As an author, Tim Gilmore has written an eclectic collection of books, featuring many of Jacksonville’s most revered characters. He’s also dredged the city’s darkened fringes for those stories that are often spoken of in solemn, hushed tones. For Gilmore, there is no discretion when it comes to storytelling. Just as every story deserves to be told, all storytellers deserve a platform to share their voices.
The third annual JaxbyJax Literary Festival celebrates local voices from 3-6pm Saturday, Nov 12, at various venues throughout Park & King Streets in Riverside. The student showcase takes place from 2-3pm at Il Desco. The festival after-party and book signing is held from 6:30-9:30pm at CoRK Arts District, 2689 Rosselle Street. Admission is $10 and includes southern-inspired cuisine from Folkfood and acoustic jazz from the Ouija Brothers.
“A writer recently told me that it was great that JaxbyJax was becoming a city tradition,” says Gilmore. “I hadn’t thought of that, and I love that idea so much.” Gilmore created the JaxbyJax Literary Festival as an outlet for the city’s brightest literary figures to read from their selected works. The accompanying student showcase offers a stage for upcoming writers to share their voices with the literary community.
The crux of Gilmore’s inspiration is an investment in the city’s voices. It’s the very heart of the festival. In just three years, JaxbyJax has grown from a grassroots initiative into a premier event that not only showcases a variety of writers from poets and novelists to playwrights but also defines the commitment to nurturing the literary arts by creating what is fast becoming Jacksonville’s largest literary event.
“I learned that something like JaxbyJax is possible. We’re totally grassroots, though in our third year we’re proud to have FSCJ sponsoring us and promoting us. Part of FSCJ’s core mission is its connection to the community, and I think JaxbyJax models that throughout. The previous two years, we did this with no money. We met in living rooms and asked ourselves, ‘What can we reasonably make happen?’” says Gilmore.
“If Jacksonville is wise, it will nurture its young people to develop their strengths and talents to their fullest individual potential, which will in turn make Jacksonville an increasingly better city, a smarter and more beautiful and more literary city.”
“We asked ourselves what we could do. We asked ourselves what the community and culture of Jacksonville would support. We’re still finding out, and so far, it’s been exhilarating.”
“We didn’t know we could have 25 writers in 12 different venues, with a Student Showcase and an after-party and flood the streets of Riverside with people, print an anthology as we’re doing this year, and start a regular monthly JaxbyJax Reading Series, as we’re doing in January. We asked ourselves what we could do. We asked ourselves what the community and culture of Jacksonville would support. We’re still finding out, and so far, it’s been exhilarating.”
Featured writers at JaxbyJax include a number of UNF and FSCJ professors, but also some of their former students – people like Heather Peters, a former student of Gilmore, whose “gorgeously lyrical book” Sinking in the Stillness is now part of his current curriculum. Caleb Sarvis is a former student of Marcus Pactor, who’s now the fiction editor for Jacksonville’s Bridge Eight literary journal. Peters, Pactor and Sarvis are among the featured JaxbyJax readers at this year’s festival.
“Most of the organizers of JaxbyJax are FSCJ professors. It only seems a logical extension of our investment in our students, of our connecting them to real and beautiful work in the world immediately around them, to offer them a platform at JaxbyJax,” says Gilmore. “There’s a wonderful point at which your former students have grown so much that they become your peers. After all, the greatest success of a parent or a teacher is that the young people you influence go on to outshine you.”
JaxbyJax featured writer, FSCJ Creative Writing professor, and novelist and poet Matt Lany serves as the organizer of the Student Showcase. Lany reached out to JU, UNF, Douglas Anderson and other high schools, and FSCJ to encourage student submissions. Eight student writers were selected to kick off the JaxbyJax event.
“If Jacksonville is wise, it will nurture its young people to develop their strengths and talents to their fullest individual potential, which will in turn make Jacksonville an increasingly better city, a smarter and more beautiful and more literary city. Jacksonville’s young writers should feel this city celebrates them and has a lot to offer them, that they can be part of a very real and powerful development of community and culture. I want JaxbyJax to tell Jacksonville students, ‘There’s a place for you here. You can do truly important work in this city and be rewarded for it. This city needs you. You can be part of how it shapes its voice’.”
‘There’s a place for you here. You can do truly important work in this city and be rewarded for it. This city needs you. You can be part of how it shapes its voice’.”
Gilmore says he hopes that the student writers will embrace their platform in the Student Showcase as a valuable milestone on their journey. He began been writing at seven or eight years old and recalls the pivotal moment he realized that being a writer was a big deal. Gilmore’s mother published a 23-page spiritual autobiography when he was still a young child, and the image of her typewriter on the kitchen table remains a significant memory that he visits often.
“I remember a kid asking me when I was about eight years old if my mother was a writer. I’d never thought about that word before, but it sounded important and magical to me. I said yes. It stuck. Writing is a calling,” he says. “She died when I was 12 of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but I still have that typewriter.”
Through the years, Gilmore has collected shiny coins of inspiration from the myriad of people who motivated him to find his voice. He counts among them UNF professors like Bill Slaughter, now retired, and Alex Menocal. There were folks like Mark Ari, who teaches Creative Writing at UNF, from whom he never took a class, but who nevertheless inspired and gave of his heart the way he’s done for thousands of his students.
“Then of course, there were the writers I read. Dead or alive, I came to know their best selves intimately, and I wanted others to know and love me the same way. Read everything you can read, and pay attention to every word and what every word is doing in the sentence, the paragraph, the chapter, the book. Soak the world up in words. Then write,” Gilmore says. “You can’t become a better writer without reading and reading a lot, and you can’t become a better writer without writing and writing and writing. It’s so much work, but it should feel not like work but like transcendence. The revision is the work. When the inspiration isn’t there anymore, you still have to revise as many times as you can revise and still see it until you go cross-eyed. Focus on the writers who’ve changed the world for you, and keep in your mind and your heart that desire to do the same for your readers, now or in 150 years.”
Writing is all about revealing a truth, and the JaxbyJax Festival is prepared to be the signature event that reveals the city’s truth as a culturally vibrant community. The marriage of its working class roots and its future as a city unrestricted by creative boundaries is key to creating a space worthy of its potential. For Gilmore, the beauty is in the contradiction.
“I’d put Jacksonville’s current literary arts culture up against that of most any other American city. That’s why for three years now I’ve said that JaxbyJax seeks to introduce Jacksonville to its own literary voice.”
“A lot of people now understand that Jacksonville’s literary culture is strong, but I suspect few of us know just how strong it is. There’s an irony in this. Jacksonville was long perceived as a blue-collar town without many artistic and educational possibilities. That was true for most of the 20th century, and it’s okay that it was true. I often hear people touting Jacksonville as ‘on the cusp of’ or on it’s way to being a capital of this or that. I’ve heard that all my life. Jacksonville will never be Paris or Seattle, nor need it be. Austin isn’t Paris either, but it’s a damn fine town. Jacksonville just needs to be the best Jacksonville it can be. In order to do that, and I think the city’s writers have a real responsibility in their reflection of the city, Jacksonville has to know what it’s been,” he says.
“The past infuses the present, and not seeing the past in the present, even as we’ve progressed greatly, is a cultural blindness. There’s a lesson in that. Artists change the dominant culture by holding a mirror to it, showing it what’s good and what’s ugly. To that extent, culture is always counterculture. Writers have an important role in being their city’s conscience and voice. I’d put Jacksonville’s current literary arts culture up against that of most any other American city. That’s why for three years now I’ve said that JaxbyJax seeks to introduce Jacksonville to its own literary voice.”