The Florida Book Awards (FBA) panel had it all—brilliant readings, thought-provoking discussion, and a harmonica solo. It featured four of the 2011 award winners. Leonard Nash, himself an FBA winner and then judge, introduced the writers with a combination of standard credentials and lesser known facts.
Lynne Barrett (general fiction award) read from her story collection Magpies. In "One Hippopotamus," a story comes to light and a romance unfolds thanks to a so-Florida event—a thunderstorm-induced power outage.
Stephen Kampa (poetry) read from Cracks in the Invisible. Whether about a solitary compliment or Lord Byron himself, each poem was a treat of language, connection, and clever rhythm and rhyme.
Jessica Martinez (young adult) read from Virtuosity, whose protagonist is a teenage violin prodigy. The book's prelude showed how young adult fiction can be thoroughly haunting with nary a vampire or zombie in sight.
Bob Graham (yes, Florida Governor and Senator Bob Graham) talked about Keys to the Kingdom (popular fiction). He wrote the book "out of frustration" (and as fiction) because the story of Saudi Arabia's involvement in 9/11 has been so thoroughly censored.
A few audience members tried to get Graham to comment on current politics, but he steered the discussion to books and writing and the panel at large, and they talked about how the personal and factual get fictionalized and poeticized. Funniest moment was when Graham estimated his novel as 40% true (with most names changed), 40% imagined, and 20% a mix—and an audience member was desperate to know which 40% was which.
The lesser known fact about Stephen Kampa is that he is certifiably the first simultaneous holder of Florida's best poetry and best harmonica player titles. With just a smidgen of prodding, he closed an unforgettable session in the latter role.