For those of you who aren’t old enough to remember the Academy Award winning theme song “Where Do I Begin” from the 1970 film Love Story, the first line is, “Where do I begin to tell the story of how great a love can be.” The movie’s story line and my relationship with the Amelia Island Book Festival run pretty much a parallel course. The journey began haphazardly when Raffaella Marie Fenn, a fellow member of our local chapter of the Florida Writers Association, became the Festival’s President in 2014. She asked me if I would interested in being on the Board and helping her? My immediate reply was, I don’t know the first thing about book festivals! She assured me all I would have to do is help her, and I could learn on the job. Right! I reluctantly agreed, and within a few weeks and before my seat on the Board was even warm, the Vice President suddenly took ill and I was elevated to Vice President. I hadn’t even blinked yet. At the first Board meeting Marie and the Board established a mission, and set (what seemed to me to be pie in the sky) extremely lofty goals for the Festival, which had lost money the previous year. I sat on my hands and took it all in, after all, Marie had years of executive corporate experience and was familiar with the ins and outs of book festivals. Who was I to question what seemed to be impossible?
Long story short, we exceeded the goals. The Festival raised some $80,000 and was able to purchase 6,000 books for the students of the Nassau County Public Schools. The following year we eclipsed purchasing 8,600 books, AND, every 4th grade student in the County got to see R. L. Stine in person. What started out as a favor for a friend morphed into an eternal labor of love.
The Festival flourished both economically and in growth during my years as a Board member, and afterwards while I assisted as an Ambassador and Team member. In 2017, the Authors in Schools team delivered nearly 13,000 books to the students. Every student in the county received a book and got to meet its’ author.
While all those statistics may be impressive, they pale in comparison to the rewarding experiences, new found friendships, and memories over the years. To see students faces light up over receiving a book of their own is priceless. When the likes of R. L. Stine, David Baldacci, and Lee Child, and John Grisham spoke to them and answered their questions you could hear a pin drop and the author’s words were absorbed like a sponge taking in water.
As Chair of the Festival’s Writing Contest, and later a Team member and judge, I got to read a myriad of imaginative stories from teens vying for prize money and the opportunity to be published in the Festival’s annual anthology of the 50 best stories. Reading the entries reassured me we will be in good stead for the future of young writers. The Teen/Tween Scene was created to give middle and HS students a chance to meet authors up close and personal in a classroom setting. All eyes were glassy in awe as the authors unraveled their trials and tribulations. Year-after year, local and national authors flocked to town to exhibit at the Festival’s Expo event. It became a family reunion of sorts to catch up and share the year’s experiences.
I could go on-and-on about my fond memories over the years, but, pictures are worth 1000 words. It suffices to say, I highly recommend everyone take the opportunity to participate in some of Amelia Island Book Festival’s 20th anniversary events. You too can make memories.
Jimmy Weinsier served on the AIBF Board of Directors for 3 years, serving at various times on the Expo, Writing Contest, and Teen/Tween Committees, as well as providing help as needed in various other events and activities.