They walk among us, impossible to recognize without having first-hand knowledge of their ways. They work where we work, play where we play and live where we live; for the most part, dressing inconspicuously and blending in, unless you know the telltale signs that give them away. They’re the ones who are always watching us closely and the ones deeply listening to our conversations. They befriend us and then, suddenly and without warning, use bits and pieces of our behaviors and mannerisms to create compelling characters and situations out of the fabric of our lives. There is no escaping the intensity of their observation, their limitless curiosity, nor their absolutely shameless pilfering of the details of our existence to enhance the lines of their poetry. You probably know at least one. You may be sitting next to one right now.
They’re writers. And Jacksonville is teeming with them.
Don’t be frightened. They mean you no harm. It’s just that they tend to see a bit more clearly than most, hear the musical nature of our dialect a little more strongly, and feel our second-hand emotions a bit more profoundly than we may find comfortable. They find us fascinating, and they want to put us down, with all our strengths and weaknesses, on paper for posterity.
Tim Gilmore, a prolific writer himself, understood the nature of the beast. In 2014, he decided that Jacksonville needed a way to celebrate all its writers who were toiling away in obscurity. Behind every good writer is a lover of literature who can at least tolerate their partner’s flights of whimsy or, if the writer is incredibly lucky, there’s someone like Gilmore’s wife and partner-in-crime, Jo Carlisle, who came up with the idea to showcase said writers in various coffee shops, antique boutiques and bars near the corner of Park and King streets in historic Riverside/Avondale neighborhood. So that’s what they did. And the JaxbyJax Literary Arts Festival was born.
Fast-forward three years to 2017, when another writerly couple moved to Jacksonville from Orlando to take care of the wife’s elderly mother. Gilmore and Carlisle knew book-smitten suckers when they saw them, and through friendship, flattery and folderol, convinced Brad and Darlyn Kuhn, owners of Brad Kuhn & Associates, LLC (a public relations and marketing firm) that they were the perfect pair to take over the administration of the festival and move it Uptown. A Jacksonville native who wrote about her hometown in the novel Sewing Holes, Darlyn was returning after a 25-year absence, along with husband Brad, author of Dirty Work, an Amazon Hot New Release and an aviation best-seller.
Enter stage right: the Jacksonville Public Library, with its large auditorium, multipurpose room, and impressive mailing list of library patrons. Enter stage left: Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (MOCAJax), with its own spacious auditorium, an impressive mailing list of art appreciators, and highly regarded catering capabilities. Enter center stage: Chamblin’s Uptown Bookstore, willing and eager to showcase and sell local writers’ books before, during and after the festival, as well as donate funds so that, for the first time in its history, the festival will pay the selected writers for reading their work to the public.
But wait! There is indeed more: The University of North Florida (UNF), Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ), and Douglas Anderson School of the Arts (DASotA) are shining a light on talented students, as they get things rolling, reading their poetry and prose. Women Writing for a Change hosts the launch of its Rise and Shine Anthology and an interactive writing experience. Yellow House is sending teen-aged poets from its TAG program to entertain at the after-party, and Bridge Eight Press is providing social media graphic support.
Folio Weekly Magazine is the perfect platform to announce the 2019 JaxbyJax Literary Arts Festival participants. These are writers who were either born in Jacksonville or live here now, or who write about Jacksonville or set their stories or poems in the River City. An anonymous panel of judges has chosen these scribes to read their work starting at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16. So many talented writers applied, the selection committee had a terrible time making its decisions. The panel convinced the Kuhns that the largest slate of writers in the history of the festival should be presented this year, so 31 diverse writers, poets, novelists, short story authors, memoirists and student writers will read poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction across the three auditoriums at the library and museum, and book lovers can purchase books at Chamblin’s and have them autographed by the authors. Male and female, young and old, veterans you’ve grown to love, as well as fresh new voices—a rainbow of writers wait to thrill, chill, enchant and move you.