ABOVE: (L-R) Len Barot, Anne Shade and Georgia Beers. Photos via ReadOut.
GULFPORT, Fla. | The LGBTQ Resource Center of the Gulfport Public Library will virtually present the fifth annual ReadOut: A Festival of Lesbian Literature Feb. 18-20, showcasing works written by, for and about lesbians.
The resource center has operated as an independent nonprofit since 2019. It held its first in-person festival at the library the year prior and transitioned to a virtual event in 2021 due to COVID-19, allowing organizers to reach a wider audience than ever before.
More than 900 registrants joined last year’s festival via Zoom, leading organizers to prepare a robust follow-up. ReadOut 2022 will welcome at least 60 authors for live, interactive panels known as pods and prerecorded readings known as pearls, emphasizing its theme of “Lesbian Voices, Stronger Together.”
“In keeping with that theme, we have made ongoing efforts to engage women of color in both the livestreamed and prerecorded sessions of ReadOut,” LGBTQ Resource Center President Susan Gore says. “Reaching out to younger women also has been a goal for us. We know it’s a marathon, not a sprint, yet we are pleased to say we have made progress with expanding both groups this year.”
ReadOut 2022 will officially begin Feb. 18 at 4:30 p.m. After a warm welcome, the event will hold its first pod from 5-6 p.m., “Keeping the Romance (Novel) Alive.”
It will feature a candid conversation between authors Georgia Beers and Anne Shade. Beers is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author of more than 30 lesbian romance novels and Shade is the author of other works including two published this month. She “loves writing stories about women who love women featuring strong, beautiful BIPOC characters.”
The session will feature an introduction from Len Barot, author of more than 60 novels in the genre. She’s also the president of Bold Strokes Books, an independent publisher of LGBTQ works.
“Georgia Beers is an award-winning, well-established writer of lesbian romance novels,” Gore explains. “Anne Shade is an up-and-coming author in that genre. They will be in conversation to share experiences on how they write and tips about building an audience.”
The suspense-focused “Just One More Page…” will follow from 6:05-7:05 p.m., featuring authors Elle E. Ire, Riley Scott, Meredith Doench and M.B. Austin. They’ll “discuss the art of building suspense in every genre.” The festival’s first day will close with a look at fiction and nonfiction from 7:10-7:40 p.m.
ReadOut’s second day will begin at 9 a.m. and end at 8 p.m. Featured pearls will focus on nonfiction including memoirs and various types of fiction like science, speculative and more. Pods include deep dives into humor, international partnerships, rural spaces, historical novelists and “How Editors and Authors Can Stay Friends.”
A virtual Bingo fundraiser will close festivities from 7-8 p.m., led by the Raymond James LGBTQ+ Inclusion Group with a suggested donation of $5 per card. Gore says they hosted a similar session for the LGBTQ Resource Center, “so they know how to keep those virtual bingo daubers hopping!” The games will feature prizes and other surprises.
The festival’s final day will run Feb. 20 from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Authors Carol Anne Douglas, Sara Fleming, Sharon Deevey, Lynn Ames, Paula Martinac and Ginny Z. Berson will begin with a pearl on memoirs and fiction, followed by an hour-long romance pod. “The BookstaGays: An LGBTQ+ Books Podcast” with Alex Cario and Sam Land will be held after that.
Additional pods include “Writing People Who Are Not Like You, examinations of intersectionality and an exploration of undoing stereotypes. “Going Deep, Soaring High, Bringing Out the Best” with authors Becky Bohan, Carol Anne Douglas, Dana Finnegan, Sara Fleming, Ellen Levy, Lois McGuinness and Sara Yager will be the festival’s final panel before closing remarks from 5:30-6 p.m.
Registration for ReadOut 2022 is now open. The LGBTQ Resource Center encourages and expects LGBTQ and other literature enthusiasts to attend from all over the world.
Registration for ReadOut 2022 is now open. There is no cost to attend but donations are appreciated. To learn more about this year’s participating authors and to register, visit ReadOut.LGBTQGulfport.org.