From the title, which is not a misprint, it is clearly apparent that the book festival has undergone numerous changes. The founders, Don Parker and Joani Selement wanted to share the love of books and reading to every part of the community. In a never-ending quest to accomplish this goal there were constant adaptations. Some were exciting, others humorous and a few challenging. Here are a couple of favorites.
Let’s jump into Festival history on the beautiful grounds of St. Peter's Episcopal Church campus October 2004. The Friday and Saturday festival was in the early years of growth and gaining momentum. The author presentations, writer sessions, children’s events and luncheon were all bursting at the seams. Aspiring writers and readers alike were hungry to hear any pearls of wit or wisdom the visiting and local authors were willing to share.
With the festival’s expansion uncontainable, Sunday is added to make the event three days and the constant search for larger venues begins. A few years later the one and only Amelia Island Book Festival in tents on Centre Street premiers on a gray morning. Yes, that’s right, the name was changed so that emails and questions asking if a mistake had been made would cease.
That gray morning becomes a wet, rainy weekend as a river forms rushing down the middle of Centre Street. To compensate the authors are stuffed into the dry aisles of the Books Plus bookstore where hearty readers challenged the elements to meet them. Author sessions were held in quaint coffee shops, restaurants, stores and the library downtown. A two-story red and white paddlewheel riverboat offers a floating reception and luncheon on the Amelia river. A new challenge arises as the speaker would only be able to be seen by one level of the boat. Ingenuity saves the day as authors Tim Dorsey and Claire Cook take the stage twice, once on each level respectively, so each attendee gets an unforgettable memory.
Even after the damp year growth continues and the Festival searches for a new home at a new time of year in February. The Writer’s Workshops had already graduated to the FSCJ campus with five different sessions per hour for six hours on Friday each taught by either authors, agents, editors or publishers. Eventually the Atlantic Rec Center is a welcome large space with lots of parking for the Saturday and Sunday activities. The debut begins with 100+ authors and two full days of cozy, intriguing presentations. Adults, young adults and children stream into the sheltered Rec Center on what if memory serves correctly were all sunny days.
A later year Debbie Macomber is the luncheon speaker, an event which consistently sold out and a larger space was needed every Saturday on the festival grounds. Macomber adds spice and whimsy as she encourages those attending to wear hats since they would all be gifted her latest hardcover release. Festival attendees do not disappoint as they arrive donned in bonnets, hats and head dressings making the day one of the most festive, fun tented events.
Those are a few of the wonderful memories. All of it was just the window dressing to the real reason for the Amelia Island Book Festival which was always Authors in Schools. Putting an author in every school across the county and that author’s book in the hands of every student who had the privilege of hearing them speak. Respectful of the founders wishes and with pride the festival achieved that goal years ago and continues to do so.
Terri Wright is an author, former AIBF board president, former AIBF executive director, and former board member.