In 2001, the late Don Parker, his wife, Andrea, along with Joe and Joani Selement, had a wonderful idea. Why not combine the love of books with the stunning scenery of Amelia Island? As the concept developed, they gathered together fellow booklovers and founded a nonprofit organization to launch the first Amelia Island Book Festival (AIBF). With generous sponsors and lots of community support, the festival continues to promote and celebrate the wonder of books while promoting literacy throughout the region, in particular through providing books to young people in Nassau County. The festival is celebrating 23 years, and this year is certain to be the best ever!
“The Amelia Island Book Festival’s mission is to promote lifelong learning for people of all ages within Nassau County,” says Paige Foery, AIBF president. “We nurture an appreciation for literacy by providing quality events featuring local and New York Times best-selling authors, essay contests, scholarships, and much more. This year, we have a great line-up of events and celebrity authors!”
AIBF SCHOLARSHIP AND SHORT STORY WRITING CONTESTS
The Amelia Island Book Festival sponsors Scholarship and Short Story Writing contests for all Nassau County middle and high school students to win creative writing awards, scholarships, and an opportunity to be published. The 2024 Scholarship contest offers two $5,000 scholarships, which are open to Nassau County high school seniors who are citizens of the United States, in good academic standing, and planning to attend college or university in Fall 2024. Students are asked to create a 1,000 to 1,200-word essay and submit it by March 1.
This year’s awards ceremony will include a discussion by Julie Simmons, who received the very first AIBF scholarship in 2001. Today, Simmons works for FIS, a FinTech company in Jacksonville, and is also a writer for the Amelia Islander Magazine.
“This scholarship helped me to complete my master’s degree in English, and specifically writing, a great add-on to my communications bachelor’s degree,” says Simmons. “But more importantly, this experience ignited my passion for non-profits on Amelia Island, and the special stories of the individuals and families enabling this important work. Each year, when the Amelia Island Book Festival comes around, I remember this experience with gratefulness.”
Details about both the Short Story and Scholarship Contests can be found on the AIBF website.
CELEBRITY AUTHOR GALA AT THE RITZ-CARLTON, AMELIA ISLAND
On Friday, February 23 at 6 p.m., the AIBF presents its Celebrity Author Gala at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, featuring New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors. This year’s celebrity authors include David Baldacci, New York Times bestselling author and AIBF Honorary Chair; John Grisham, New York Times expert storyteller and author of 47 consecutive bestsellers; and James Ponti, New York Times bestselling author of three middle grade book series.
David Baldacci published his first novel, Absolute Power, in 1996. The feature film adaptation followed, with Clint Eastwood as its director and star. In total, David has published 49 novels for adults. All have been national and international bestsellers, and several have been adapted for film and television. His novels are published in over 45 languages and in more than 80 countries, with 150 million copies sold worldwide. David has also published seven novels for young readers.
In addition to being a prolific writer, David is a devoted philanthropist, and his greatest efforts are dedicated to his family’s Wish You Well Foundation®. Established by David and his wife, Michelle, the Wish You Well Foundation supports family and adult literacy programs in the United States.
John Grisham is the author of 47 consecutive number one bestsellers, which have been translated into nearly 50 languages. His recent books include The Judge’s List, Sooley, and his third Jake Brigance novel, A Time for Mercy, which is being developed by HBO as a limited series. Grisham is a two-time winner of the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and was honored with the Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award for Fiction. When he’s not writing, Grisham serves on the board of directors of the Innocence Project and of Centurion Ministries, two national organizations dedicated to exonerating those who have been wrongfully convicted. Much of his fiction explores deep-seated problems in our criminal justice system.
James Ponti is the New York Times bestselling author of three middle grade book series: City Spies, about an unlikely squad of five kids from around the world who form an elite MI6 Spy Team; the Edgar Award-winning Framed! series, about a pair of tweens who solve mysteries in Washington, D.C.; and the Dead City trilogy, about a secret society that polices the undead living beneath Manhattan. Ponti’s sons, Alex and Grayson, are his inspiration and his heroes. Ponti grew up in Atlantic Beach, Florida, and now lives with his family in Orlando.
Other featured authors include Terah Shelton Harris, author, librarian, and writer of Southern fiction with bittersweet endings; Eileen Meyer, AIBF Authors In Schools author, writer of picture books and poetry; Kevin Powers, National Book Award finalist, American fiction writer, poet, and Iraq war veteran; Deborah Royce, television and film actor, author of critically acclaimed thrillers; and James Spooner, graphic novelist, illustrator, filmmaker, and cofounder of the Afropunk Festival.
