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Speakers, Panel, Storytellers

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James Abraham

James Abraham is a former journalist who now edits and publishes books. His Book-broker Publishers, which he founded in 2004, has produced or edited more than 500 books in a variety of genres. Mr. Abraham is a popular writing coach, critic, and lecturer.

A graduate of Oberlin College and a Florida Humanities Scholar, Mr. Abraham is the author of Century: A People's History of Charlotte County.

Festival: 11:00 AM in the Sanctuary. Shading the Sunshine - A Survey of Book Banning in Florida and Beyond. Florida is a bellwether state for intellectual suppression. Live-streamed and recorded; book sales table in Sanctuary lobby

James will also read from 1984 by George Orwell - find him in the Banned Book tent, just west of the food trucks.

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Martha Bireda

Dr. Martha Bireda is the Director of the Blanchard House Museum of African American History and Culture of Charlotte County. For over twenty-five years, she was a consultant and trainer for issues related to race, ethnicity, gender, and class for school districts, law enforcement agencies, and other organizations. She is the author of A Time for Change: How White Supremacy Ideology Harms All Americans, released in September 2022, The Womb Rebellion, and is a monthly contributor to wsimag.org.

Festival: 11:00 AM at the Outdoor Stage. The Little Town that Unity Built. Historical reenactment in the 1920s clothing, about Punta Gorda's biracial settlement/development, point of view of "Queen," Marta's great grandma.

Festival: 2:15 PM at the Outdoor Stage. Reflections of a Colored Girl (new book). Includes a Community Conversation about race, history and what the future looks like. Audience Community Conversation follows.

NOTEFrom 3:30 to 4:00 PM, Dr. Bireda will be signing Reflections of a Colored Girl in the Sanctuary lobby. Sponsored by Copperfish Books.

Blue Lotus Buddhist Meditation Center

Blue Lotus Buddhist Meditation Center (BLBMC) is a small meditation community located in Florida. We offer meditations and other classes to promote inner peace and compassion for all beings.

 

BLBMC has the support of working monastics, originally from Sri Lanka, who are now building a  Buddhist practice on Florida’s suncoast. Based on Buddhist teachings, such as the Four Noble Truths, their teachings are methodical, logical, practical, and scientific. Meditations focus on the practice of loving kindness (metta) and mindfulness (sati).

Festival: 10:00 to 10:30 in the Sanctuary. Meditation and talk about Buddhism. We start the Right To Read Festival today with a meditation so we can give individual attention to the issue. The centered mind gives insight to make right judgements without getting distracted by too much emotional involvement.

NOTE: Be sure to visit their booth in the Vendor area!

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Kent Oliver

Kent Oliver mentors, coordinates and partners with members of the American Library Association Policy Corps to advance their advocacy on fighting book bans and to strengthen their Unite Against Book Bans campaign. He works with senior staff to speak out against book banning and censorship. 

Mr. Oliver recently retired after a decade as director of Nashville Public Library, where he launched the nationally recognized I Read Banned Books campaign. A three-time president of the Freedom to Read Foundation, Mr. Oliver is a nationally and internationally known speaker on library issues and challenges, including literacy and the freedom to read. 

Mr. Oliver's writings on intellectual freedom and defense of the First Amendment have appeared in publications such as Forbes and The Tennessean. 

Prior to his tenure at Nashville Public Library, he also managed libraries in Kansas, Missouri and Ohio, where he was awarded the Ohio Bar Association’s Liberty Bell Award for Defense of the First Amendment. Mr. Oliver hails from Topeka, Kansas, and has an MLIS from Emporia State University. 

Festival: Noon in the Sanctuary. Live-streamed & recorded.

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Rob Sanders

Rob Sanders is a "teacher who writes and a writer who teaches." He is known for his funny and fierce fiction and nonfiction picture books and is recognized as one of the pioneers in the arena of LGBTQIA+ literary nonfiction picture books. Rob’s nonfiction books continue to break new ground, including the first picture books about the Pride Flag, the Stonewall Uprising, a transgender Civil War soldier, a gay presidential candidate, and the first gay marriage in America. His work also continues to introduce readers to heroes of the LGBTQIA+ community—from Harvey Milk to Gilbert Baker, from Cleve Jones to Bayard Rustin, and more. His fiction explores friendship, relationships, standing up for others, and being allies. Blood Brothers, his first middle grade novel, written in powerful, raw verse was released in July 2022.

 

And Mr. Sanders pays it forward. He serves as co-regional advisor for SCBWI Florida and is a frequent speaker, teacher, mentor, coach, and critiquer.

Website: robsanderswrites.com

Festival: 1:15 PM in the Sanctuary; live-streamed & recorded.

NOTE: Mr. Sanders will be signing books in the Sanctuary lobby from 2:15 to 3:00 PM, hosted by Copperfish Books.

