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Amelia Islander

Amelia Island Book Festival 2020

By Karen Miller • Photos courtesy of Amelia Island Book Festival

If you’re a lover of books, you’ll want to spend Valentine’s Day weekend with your favorite books and authors at the 19th annual Amelia Island Book Festival on February 13, 14, and 15. Almost 20 years ago, the late Don Parker and his wife Andrea, along with Joe and Joani Selement, had an idea to combine the lure of books with Amelia Island’s spectacular location.

As the idea caught on, they gathered supporters and founded a nonprofit organization to launch the first Amelia Island Book Festival in 2001. Overcoming the usual challenges in the early years, its dedicated volunteers, board members, and internationally-known featured authors have made it one of the best book festivals in the country.

The AIBF begins on Thursday, February 13 with its wildly popular Kick Off Luncheon at Walkers Landing featuring Keynote Speaker Lisa Scottoline. A former attorney, Scottoline writes legal thrillers, stand-alone novels, and humor. Her latest is Someone Knows, a story of how a single decision can undo a family, how our past can derail our present, and how “not guilty” doesn’t always mean innocent.

Scottoline’s novels are known for their emotionality and their warm and down-to-earth characters, which resonate with readers and reviewers long after they have finished the books. She also writes a weekly column titled ‘Chick Wit’ with her daughter, Francesca Serritella. It’s a witty and fun take on life from a woman’s perspective, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

At the luncheon, she’ll be introduced by the festival’s honorary chair, David Baldacci, author of 38 best-selling novels, several of which have been adapted for film and television. His novels are published in over 45 languages and in more than 80 countries, with over 130 million worldwide sales. He has also published seven novels for younger readers. Mr. Baldacci is the co-founder, along with his wife, Michelle, of the Wish You Well Foundation®, which is dedicated to supporting literacy efforts across the United States.

“We’re so fortunate to have David Baldacci as our Honorary Chair this year,” says Larry Williams, AIBF president. “As our community grows, so must grow the Book Festival in order to meet our mission of providing one book to every student in Nassau County—over 13,000 books this year! With David’s vision and a strong group of New York Times best-selling authors for our events, we are looking forward to a great year. The authors joining us this year cover an array of interests and are sure to attract crowds from far and wide. Our generous sponsors and donors are also a major key to our fundraising effort. Without this combination of support, we could not be successful.”

Also on February 13, Teens and Tweens are invited to come and meet celebrity, noted authors and learn about their writing journeys, in a special event called Teens/Tweens Scenes, offered in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Nassau County. Available to students ages 10 to 18, the event will be held at Fernandina Beach Middle School.

Tween students will hear from Sharon Robinson, an educational consultant for Major League Baseball. She is the author of many works of fiction and nonfiction and written several praised books about her father, baseball legend Jackie Robinson. Her latest book, Child of the Dream, is the story of how one girl finds her voice in the fight for justice and equality. In addition, three noted authors will present, including Susan Viau, author of Samantha Hansen has Rocks in her Head; Eileen Meyer, author of The Superlative A. Lincoln; and Stacy Horan, author of Inland

Teens will meet Margot Lee Shetterley, a Hampton,Virginia native, University of Virginia graduate, entrepreneur, and intrepid traveler, who spent 11 years living in Mexico. Her book, Hidden Figures, tells the story of four female African American mathematicians at NASA, known as “colored computers,” and how they overcame gender and racial barriers to succeed in a highly challenging STEM-based career.

In addition, they’ll hear from three noted authors: K.I. Knight, author of Fate/Freedom; Jana Laiz, author of Weeping Under This Same Moon; and Evelyn Holingue, author of All the Mountains We Can Climb.

On Friday, February 14, the AIBF and Florida Authors and Publishers Association are presenting a Writers Workshop from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., featuring celebrity author Sandra Brown as the Keynote Speaker. Participants will experience a stellar lineup of professionals to inform both aspiring and accomplished writers about the craft and business of writing.

This year’s Writers Workshop features six programs divided into two tracks: The Writing Craft and Publishing/Marketing, with sessions running concurrently in each time slot. Each session (one hour and 15 minutes) will offer a dynamic speaker or panel of professionals, with tips, discussion, insider advice, and opportunities for questions and answers. Writers Workshop will be held at Florida State College, Betty P. Cook Nassau Center and The Bean Center in Yulee.

