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25th Southwest Florida Reading Festival Saturday

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Feb 27, 2024

The silver anniversary of the Southwest Florida Reading Festival will showcase 27 bestselling authors in downtown Fort Myers the first weekend of March.

“It’s really exciting to plan a milestone event. It all starts with the authors,” Reading Festival Coordinator Melissa Baker said. “They are the bread and butter of the event every year. It’s why we believe they come out every year to discover new authors, see their favorites and get inspiration behind their books.”

The 25th Southwest Florida Reading Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., this Saturday, March 2, at the downtown Fort Myers Regional Library campus, 2450 First St.

The festival, which was held in Centennial Park the first year, featured Carl Hiaasen as the keynote speaker. Over the years the popular event has hosted David Baldacci, Sandra Brown, Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Debbie Macomber and youth writers Meg Cabot, Jeff Kinney, Lois Lowery, R.L. Stine, and Rosemary Wells.

Baker said it’s been fun over the years because many authors were just on the cusp of becoming well known when they attended the festival.

This year the event will feature Sara Penner, Dan Yaccarino, Matthew Quirk, Mary Kay Andrews, Cara Black, Jane K. Cleland, Lee Matthew Goldberg, Irene Hannon, Katherine Howe, Nick Petrie and Viola Shipman.

Baker said there are a lot of mystery and thriller authors, as well as nonfiction author Joe Posnanski, who’s latest “Why We Love Baseball,” offers something different for attendees.

“I am excited to get a sports writer this year,” she said.

Some returning authors include Lisa Unger, Jeffery Deaver, Heather Graham and Charles Todd.

“Having them back is really special,” Baker said.

There will also be a handful of adult authors who will be live streamed – Heather Graham, Lisa Unger, Mary Kay Andrews, Matthew Quirk, Nick Petrie, Jeffery Deaver and Charles Todd.

“Those are going to be on demand viewing throughout the entire month of March. They can be watched anytime,” Baker said.

The kids’ authors include Michael Buckley, Adrianna Cuevas, Karina Yan Glaser, Karen Kilpatrick, Laura Martin, Joe McGee, Jamie Michalak and Dan Yaccarino. The teen authors include Elise Bryant, Lamar Giles, Lynn Painter and Natalia Sylvester.

“There’s a lot of kids authors, teen authors. Several of them are the Sunshine State winners that Florida students will be familiar with,” she said.

Baker said she has to give kudos to the recruitment team for getting some really cool authors this year. She said she has a handful of staffers that works with publicists to get authors to come, which often begins before the last festival wraps up.

“It’s a passion process for a few of the staff members. They are doing a wonderful job,” Baker said.

In addition to the 27 featured authors, there will be three local writer groups – Florida Writers Association, Gulf Coast Writers Association and 4Horseman Publications. Baker said they will each have their own list of writers signing books throughout the day to feature local talent.

Books A Million will have a tent selling different titles of the authors present. Baker said individuals can also bring their own books from home to have the authors sign.

“Purchase isn’t necessary for the book signing,” she said.

In addition to the authors, the event will also feature the library van, festival swag, Too Tall Torrie – the stilt walking balloon artist and food trucks. Anniversary T-shirts will be sold, as well as microfiber beach towels.

A tradition that will continue this year includes the free book giveaway for children and teens who attend the event. Baker said they have provided a free book continuously since the festival began.

“Every kid, ever teen can get a free book – all brand new,” she said. “We will have a handful of brail titles for visually disabled attendees, Spanish and bilingual books. We have a good variety to suite every taste.”

Baker said they are conscious this is a celebration of reading to promote literacy in the community.

“It impacts so many different areas,” she said of literacy. “If we can ignite a passion for pleasure reading, it keeps your skills even better.”

The reading festival also sheds a light on library services.

“The core purpose shines during the event. Everything circles back around to reading,” she said.

There will be an early literacy area at the festival – a little reader zone with hands-on STEM games, carnival games and resources from Ms. Humblebee Academy.

“The more you read to them, the more you talk to them, sing to them, interact and play – it builds the literacy skills and reading becomes second nature,” Baker said.

The food trucks will include Pelican’s Snoballs, Jason’s Deli, Donut NV, Dog Town and Big D Barbeque. Baker said new this year is a satellite Jason’s Deli booth near the Books A Million tent selling drinks.

There will also be a writing awards presentation for the youth and teen writers at the festival.

“The kids that won get called up on stage. It’s a nice way to cap out the day for the youth,” Baker said.

Attendees are encouraged to download the Southwest Florida Reading Festival app, as it is the best way to plan their day. Baker said the app will curate a list of their favorite author sessions, so they can keep track of where they want to be at that moment.

“Most authors are only on stage once,” she said.