FSU Libraries and the Florida Book Awards have named the inaugural recipient of the Gerald Ensley Developing Writer Award, which annually honors a Florida author who has shown exceptional talent and the potential for continued literary success and significance in the future.
Johnny Bell, an emerging author who has dedicated his life to public service through education, will receive a $1,000 prize and a copy of “We Found Paradise: Gerald Ensley on the History and Eccentricities of His Beloved Tallahassee” by Gerald Ensley.
“I am hopeful the literature I have contributed is an inspiration for minority children striving to make their dreams come true as they battle oppression and difficult life circumstances,” Bell said.
Bell started writing after years as an educator and basketball coach made him realize it was time to write novels that feature minority characters in leading roles. He’s written and published two Young Adult/Teen Fiction novels: “Take the Shot,” which follows a student trying to navigate middle school in the wake of his father’s death, and “The Dirt Court,” which follows a character as they navigate the ups and downs of life in the foster care system.
The Gerald Ensley Developing Writer Award is given in memory of Gerald Ensley, a consummate writer who artfully wrote the stories of Tallahassee and its people – and fearlessly opined on the most controversial issues of the day. A veteran Tallahassee journalist and columnist, his career in journalism spans over 40 years, with more than 50 state and national awards for his work at the Tallahassee Democrat. His wife, Sally Karioth, is a longtime professor in the FSU College of Nursing.
“Witty, self-deprecating and brilliant, Gerald spent his life’s work as a champion of the vulnerable and the underserved,” Karioth said. “As a young writer, he was nurtured by many who believed in him. He paid that forward by mentoring countless young writers who have gone on to flourish in their own careers. This award will allow his commitment to supporting the next generation of storytellers to continue for many years to come.”
The Florida Book Awards is the nation’s most comprehensive state book awards program, established in 2006 to celebrate the best of Florida literature. Bell and the other 2021 Florida Book Award winners will be honored at an annual banquet on April 7 at Cascades Park in Tallahassee.
For more information about the Gerald Ensley Developing Writer Award and the Florida Book Awards, visit https://www.floridabookawards.org/.