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Anniversary Stories: The Book Island Festival - Donald Parker

Andrea and I hadn’t moved to Fernandina Beach totally until 1997. We had vacationed at the Surf and Racquet Club from January to March since 1991, so had met the ‘movers and shakers’ of this town through Rotary, St. Peter’s Church, and the then Nassau County Writers and Poets Association. We knew it would be our kind of town.

The Writers and Poets, with Cara Curtin as president, held a meeting at the hotel right across the water in St. Mary’s, Georgia. We had a great time and I met Emily Carmain, who was teaching a class and gave a great spiel that weekend. Later, Emily edited my first book, Food for Thought.

Left to right: Don Parker, Joni Selement, Don Shaw, Andrea Parker at 2001 Festival Event
Left to right: Don Parker, Joani Selement, Don Shaw, Andrea Parker at 2001 Festival Event

We also met Joe and Joanie Selement, one of the couples who were very active in the group. Several months later, we noticed they were no longer attending the meetings, so Andrea and I called them and asked them to lunch to find out why. Joanie put it bluntly, “I am bored. We need to do something more positive.”

I, of course, asked if she had any ideas and she struggled with, “How about a new book club? Or we could sponsor something.”

Finally, she said that she had discovered a small town in England that had gone from three bookstores to thirteen, by sponsoring a book festival. It was known as the “Book Town.” She gave the email and website address and read about it. The more I thought about it, I could see Fernandina Beach as the Book Island of America and decided, “Why not?”

My first visit was to Don Shaw, who at that time owned and ran the Books Plus store on Centre Street. It took about a half-hour before Don said, “Count me in. I’m your first sponsor.”

We chatted a bit and I said, “Okay, Don, now we need to get the word out. We will need publicity.” He called Foy Maloy, who we both knew through Rotary, and he agreed to see us. So, we walked up the street to his office at the Fernandina Beach News-Leader. After another half-hour, Foy agreed to be a sponsor as well. Both Don and Foy, sixteen years later, are active and effective sponsors.

That evening I called Joanie Selement. I told her about Don and Foy and said, “You won’t be bored anymore, you’ll be a very busy woman. You are now in charge of operations for the Book Island Festival.” And she took over, plus her husband, with both vigor and skill.

Island Magazine Covere October 2002
Island Magazine October 2002

So that is how it started and today it has grown and prospered under many wonderful and capable leaders. They insisted somewhere along the way on changing the name to the Amelia Island Book Festival, but, to me, it is still the Book Island Festival.

And I am betting that our island will one day become known as the Book Island of America!

You never know…

(Story and photos appeared in Don Parker’s book “88 Is Great.” Thanks to Emily Carmain.)


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