For those who haven’t heard, JaxbyJax is a daylong celebration of Jacksonville’s literary community. Participating local writers will share their work at more than a dozen venues citywide. “It’s about introducing Jacksonville to Jacksonville. It’s about bringing together the city’s writers of every kind into one stage, that stage being the streets and shops of the city itself.”
The descriptor is courtesy of Tim Gilmore, the founder of the event and author who has penned volumes on the characters and stories that shaped the city’s history. JaxbyJax is held Nov 18 at such participating venues as Il Desco, Beer:30, Cool Moose Coffee Company, Buckland House at Riverside Avondale Preservation, Flaire Celebrations, True-Blue: A Hair Studio, Riverside Liquors, Southern Roots Filling Station, Nourish Juice Café, Superhero Hive, and more.
“Does Jacksonville know what its literary voice says to the rest of the world and to the city itself?” says Gilmore, who will read from his latest release The Book of Isaiah, a full-length, historical novel about Jacksonville’s founder Isaiah Hart.
“I do feel positive that Jacksonville is getting better and better. It’s hard to measure from year to year, but I think it’s possible. Not only are truly great writers like Sohrab Fracis and Abel Harding and Teri Youmans Grimm at home in this community, but the JaxbyJax Student Showcase exemplifies incredibly talented and imaginative young writers from FSCJ, UNF, JU, Edward Waters and Douglas Anderson.”
JaxbyJax begins with the Student Showcase at 1:30pm at Il Desco Italian Restaurant. Featured writers – nearly 30 voices including Claire Goforth, Barbara Colaciello, Liz Gibson, Jeff Whipple, Jennifer Chase, Andres Rojas, Tricia Booker and Susan Brandenburg – read poetry, essays and novel excerpts in their venues from 3-6pm. An afterparty will be held from 7-9pm at CoRK Arts District North.
The venues located along Park and King Streets will host two writers and each writer will read or perform for 15 minutes. The writers who share each venue alternate every half hour. Attendees can decide who they want to hear and where and when, ahead of time, by looking at the schedule at www.fscj.edu/jaxbyjax, or they can “choose their own adventure” spontaneously, Gilmore says.
“There are always new voices. This year we have 28 featured writers, the greatest number since we started,” he says. “Darlyn Kuhn will read from her new novel, Sewing Holes, about Jacksonville during the Vietnam War. She’s partnered with Lynn Skapyak Harlin at Flaire Celebrations. Lynn published an anti-Vietnam War poem in Time magazine four decades ago. JaxbyJax IV will be her first reading since Hurricane Irma departed with her “Shantyboat” on which she held writing workshops for more than a decade.”
Other featured writers include UNF English Professor Chris Gabbard, who will read from his memoir about life with his severely brain-damaged son who passed away in 2013, and Matt Lany who will read from his third book, A. Violet, a first-person, 70-plus page drifter horror poem.
In telling the story of Isaiah Hart, Gilmore uncovered the humble beginnings of a city erected in a harsh environment. “I wanted to discover what this city may’ve been like before it was this city. Who would build a city in such a brutal landscape? It was a land as much water as earth, and as much water in the air as land,” says Gilmore. “What characteristics would a person possess who saw this place as fit for civilization? And what strangeness, pagan mindset, and brutality might we today have inherited from such a founder?”
In the city’s formative years, Isaiah Hart was postmaster, clerk of court, commissioner of pilotage, judge of elections, militia major during the Seminole War and a member of the Florida Territorial State. Gilmore is more than an author and historian. As one of the gatekeepers of Jacksonville’s storied past, which he considers a “heady designation,” he is a professor, archivist, archaeologist, thinker and truth-seeker.
“Whenever you arrive at an answer, you have to keep questioning. There is no place where you can rest. For example, Isaiah Hart built a 35-foot tall tomb for himself and his family. He inscribed it with a quatrain about being remembered in perpetuity. Then he died, and the Civil War began. Then, in the later 1800s, the city forgot him, and his son Ossian became 10th governor of Florida, astonishingly progressive for his time, in response to his family before him,” he says.
“Then Jim Crow legislation sunk the South again in Confederate loser-anger, and Florida forgot both Ossian and Isaiah. In the mid-1960s, Dena Snodgrass of the Jacksonville Historical Society led the campaign to name a new major bridge after Hart. She wrote prominent newspaper articles with headlines like, “We Owe Mounting Debt to Far-Sighted Isaiah Hart,” referred to him as a Southern gentleman, called his slaves “employees,” and ignored every salacious detail about this strange man.”
For Gilmore, every story connects to several other stories, “like digging a weed up from your garden and finding its rhizomes connect underground to multiple other satellite plants across the landscape,” he says.
As he navigates the forgotten past, he strives to remain firmly planted in the present, in his most important roles as husband and father to two children. He writes at least two hours a day, teaches up to 18 courses a year at FSCJ, and there is no end to the volume of stories percolating on any given day. And establishing an event like JaxbyJax ensures that young, emerging writers will find their place in the literary community.
“When I was 18 – granted I came from a working-class background and didn’t know the first thing about literary communities or, for that matter, college – I felt no hope for a loner soul like me. If I were 18 today, I think I’d look around the landscape, and though I’d still be scared – because it’s a frightening thing to be young and ambitious – I’d find my place here as a writer,” he says. “I’d find the right apartment, the right part-time job, the right school situation, the right friends and support group, the right goals to which to aspire. I’d have a wonderful young writer’s experience here in this city today.”