The Celebrity Author Gala begins at 6 p.m. at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island and features a cocktail hour with the opportunity to meet and mingle in-person with celebrity authors. There will be a limited open bar and hors d’oeuvres served. The evening will continue with a seated dinner, live and silent auctions, featured authors’ discussions by David Baldacci and John Grisham with a Q & A session, and celebrity book signings.
“This year, we’ll also be offering a Step and Repeat backdrop, where participants can take photos of themselves and their friends with celebrity authors,” says Bob Foery, the Festival’s vice president of operations. “It helps make the festival a truly memorable experience. In addition, the auctions will present a collection of curated experiences and packages, including authors’ naming rights one of their upcoming books.”
AUTHORS’ EXPO & READERS’ EXTRAVANGA AT FERNANDINA BEACH MIDDLE SCHOOL
On Saturday, February 24, the festival presents its Authors’ Expo & Readers’ Extravaganza at Fernandina Beach Middle School beginning at 10 a.m. During the Expo, attendees will have opportunities to engage with nearly 100 authors in an up-close and personal way to learn about their work, what inspires them, and to purchase their books. The Expo features celebrity author breakout presentations, led by New York Times best-selling authors, book-signing sessions, food trucks, and a variety of activities designed to keep both authors and readers engaged, educated, and entertained through activities throughout the day. Childcare will also be offered.
“This year, the Expo will also feature Author Break-Out Sessions, including (new for 2024) student-focused sessions, where AIBF will be providing no-cost copies of the authors’ books to registered student attendees,” says Nicole York, the festival’s marketing director. “The Kids Zone will be available to keep the young ones engaged, as well as the usual activities, incentives, prizes, book signings, food trucks, and other attractions. There will be many opportunities to celebrate literacy in a casual, fun, festive atmosphere!”
Because of new restrictions put it place by the Florida Governor’s approved reading list in public schools, the AIBF has had to shelve its Authors in Schools and Doggone Good Readers program for 2024. But this will not deter the festival from getting good books into the hands of Nassau County students.
“Our Saturday Expo is a free family event that encourages reading and literacy to all children and adults in Nassau County,” says Bob Foery. “The AIBF continues to partner with Family Support Services of North Florida, Inc. (FSSNF), and the festival continues to provide books to FSSNF for distribution directly to the families that they support.”
IMPROVING LITERACY FOR CHILDREN AND ADULTS IN NASSAU COUNTY
The Amelia Island Book Festival has had a major impact on Nassau County residents over the past 22 years. In addition to putting books into the hands of children in Nassau County, the AIBF has brought 1,500 authors and over 100 New York Times best-selling authors to the festival, reviewed over 1,200 student short story and scholarship submissions, published over 300 short stories, and awarded annual college scholarships. In total, AIBF has invested over $2 million in Nassau County literacy.
“The Amelia Island Book Festival is dedicated to improving literacy skills in children and adults throughout Nassau County and Northeast Florida,” states Paige Foery. “It is said among educators that students first learn to read so they can later read to learn. Literacy opens doors for personal and academic success, and literacy impacts the social and economic success of our community, our county, and our nation.”
In January 2022, the Nassau County Economic Indicator Dashboard revealed that 32 percent of third graders are not reading at grade level. Academic success, as defined by high school graduation, can be predicted with reasonable accuracy by knowing someone’s reading skill at the end of the third grade. A person who is not at least a modestly skilled reader by that time is unlikely to graduate from high school. The programs and events hosted by Amelia Island Book Festival develop literacy skills in children and adults throughout Northeast Florida.
“We can all play a part in increasing literacy in our community,” says Paige Foery. “Our role is to enhance the overall life skills of Nassau County children and adults by generating a lifelong love of books through an appreciation of reading, writing, and authors.”
“Volunteers are a vital part of the festival,” Foery continues. “Each year, we depend upon hundreds of dedicated people who come forward to play a major role in our organization and in putting on festival events. This cadre of giving minds, hearts, and hands makes the festival possible. When you sign up, we will make every effort to match your strengths and interests with the needs of the festival!” In addition to volunteering, the AIBF offers sponsorship opportunities for individuals and businesses, and donations are always welcomed and encouraged.
“The Amelia Island Book Festival grows stronger and better every year, supported by a great community of readers and writers,” says David Baldacci, the festival’s Honorary Chair. “I’m extremely proud to be associated with such a fantastic event that brings the love of reading across the island and beyond.”
In Fall 2024, the Amelia Island Book Festival will hold its annual Celebrity Author Luncheon. This event will be announced on the AIBF website, so be sure to check back for more information and how to purchase tickets.
For more information about the AIBF, to volunteer, to make a donation, or purchase tickets to special events, visit www.ameliaislandbookfestival.org.