From literacy advocates to voracious readers, library promoters to admiring fans. They were among a few hundred people who came from near and far — Bradenton to Orlando — to hear internationally acclaimed novelist David Baldacci.
That intimate gathering took place Tuesday night at the State College of Florida’s Neel Performing Arts Center. Baldacci, the fourth best-selling author to speak in support of the Manatee County Library System’s literacy program, follows John Grisham, Stephen King and Nicholas Sparks.
“All of these authors had an interest in literacy,” noted George Barford, a board member of the county’s Library Foundation.
Added board member Leah Stuart, “It shows Manatee County cares about literacy. It brings awareness to how important the library system is to this county.”
That foundation counts the annual hosting of notable authors as its major fundraiser. The educational organization has raised about $280,000 as part of a two-year commitment to the literacy program. Last summer, 76 boys and girls combined to read 1,624 books as part of the program.
“Instead of a summer read-slide, these children gained in their skills,” said Sherry Oehler, president of the foundation.
Honorary chairs John and Amanda Horne, who own the Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurants, hosetd the summer reading program for elementary school students at their restaurants and this summer plan to pick two more locations and expand the program.
Amanda Horne put their passion for helping young readers in perspective, saying, “From birth to third grade a child learns to read. From third grade on a child reads to learn.”
Baldacci, who plans to release his newest book, “The Fallen,” in April, is not unlike any accomplished novelist. He does not have a favorite place, environment or time to pen his works. For him, there is no typical writing day, so to speak.
“The perfect place to write is here,” Baldacci said, raising both hands to simultaneously point to his head. “If I’m in the zone I can write anywhere. Writing is not a hobby for me, or a job. It is a lifestyle.”
Baldacci, who also has been a lawyer, publisher and philanthropist, founded the Wish You Well Foundation with his wife, Michelle. It supports adult literacy and education. That organization partnered with Feeding America in 2008 to address the connection between poverty, hunger and literacy.
“Even though we’re one of the richest nations in the world, there are pockets of illiteracy all over the country,” Baldacci said.
Over the past seven years his family’s foundation has donated two million books to Feeding America with Baldacci pointing out that, “if you’re illiterate, chances are your kids will have poor reading skills.”
Baldacci, who has penned more than 30 books with 110 million copies in print worldwide, developed a passion for writing and reading at an early age. For him, it all started at the library as a boy growing up in Virginia.
A self-descibed “library rat” as a young boy, Baldacci said, “I saw the world through books. I wanted to create something that would allow people to dive into my imagination.”
His novel in 1996, “Absolute Power,” did just that. Based on a fictional American president and Secret Service agents willing to commit murder, it was adapted into a 1997 movie starring Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman.