FSU spearheads first-of-its-kind ‘Florida Book Awards’

The First Annual Florida Book Awards, the most comprehensive competition of its kind ever launched in the state and an all-around celebration of the year’s best books by Sunshine State authors, is under way.

Spearheaded by the Florida State University Program in American and Florida Studies, the first-of-its-kind contest is co-sponsored by more than a dozen high-profile humanities organizations from around the state. It seeks submissions penned by new and established
authors alike in seven categories ranging from poetry to popular fiction to young adult literature. The distinguished judges are scholars and literary luminaries from FSU and other Florida universities and from co-sponsors such as the Florida Center for the Book, State Library and Archives of Florida, and Florida Humanities Council.

John Cole, director of the Center for the Book at the U.S. Library of Congress, calls the Florida Book Awards the most comprehensive initiative of its kind in the country.

"With an early review like that, we hope this project serves as a model nationwide," said FSU’s Wayne Wiegand, a professor of library and information studies and of American studies, who serves as director of the Florida Book Awards.

"Models matter," Wiegand said, particularly in the nation’s fourth-largest state. After all, he resolved to help create the Florida competition after visiting the Commonwealth Club of California, home to that state’s annual book awards program for 75
years. In the club’s permanent display of winning books was John Steinbeck’s "Grapes of Wrath."

"Proof positive of the treasure that such initiatives may uncover," Wiegand said.

Coordinating the competition with Wiegand is John Fenstermaker, director of the Program in American and Florida studies at FSU—through which all entries must pass—and chair of the Book Awards executive committee. He declares the project "an extraordinary example of cooperation between our program and the principal
organizations in the humanities in Florida."

The First Annual Florida Book Awards is calling for entries with an original publication date between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2006. Florida authors, co-authors—all must be full-time residents except in the non-fiction category—literary agents, publishers or any member of the public may submit an unlimited number of titles into competition. Required forms, fees ($50 per title, capped at $250) and review copies must arrive no later than 5 p.m., Jan. 5, 2007.

FSU and other co-sponsors will showcase the books throughout the year in various ways: permanent, autographed library displays of "Gold Award" and "Silver Award" recipients, profiles of the winning authors and books in the prestigious Florida Humanities Council "Forum," and readings, book fairs, posters and more. The competition phase concludes in early March with the announcement of up to five
finalists in each category: general fiction, children’s literature, young adult literature, Florida non-fiction, poetry, popular fiction and Spanish language works.

On March 28, 2007, the first annual competition will culminate in Tallahassee with a ceremony at the State Library and Archives to recognize formally the works judged tops by jurors (such as acclaimed poet David Kirby of FSU) drawn from several universities
and other co-sponsoring bodies across Florida.

In addition to FSU’s Program in American and Florida Studies, a complete list of First Annual Florida Book Awards co-sponsors includes the Florida Center for the Book; the State Library and Archives of Florida; Florida Historical Society; Florida Humanities
Council; Florida Library Association; Governor’s Family Literacy Initiative; Florida Literary Arts Coalition; Florida Association for Media in Education; Florida Center for the Literary Arts; Friends of the FSU Libraries; Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of
America; and "Just Read, Florida!" The Florida Division of Cultural
Affairs will sponsor the March 28 awards ceremony.

Contest guidelines, entry forms, and lists of sponsors, jury members and key contacts on the Florida Book Awards, are available through the FSU Program in American & Florida Studies website, http://www.fsu.edu/~ams.

Down the road, Wiegand and Fenstermaker envision winning entries serving as subjects in academic courses and helping in other ways to call attention to contemporary Florida book culture and to broader issues in Florida studies.

"Much hinges on spreading the word about the Awards, especially in 2006, the first year," Fenstermaker said. "We hope to set a high bar for winners in each category. Frankly, we are genuinely optimistic. We don’t expect to be disappointed."