BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
“It’s all about literacy,” F.R.E.S.H. Book Festival Director Donna M. Gray-Banks said at the third annual event held at the Midtown Cultural and Educational Center in Daytona Beach last weekend. “When the lights go out and the cell phone towers go down, all you have is a flashlight and a good book.”
About 150 people attended the F.R.E.S.H. (Fiction, Romance, Erotica, Spiritual and Health) festival, which began the evening of Jan. 3. Another 200 attended the event on Saturday, which was sponsored by the City of Daytona Beach.
New York Times best-selling author Omar Tyree was among the authors featured this year.
“We are trying to get more and more young people involved,” said Percy Williamson, leisure services director for the City of Daytona Beach. “We’ve been reaching out to churches, the schools. As most of the authors talk about, literacy is really what it’s all about. If you can read you can do almost anything, go anywhere, be anyone. That is the foundation of everything.
“To hear Omar say that most boys read comic books, that is what catches them, and then they move from there. If nothing else, we need to get them back to reading comic books and get some traction.
“It is a good thing that we the city are trying to promote literacy, promote art. We have sports, basketball, athletics all over the place, but we are trying to balance this out by exposing these young people to a lot more things than what a typical young person gets,” Williamson added.
At the festival, Tyree told a group how he was able to gather information for his award-winning book Fly Girl.
“Man, when you get on the bus with girls everyday, they don’t stop talking. I mean for a whole hour! All you have to do is keep your ears ready,” Tyree quipped. He explained that his books gave him the opportunity to evoke change and disseminate information to readers, which he did not take lightly.
In fact, the author of 18 books encouraged literacy among all ages and races at the festival and introduced the audience to his new series of books The Traveler, which had its first release in December.
The first book in his series featured a trip to Dubai, giving readers a chance to experience the exciting adventures, exotic love affairs and the endless danger of a man afraid of nothing, who is willing to try everything.
The Traveler may have readers visiting distant lands but Tyree says he has love for Daytona Beach.
“I’m already familiar with Daytona Beach. Whenever you can get away from the cold weather to come down to some warmer weather, you take it. I already love the area. I have history here. Daytona was actually the first area that I ever had an airplane ride to in 1995,’’ he shared.
Keeping it real
Authors from North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and Florida flocked to the festival that also featured authors Michael Beckford, James Bennett, Dr. Evelyn Bethune, Dr. Michelle Donice and Michael A. Pyle, Esq.
Festival attendees were able to purchase books and speak with the authors as well as get pointers and tips from local publishing companies.
“So if I whack my son over the head with this book, will that work?” Bianca Mitchell jokingly asked Daytona Times Publisher Charles Cherry II, author of Excellence Without Excuse: The Black Student’s Guide to Academic Excellence.
“He’s a good kid, but he’s frustrated,” she added.
Cherry was among the 26 authors at the F.R.E.S.H. festival and gave the Palm Coast mother a few pointers from his book for her 15-year-old son.
“He needs to understand that whatever he wants to do is related to education, you can’t just go where you want to go and think you will get what you want to get,” said Cherry, who also is an attorney.
“Secondarily, there are skills necessary to be successful in education. There is goal setting, time management, how to take notes, aggressive listening – that’s what the book tells about.”
“You have to put the time in to get to where you want to go,” he added. “If he can be successful at something, success breeds more success.”
Importance of collaboration
Banks-Gray says that the festival is growing each year and looks forward to what is in store for 2014 and beyond. She did, however, state that more collaboration could bring greater results for everyone.
“We don’t do enough collaboration. If I bring a book out and every author buys one, we all could be millionaires. We have to work together as opposed to always being defensive and thinking that someone is going to take your stuff. When you write, it’s put in the Library of Congress for 70 years,’’ she remarked.
“There is a sign language book here, children’s books, there is also a couple in the back that is legally blind and has done seven books,” she added. “Literacy is so important.”