The South Florida chapter of WNBA was formed in 2015, with twelve members, and has been growing ever since, with more people joining at each event we hold. A mix of readers, writers, and editors have added to our growth and our wonderful leadership team. We are networking with a vibrant community of book lovers in the area, and reaching out to independent bookstores, writers’ groups, and libraries to become involved and cosponsor our events.
We opened our successful fourth season of events in September with British author Caz Frear, whose first novel, Sweet Little Lies, won a “Search for a Bestseller” competition in the UK. Her talk at the Murder on the Beach Bookstore coincided with the US publication of her book. She discussed her writing process and was met with a very enthusiastic audience.
In October, to celebrate National Reading Group Month, two bestselling and lively young authors were interviewed by chapter president Andrea Baron about family, love, and loss. SJ Sindu discussed her first novel, Marriage of a Thousand Lies, about immigration, identity, and personal choice. Her book is about a gay marriage set in a traditional Sri Lankan family and the conflicts that surround it.
Kristin Harmel discussed her tenth novel, The Room on Rue Amélie, which deals with love and loss in the context of the Nazi occupation of Paris in World War II. Over forty people participated in a lively discussion.
“Yes, we still need libraries,” was the conclusion of our November meeting, “The Library – Writing the Next Chapter.” Stacy Alesi, a librarian at the Palm Beach County Library System, spoke about the expanding, rich array of databases and other services available to users. One of her new projects is “Book Club in a Bag,” in which the library makes long-term loans of twenty copies of a book, along with a reader’s guide, to any book club. Alesi is also a blogger and book reviewer with a popular blog, Book Bitch.
Isabella Rowan, the Educational Programs and Volunteer Manager of the Delray Beach Public Library, gave a presentation on her recent trip to Kenya with the Kenya Library Project, to supply sixty thousand books to schools in remote areas. Her talk and her amazing photos showed the need and appreciation of the students and volunteers she worked with. Stephanie Braunstein, a WNBA member and former college librarian, introduced and moderated the program. Opinions ran deep, as we addressed recent news and discussed whether digital books and changes in reading habits had affected the need for, and views of, libraries.
Our holiday party in December, with a full house of over forty people, kicked off the chapter’s fundraising effort to assist public libraries in the Florida Panhandle. We supported a statewide initiative by the Florida Library Association to help those that were heavily damaged by Hurricane Michael. We enjoyed a lovely buffet and mystery-themed holiday decorations at Murder on the Beach Bookstore. We had some dazzling raffle prizes that WNBA members solicited from local businesses to aid in the hurricane relief, and we raised over $350. The meeting attracted quite a few new faces, and several of these decided to join.
We turned to food writing for our January program, with Chef Rossi, author of The Raging Skillet, A Memoir with Recipes, as our speaker. Rossi is a chef, caterer, writer, playwright, blogger, and radio host. She presented an alternately touching and hilarious description of her evolution into a career in food and judged a contest for us. Members were invited to bring their own plate of homemade appetizers for a tasting contest to win a prize. Rossi was so impressed, she chose four winners, and donated copies of her book as prizes. The standing-room-only crowd at the Delray Public Library, with many people new to our events, gave her a very enthusiastic welcome. Her book has also been converted to a play, and we’re looking forward to a South Florida performance.
Upcoming Events and Partnerships
The South Florida chapter of the League of PEN Women asked to cosponsor a meeting with us, and in February the chapter will host a joint meeting: “Short Takes – Flash Fiction, Short Stories, and More,” a panel discussion about these writing forms. We’ll have two members from each group who write short fiction, and the panel will be moderated by Elaine Bossik, president of the PEN Women chapter.
We’ll be teaming up with another cosponsor, the West Boynton Public Library, for our March program. The library was excited to learn about the WNBA and is eager to plan some joint programming. The meeting will feature Margaret Wrinkle, author of the novel Wash, as well as a prize-winning documentary filmmaker. A Birmingham native, her work is about slavery and her experiences in the segregated South.
Our planned April program is about screenwriting. We have several members who are screenwriters, and Angela Page will be our speaker. Her novel, Suddenly Single Sylvia, is currently being produced for television, and she will talk about the successful conversion from the printed page to the screen. Our May program will be an Open Mic Night, a favorite of our members.
As a new chapter, we’ve been focusing on reaching out to groups and organizations to let them know about the WNBA, to partner with us, and to publicize our activities. We’ve found a very receptive audience in South Florida, and we continue to get individuals and organizations reaching out to us and asking to join us.
By Andrea Baron and Ronni Sandroff