Off the Page

Authors Bring the 'Write Stuff' to Sarasota Literary Festival

Sarah MacLean, a romance novelist who loves historical fiction, is part of a panel taking part in the November event.

By Catherine Hicks/Community News Collaborative October 6, 2023

The William H. Jervey Jr. Venice Public Library

The William H. Jervey Jr. Venice Public Library

Sarah MacLean is a romance novelist, so it’s a pretty safe bet she’s an advocate for the power of love.

But the 44-year-old Brooklyn author, who will join several of her writing contemporaries in Sarasota County in November for the Off the Page literary celebration, says romance is far more than just the fuel for a good story.  Through her chosen genre of writing, MacLean says she hopes to bring light to modern issues and challenges through historical context.

Author Sarah MacLean

Author Sarah MacLean

“I read my first romance novel when I was 10 or 11 years old, and I was just swept away by the genre,” MacLean says. “I mentioned to someone that I had always dreamed of being a romance novelist, and they said ‘You should do it. I dare you.’ I went home and wrote my first book on a dare.”

 Six weeks later, her first book was finished and she was on her way to writing 19 more. She never runs out of ideas, she said.

“We’re able to rewrite the world the way that we believe the world should be. Romance is a genre that is really a genre of hope and aspiration,” says MacLean.

Off the Page kicks off Nov. 1 and runs through the month for free at sites around Sarasota County. Neil Gaiman, author of such titles as The Sandman (now a Netflix feature) and Good Omens (now on Amazon Prime) will appear at the Venice Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Nov. 7.  MacLean appears at 1 p.m. Nov. 4 at Selby Public Library in downtown Sarasota.  Click here for a full schedule; events range from North Port to Newtown.

Off the Page is a collaboration of Sarasota County Libraries and Friends of the Venice Public Library and made possible through a grant from Florida Humanities with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It’s a celebration that aims to “reintegrate literature into Sarasota’s world-class art scene,” says Renee Di Pilato, director of Sarasota County Libraries and Historical Resources.

“Sarasota is known for its rich array of cultural offerings, yet not everyone has access to these resources," says Di Pilato. "Through our library system, there are immense opportunities for residents to experience enlightening, enriching, inclusive, and entertaining programming. Off The Page takes place on different dates, times, and locations to provide all residents with ample opportunities to attend."

The idea for the Off The Page celebration was suggested by a Sarasota library staff member and posed to the Friends of the Venice Library because of its mission to enhance the community through library outreach.

“This type of community engagement is the entire reason the Friends exists—to make the library experience come alive for our community. Bringing in writers and illustrators from around the world fits perfectly with our mission,” says Tony Mowry, a member of the board of directors of the Friends of the Venice Public Library.

MacLean said she believes showing characters in moments of triumph and success, especially women and other marginalized communities, provides an opportunity to showcase them in positions of power and joy simultaneously, and makes it feel attainable to readers.

“The reason why I gravitate toward historical fiction is twofold,” said MacLean, “One, you can write these characters larger than life in historical [novels] in a way you can’t in contemporaries. You can tell these big, bold stories, and in many ways you can tackle the issues that we’re facing today in a different way.”

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