For many years, your name has been synonymous with a cultural vacuum. Outsiders and citizens alike have bemoaned your seemingly apathetic attitude toward the many things artistic happening in our fine city. We don't think that's fair. We know your feelings are hurt, Jacksonville. We see you sulking around, not returning our calls. But we have someone we'd like you to meet who can change all of that.
Jacksonville, meet Jacksonville.
On Nov. 8, the Park and King streets district of Riverside hosts Jax by Jax, the first literary event of its kind in the city. The tagline is "Jacksonville Writers Writing Jacksonville," with nine area businesses acting as featured venues for 15 local writers to present their work. The lineup includes Mark Ari, Jennifer Chase, longtime Folio Weekly scribe Susan Cooper Eastman, Sohrab Homi Fracis, Wayne Francis, Tim Gilmore, Teri Youmans Grimm, Rodney L. Hurst, Matt Lany, Tiffany Melanson, Heather Peters, Raleigh Rand, T.F. Straight and Hurley Winkler.
This isn't your typical writing workshop. The focus is more on performance, not lecturing.
It will go something like this: every half-hour, readings will happen in 20-minute increments. In between each set, visitors can grab a drink, hang out, head to the other venues and hopefully fall in love with Jacksonville's blossoming literary scene.
Jax by Jax is the brain child of Gilmore, an English professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville and the author of In Search of Eartha White, Storehouse for the People and Stalking Ottis Toole: A Southern Gothic.
"Jacksonville has always had a reputation of not knowing itself," says Gilmore. "The goal is to show Jacksonville what Jacksonville is doing."
For Gilmore, the city is a deep well from
which to draw inspiration. "One thing I've
been fascinated with is the representation of place," he says. "James Joyce said that ‘if the city of Dublin suddenly disappeared it could be reconstructed with my book.' That kind of concept has always blown me away."
Jax by Jax is a love letter to the city by its own writers, but sometimes writing about this city means dealing with its historic themes, including its troubled past of crime and racial issues.
Hurst's book It Was Never About a Hotdog and a Coke! chronicles the infamous Ax Handle Saturday events, taking a hard look at the community during the Civil Rights Movement.
Other writers, such as Teri Youmans Grimm, will present work that highlights other aspects of Jacksonville history. Her book of poems, Becoming Lyla Dore, is told through the eyes of a silent film starlet in the heyday of Jacksonville's moviemaking era.
While hobnobbing with the local literary elite, visitors will have the chance to pick up several homegrown magazines. A C PAPA (Ancient City Poets, Authors, Photographers and Artists) throws its launch party at Carmine's Pie House. Copies of lit mags Perversion Magazine and Bridge Eight are also up for grabs.
Events like Jax by Jax shrug off the stigma that writing is a solitary practice performed by troubled souls tethered to whiskey bottles and typewriters. Instead, a strong community of area writers will stand in the spotlight to directly share their works with one another and an audience eager to hear how this community is a source of ongoing inspiration.
"We hope to get people to think differently about what's happening in Jacksonville," says Gilmore, "and about writing about Jacksonville."
At the very least, grab a cold beer and enjoy a day of engaging readings and stimulating conversations.
So, Jacksonville, now is a good time to finally meet, celebrate and even be surprised by yourself.