his newest book “Lessons from Lucy,” a tribute to all of the things his dog, Lucy, has taught him over the years.
From Florida man stories to the struggles of old age, Barry laid out the life lessons he has learned from his dog for the audience. “Keep having fun” was on the top of the list along with how he has been reminded to let go of anger.
Barry spoke about his experience reuniting with his band, the “Rockbottom Remainders.” Members of the Rockbottom Remainders are all famous published authors. Despite his love for the music and the people he gets to play with, Barry claimed that the group “has good authors for a band that sounds so shitty.” This joke, along with every other joke Barry told that day, was met with laughter and big smiles from the audience.
After the event, many loyal fans waited in a line that trailed all the way past the Student Life Center for an opportunity to have their photo taken with Barry and get his signature on their copy of his newest book.
Children’s book author, Rob Sanders, spoke about his writing and experiences as an author of controversial children’s books. One of his latest titles is “Stonewall: A Building, An Uprising, A Revolution” about the 1969 police raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York City. This event was a catalyst for the gay civil rights movement.
Sanders writes both fiction and nonfiction, focusing on topics related to the LGBTQ community. He writes for children as a way to help them better understand the struggles and history of this group. Other titles include “Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag” about the history of the Gay Pride Flag, and coming in 2020, “The Fighting Infantryman” about a transgender civil war soldier.
Originally from Missouri, Sanders worked as a religious director and writer of curriculum material for a vacation bible school company, moving around before landing in Florida to start his teaching career. His students began to ask, “where are your books?,” so he began writing at the age of 50.
Of course, these topics are subject to backlash, as many believe that children should not be exposed to, or learn about, LGBTQ rights or history. Sanders has fought to teach his books in the classroom, having to provide an opt out option for the parents of his students. When his book on Stonewall came out, he didn’t need to ask permission. He was able to teach it as a lesson about point of view because the perspective is on the actual building of the Stonewall Inn.
“Most of history has been erased, silenced, or untold so there’s no reason not to tell it … I don’t write controversial books, I write historical books,” Sanders said.
Pride was the first picture book published about the LGBTQ pride flag. Sanders knew children had seen the flag, but didn’t know who created it or why. It was also written as a tribute to Harvey Milk, the creator of the flag, whom is illustrated on the cover. Milk created the rainbow flag because he was convinced there needed to be a symbol for his community. He was assassinated months later.
Stonewall was a pivotal moment in history, bringing the LGBTQ community together and grasping the nation’s attention. Even so, finding a way to condense historical facts so they can be easily conveyed to children has been challenging for Sanders. In addition, the research that must be done to ensure accuracy has been daunting.
Sanders recalled the night of Stonewall and what it would have been like for him as a 10-year-old in Springfield. He would have been asleep at home as, “people were fighting over 1,000 miles away for rights [he] didn’t even know he needed yet.”