On February 14, the Amelia Island Book Festival’s Authors in Schools program provides students with the opportunity to meet their favorite authors, face to face. “Our partnership with the Nassau County Public Schools is especially key to the success of our Authors in Schools program,” says Larry Williams. “In planning for the festival, we work closely with the district’s administrators, principals, teachers, and media specialists to choose books and authors which most interest the students. Where else can students be exposed directly to award winning authors coming to their schools to speak directly with them about a book they choose to read? Last year, one of our celebrity authors told us that this is the only book festival venue in the country that provides this type of opportunity for local students, and we are very proud of that!”

Following a stringent application process and selection by school media specialists, AIBF purchased approximately 13,000 books for Authors in Schools, in which 30 authors will visit students to talk about writing, reading, learning, and exploring their world through the remarkable resource of books. A special bonus for middle and high schools is the chance to meet celebrity authors Lisa Scottoline, Sharon Robinson, and Margo Shetterly. David Baldacci is also participating in the program. Baldacci’s own writing journey began as a young child, when his mother gave him a lined notebook so he could write down his stories.

On Valentine’s night in February 2020, ticket holders will be wowed by five celebrity headline authors during the AIBF’s most treasured event, the Gala Dinner held from 6 to 10 p.m. at The Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort. Starting with the honorary chair, David Baldacci, the lineup includes prolific New York Times best-selling author Sandra Brown, plus bestsellers Kathy Reichs, Margot Lee Shetterley, and Sharon Robinson. The genre spectrum ranges from internationally popular legal thrillers and murder mysteries to biography and memoir.

This elegant event attracts attendees from far and wide, not only because of its star power, but also because of the buying power each ticket helps to build. Ticket sales for the Gala start at $185, which covers the cost of the meal and supports the festival’s award-winning Authors in Schools Literacy Program. The event offers the opportunity for participants to mingle and chat with the authors. After dinner, the authors create a panel to answer probing questions about their lives and their work and what inspires them.

After that comes the exciting live auction, conducted by Florida State Sen. Aaron Bean. This year, you or a loved one will have an opportunity to “live forever” as a fictional character in one of Sandra Brown’s upcoming novels. Or bid on the “Best of Broadway” package to host a concert in your own home with professional singers and piano accompaniment. It promises to be an unforgettable night, and anything can happen, because each Gala evening is one-of-a-kind. As Sandra Brown says of some of her characters, “You never really know when they’re going to explode.”

On Saturday, February 15, an Author Expo/Reader’s Extravaganza at Fernandina Beach Middle School features nearly 100 authors of many genres in an up-close and personal way to learn about their work, what inspires them, purchase books, and have them signed personally to you or your friends. In addition to the exhibiting authors, there are breakout sessions where you will hear presentations from this year’s lineup of New York Times best-selling authors, and then return to the Expo, where they will be signing their books.

The Expo/Extravaganza also includes activities, incentives, prizes, and other attractions. You can fill your Passport to Literacy with stamps from authors all around the Expo, and then turn it in to be eligible for prize drawings. The passports are designed to help readers circulate around exhibits and get the most out of the event.

Funds raised during the AIBF provide two scholarship opportunities to high school students of Nassau County, available for students seeking college education in the communications or creative writing fields. In memory of their late daughter, the Powells joined with the book festival several years ago to co-fund an annual $2,000 college scholarship dedicated to encouraging young writers in their pursuit of a literary career. In addition, a new Amelia Island Book Festival Scholarship, funded by the AEL Family Foundation for $5,000, is available for any area of study.

For more information about these annual scholarship opportunities, visit their website.

The AIBF also offers a Short Story Writing Contest for middle school and high school students, along with students from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Nassau County. Judges are local literary experts and board members of the Amelia Island Book Festival. Prizes will be announced and awarded during the Authors Expo.

“The Book Festival Board of Directors and Board of Ambassadors is a group of 21 volunteers from our community that work tirelessly all year long to insure a meaningful, fun, and successful variety of events which appeal to everyone,” says Williams. “We are so very fortunate to have such a fine cadre of community volunteer support for the Festival operations!”

The Amelia Island Book Festival is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization supported by the community through membership and donations. Each year, AIBF sponsors provide critical support to their mission: to promote lifelong learning and an appreciation for books by providing quality literary events. For more information on sponsorship or volunteer opportunities and to purchase tickets, please visit

“We treasure our time on Amelia Island, and being part of a world-class book festival here is like the cherry on top,” says Honorary Chair David Baldacci, who is excited to be part of the AIBF again this year. “We have another stellar author lineup this year, and I look forward to seeing everyone there!”