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Booked events at Festival of Reading

Good grammar, freakish monsters and manatee disappearances are just three subjects covered in a USF book festival this weekend — and that’s just within the first 90 minutes.

The USF St. Petersburg campus will host the 18th annual Festival of Reading on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The free event will include 45 speakers and book signings.

The festival’s author coordinator Lori Gaudreau said this year stands out for its number of Florida writers — with only eight guests flying in from out of state.

The selection ranges from USF professors, like mass communications professor Rick Wilber, to chart-topping novelists like Michael Connelly , who penned the country’s current best-selling hardcover novel, “The Reversal.”

The Oracle suggests six notable author sessions for students.   

R.L. Stine — “Weirdo Halloween”

10:30 a.m.-11:15 a.m.

Opening the USF Campus Activities Center’s proceedings is children’s horror author R.L. Stine, who has sold nearly 400 million copies within Scholastic’s  “Goosebumps” series.

Stine continues the franchise 18 years after the series was developed with his “Goosebumps Horrorland” series,  which detail an evil puppet named Slappy, a horrific hamster horde and a pink alien in “Weirdo Halloween.”

Though Zombie Nation Publishing and vampire novel author Susan Hubbard will offer more adult creatures, Gaudreau said Stine could provide ’90s-child students with a Halloween throwback.

“I am quite confident there are many USF students who have fond memories of reading their first chapter book as one of R.L. Stine’s  ‘Goosebumps’ or ‘Fear Street’ books, and he is such an incredible person to meet,” Gaudreau said.

Patricia Engel — “Vida”

11 a.m.-11:45 a.m.

Though Miami author Patricia Engel is among the festival’s Florida residents, her novel “Vida” spans farther geographically into New Jersey, New York and Colombia.

“Vida” follows Colombian Sabina through nine non-chronological stories, as she weathers troubled relationships and learns of other outcasts’ tales.

The book has won praise from Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz and St. Petersburg Times’ book editor Collette Bancroft, who said Engel is one of the festival’s most exciting up-and-coming authors.

“She’s a terrific, promising writer,” Bancroft said.  

Engel will speak at the USF Science and Tech Building in room 123.

Ira Sukrungruang — “Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy”

11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m.

One room away will be USF creative writing assistant professor Ira Sukrungruang, whose writing shows a common intersection of Thai heritage and the “fat experience.”  

Sukrungruang founded the dessert-minded “Sweets: A Literary Confection” and co-authored “What Are You Looking At? The First Fat Fiction Novel” — with writing from Diaz and Tobias Wolff.

Although his most recent book “Talk Thai” recalls favorite fried rice concoctions, Sukrunguang focuses on his awkward boyhood and family life in Chicago.

“It’s just a really wonderful, beautifully written and engaging memoir,” Bancroft said.

Daniel Reimold — “Sex and the University”

1 p.m.-1:45 p.m.

University of Tampa professor Daniel Reimold will speak at the Poynter Institute Barnes Pavilion in St. Petersburg about a journalism change beyond online media and thinning newspapers — the student sex column.

“Sex and the University” follows the evolution of sex columns, from Yale columnist Natalie Krinsky to Arizona college censorship battles.

Despite a “sexicon” of slang in the book’s back and the distinction of getting named “the leading expert on the student sex column” by The Nation, Reimold has said that “Sex and the University” is really about student journalism.

Reimold also runs the blog “College Media Matters,” and will further discuss the strange bedfellows of sex advice and college papers on Saturday.


George Packer — “Interesting Times: Writings from a Turbulent Decade”

1 p.m.-1:45 p.m.

Running simultaneous to Reimold’s discussion, The New Yorker reporter George Packer will speak at the Fish & Wildlife Research Institute about a writing career that has spanned books, articles and plays.

Packer’s latest book, “Interesting Times,” examines American-Iraqi relations and Democratic primaries, among other topics.

In August, Packer wrote an extensive New Yorker article and hosted a live chat debating the effectiveness of the Senate.

Bancroft said the festival intended to feature books on politics during an election year. Other political authors will include former Florida Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay and third-party researcher Donald Green.


Jeffrey Zaslow — “The Last Lecture”

2:30 p.m.-3:15 p.m.

The USF Campus

Activities Center’s closing speech will come from Jeffrey Zaslow, who will discuss a collection of best sellers that includes “The Last Lecture.”

“The Girls from Ames” follows 11 childhood friends in Iowa, and their relationships after college, family and a death in the group. He also co-wrote “Highest Duty,” the autobiography of Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, who landed a failing plane on the frozen Hudson River.

However, Zaslow’s best known work remains co-authoring “The Last Lecture” — a life reflection by cancer-afflicted professor Randy Pausch that sold more than 5 million copies and charted the national best-seller list for more than 90 weeks.

“On campus, you guys are all reading ‘The Last Lecture’ that he wrote — what an opportunity to actually meet him and hear him speak,” Gaudreau said.  


For a complete schedule and map of the festival, visit