Michael Scanlan

Michael Scanlan has been a teacher of English and Theatre and a theatre director throughout his career. In addition, he is the author of twelve plays for young adults, published by Samuel French, and has written the books and lyrics for four
musicals. He received the New England Theatre Conference Award for Excellence in Theatre. He currently teaches English as a second language to immigrants and refugees in the Venice area.

Festival: 2:45 in the Sanctuary; live-streamed & recorded.

Panel Members

The Festival will host one panel discussion. It will take place from 12:00 noon to 2:00 PM in the Outdoor Tent. The panel, comprised of Tom Edwards, Zander Moricz, and Carrie Seidman, will discuss person freedoms, personal stories, specific local experiences, challenges, censorship, and what the future looks like. There will be a long question & answer period for the audience.

NOTE: Friends of the Library will help Carrie with signing of her two books, at 2:00 PM in the Sanctuary lobby.
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Tom Edwards

Tom Edwards is the only moderate voice on the Sarasota County School Board, advocating for the freedom of teachers, the rights of ALL students and parents, and the preservation of public schools from privatization. He has done much to build creative community partnerships which have resulted in the development of a trades academy, a two-year certificate program for healthcare workers, and an innovative plan to ease our housing shortage so that the Sarasota County School District could have a larger pool of talented teachers, bus drivers, and food workers. 

During his time in New York, Mr. Edwards co-founded and owned two thriving businesses. He advocated for small business during his time as a New York State General Assembly member.

Most mornings, you can find Mr. Edwards rowing on the intercoastal waterway. He is a Masters-level rower and co-founder of the Newtown Rowing Initiative.

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Zander Moricz

Zander Moricz is a student at Harvard College. Prior to that, he was the first openly gay class president at his high school in Sarasota County. He is also the youngest plaintiff in a lawsuit opposing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which was signed into law in March of 2022. 

Mr. Moricz started the Social Equity and Education Alliance (SEE) in 2019 to bring students together and create social equity through education. The SEE Initiative has grown into a movement of over 2,000 organizers across the United States. In Florida, SEE is leading the student response to hateful legislation through mass organizing and campaign work. 

During his time as President of the Board at Florida Model United Nations, Florida’s largest independent Model UN program, Mr. Moricz created an aid fund that established dozens of MUN programs in Title I schools and provided them with coaching, curriculum, and financial support. He was also the Central-Eastern Director of Communications for Diversify Our Narrative—a national organization with over 6,000 organizers.

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Carrie Seidman

Carrie Seidman is an opinion columnist for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Florida, She is also the creator/producer of FACEing Mental Illness, a blog and podcast at faceingmi.substack.com that shares stories from people with lived mental health experience.

 

A graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism, Ms Seidman was a reporter, critic and columnist for daily newspapers for 45 years. As a staff writer for the New York Times, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, Albuquerque Journal, Albuquerque Tribune and, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, she covered a broad range of subjects, from sports to arts to mental health, in formats ranging from reviews and features to long form narratives and investigative enterprise reporting. Her work has received awards from local, state and national organizations, among them the Society for Features Journalism, the American Society of News Editors and the Florida Society of News Editors.

Ms. Seidman is a 2016-2017 fellow of the Carter Center for Mental Health Journalism which supported her community art/journalism project, "FACEing Mental Illness: The Art of Acceptance" (http://faceingmentalillness.heraldtribune.com). This project also resulted in a book and a documentary film, which had its world premiere at the Sarasota Film Festival in 2018.

“The S Word,” Ms. Seidman's 2015 project on mental illness, received the National Media Award from Mental Health America, the nation's leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness, and the Community Engagement Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

In 2014, Ms. Seidman’s narrative on a Florida family’s return to their native Cuba, “Home to Havana,” received the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors’ Gold Medal for Public Service, the highest journalism award in the state. She received FSNE’s 2015 Features Writer of the Year award and was named Gatehouse Media’s Features Writer of the Year in both 2014 and 2015.

Ms. Seidman has also received ongoing recognition for her coverage of dance, including a fellowship in dance criticism from the New York Times and the National Endowment for the Arts.

A life-long dancer who competes on the amateur ballroom dance circuit, Seidman is a two-time breast cancer survivor and the divorced mother of one son who has a mental health disorder.

NOTE: Ms. Seidman will be signing books in the Sanctuary lobby from 2:00 to 2:30 PM.

Storytellers

Pamela Palmer

Pamela Palmer has been telling stories since she discovered this ancient oral tradition while trying to entertain four new step children. She attended as many storytellers events as possible, became a member of the National Association of the Perpetuation and Preservation of Storytelling, and began attending the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro Tennessee.

 

Ms. Palmer says that she listened for years until she heard a story at the festival that she had to share, and has not shut up since.

 

She is a member of The National Storytelling Network, Florida Storytelling Association and the North East Storytellers. She was the Director of the Long Island Storyteller's Guild. She is a member of the Creative Monsters led by internationally beloved Master Storyteller Jay O'Callahan.

Festival: 10:00 AM in the outdoor tent

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