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Times of the Islands Magazine

Soutwest Florida Reading Festival Celebrates its Silver Anniversary

Feb 29, 2024 08:00AM ● By Melissa Backer

Photo courtesy of Southwest Florida Reading Festival

Celebrate reading and libraries at the Southwest Florida Reading Festival’s 25th anniversary. This year the Lee County Library System’s reading festival features 27 authors.

The free, outdoor event will be held 10 am to 4 pm Saturday, March 2,
at the downtown Fort Myers Regional Library campus.

For more than two decades, this signature event has hosted hundreds of big-name authors, such as David Baldacci, Sandra Brown, Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Debbie Macomber, and youth writers Meg Cabot, Jeff Kinney, Lois Lowry, R.L. Stine, and Rosemary Wells.

Author Lisa Unger; Photo by Brian James; Courtesy of Southwest Florida Reading Festival

 Highlighted authors at the 2024 festival include suspense writers Jeffery Deaver, Heather Graham, Matthew Quirk, Charles Todd, and Lisa Unger. Sports fans will be happy to see Joe Posnanski, a sportswriter whose latest book, Why We Love Baseball, aligns nicely with the spring training tradition in Southwest Florida. Attendees also should keep an eye out for frequent festival pre­senter and fan favorite Mary Kay Andrews.

Mary Kay Andrews; Photo by Bill Miles; Courtesy of Southwest Florida Reading Festival

 The first reading festival was held in Centennial Park and featured author and journalist Carl Hiaasen as the keynote speaker. “Meeting the authors and getting to hear the inspiration behind their stories is always one of my favorite parts of the day. There’s always something new and exciting to experience,” says Mindi Simon, director of the Lee County Library System.

She has seen firsthand how this event can ignite a passion for reading as fans discover new authors and library resources each year. “Connecting readers of all ages with a new favorite author is a key aspect of the festival,” she says.

 This year’s event features a line-up of authors who will discuss and sign their books throughout the day. From fiction to nonfiction and thrillers to rom-coms, all ages will find a favorite among the adult, youth, and teen writers featured during the festival. Several presentations will be livestreamed on festival day and will be available for on-demand viewing through the end of March on the library’s YouTube channel.

Beyond author presentations, the reading festival gives attendees the opportunity to learn more about the library and its free digital resources, visit with sponsors, and have a bite to eat from participating food trucks. Anniversary t-shirts, festival hats, tote bags, and beach towels will be available for pur­chase. In addition, attendees can purchase tickets for the popular “Name a Character” raffle, where fans can win a chance to be named in an author’s next book.

Families with young children can enjoy a fun-filled day of crafts, the stilt-walking balloon artist Too Tall Torrie, storytime sessions, and the Little Readers Zone. Designed for toddlers and preschoolers, the Little Readers Zone is a designated place for discovery and learning that will be filled with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities, carnival games, and demonstrations of early learning resources. Every child and teen attending the festival receives a free book. “This is a tradition we are grateful to continue,” Simon says.

Readers who want to plan the perfect festival day are encouraged to download the mobile app SWFL ReadFest in the App Store or Google Play, where they can view the complete schedule of events and the latest festival updates. More information is available at

Melissa Baker, manager of programming and commu­nity outreach at the Lee County Library System, is also coordinator of the Southwest Florida Reading Festival.