Saturday, Nov. 8 marked the start of a new chapter for Jacksonville’s burgeoning literary scene as close to 500 people came out to engage with local writing talent at the first annual Jax by Jax literary festival. The event took place from 3-6 p.m. along the intersection of Park and King streets in Riverside, and utilized an open network of local businesses–salons, cafes, bars, restaurants, offices and the like–to encourage the free flow of people and ideas.
Participants planned their own routes through the festival, aided by an event pamphlet detailing the time and location of each reading. With 25 writers and several literary magazines present, there was something to please everyone. Readings occurred on a staggered time-table in order to allow as many people as possible a chance to hear the full range of local talent on display.
“It’s not like they’re on a stage…It’s more interactive,” said Kami Thomas, a student in FSCJ’s Converged Communications program. The intimate layout of the venues broke down barriers between listener and reader, resulting in an intense, intellectually charged atmosphere that beautifully balanced itself with good humor and easygoing camaraderie. “The layout is very organic,” noted Liz Murphy Thomas, Jax by Jax graphic designer and FSCJ professor.
A constant stream of people could be seen emerging from the historic Whiteway building with merchandise from the event. Items for sale included the official Jax by Jax t-shirt, an assortment of local literary magazines like Perversion, Bridge Eight, AC PAPA and Élan, as well as books by local writers.
Every reading seemed to fill a distinct need in Jacksonville. Rodney L. Hurst Sr., writer and activist, read from his book “It Was Never About a Hotdog and a Coke ®!,” which details the events of Jacksonville’s infamous Ax Handle Saturday. Hurst told attendees that, even today, students had not heard the true history of these events “because these things are uncomfortable.”
“Jacksonville is still figuring out what it wants to be,” said T.F. Straight, Jax by Jax writer. Straight, who read from her book “All You Could See Was the Water,” grew up in the South, and said that she continues to draw inspiration from its culture.
Local Author Hurley Winkler read a selection of her short stories, evoking memories of childhood and the raw, natural Florida landscape. She radically shifted course at the end–bringing out a diagram to accompany her reading of “Girl Crush Declares Panty War,” appearing in issue 02 of Perversion Magazine.
After the last readings concluded, and the discussions they sparked began to die out, writers, event organizers and attendees headed over to the superbly named Dahlia’s Pour House to celebrate the day and solidify new friendships. When Tim Gilmore, Jax by Jax originator, stepped through the threshold of the bar he was met with a burst of applause. Drinks were ordered and the celebration continued.
“Everything in our society makes it difficult to be an artist,” said Mark Ari, Jax by Jax performing writer and artistic polymath. “Writers, painters, dancers, musicians, actors…we need to know one another.” By holding up a creative mirror to Jacksonville, Jax by Jax has shown the river city’s vibrant cultural heart to itself. Next year’s festival is poised to be even bigger, so more individuals can count themselves among the known, and connections can grow.
Visit jaxbyjax.com for more information