Sunlit After Dark Celebrates St. Pete’s Literary Scene

On May 12, St. Petersburg Press and nonprofit literary arts organization Keep St. Pete Lit joined forces to celebrate St. Pete’s literary scene at the Palladium Theatre’s Side Door. This inaugural event, “Sunlit After Dark,” marked the collaboration of the two grassroots literary organizations to revel in the positive impact that reading and writing plays in St. Pete.

Highlights of the festivities included presentations of the Roy Peter Clark Award, Literary Year in Review, an introduction of special local literary guests, and music by live band Front Porch Picnic as well as light appetizers and cash bar. General admission was free, but VIP tickets, to benefit Keep St. Pete Lit, were $100 each, and included two drink vouchers, priority seating, a St. Petersburg Press t-shirt, and two St. Petersburg Press books signed by the authors.

The venue was chock-full of what could be described as a who’s who of local literary luminaries. Paul Wilborn, executive director of the Palladium Theatre, served as master of ceremonies, and began by introducing Joe Hamilton, founder of St. Petersburg Press and St. Pete Catalyst. Honorees included Maureen McDole, founder and executive director of Keep St. Pete Lit; Dominic Howarth, book manager of the independent bookstore Book + Bottle; Colette Bancroft, book editor fort the Tampa Bay Times and first recipient of the RPC Award; and Amy J. Cianci, publisher and engagement director at St. Petersburg Press.

Amy Cianci, publisher and engagement director for St. Petersburg Press

Roy Peter Clark, renowned writer, editor, educator, and vice president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies presented the award segment. Four honorees were recognized for their contributions to St. Pete’s literary scene: Peter Kageyama, novelist and community development consultant; Michelle Jenquin, third-generation antiquarian bookseller and owner of the historic Wilson’s Book World; Leonora LaPeter Anton, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist; and Heather Robinson, Pinellas County Schools media specialist and librarian.

Roy Peter Clark presented his namesake award to 25-year-old poet Denzel Johnson-Green. The RPC Award is sponsored by St. Petersburg Press “in recognition of the recipient’s outstanding contribution to the greater St. Petersburg literary community.” Johnson-Green started out in Eagle River, Alaska before moving to St. Pete where he has become a fixture at various local coffee shops industriously writing and reading poetry as well as encouraging others to do the same. He also publishes a local poetry magazine, Neptune. Clark calls Johnson-Green a “poetry activist” for his dedication to promoting local poetry.

Roy Peter Clark, left, presented his namesake award to poet Denzel Johnson-Green for “outstanding contribution to the greater St. Petersburg literary community.”

The current and future climate of publishing looks positive, according to the evening’s literary review speakers. Back in 2019, a conversation between writers Paul Wilborn and Joe Hamilton spearheaded the birth of St. Petersburg Press, “author-centric publishing for our city’s storytellers, influencers, and innovators.” 

Amy Cianci, publisher and engagement director for St. Petersburg Press, reported that the organization has published 33 titles for sale worldwide since then, with more on the way. “I go on a journey with every one of the authors,” said Cianci.

Howarth of Book + Bottle said that independent bookstores’ sales went up since the pandemic, a fact that both surprised and delighted him, adding that this was no passing trend – Book + Bottle doubled its sales from 2022 to 2023.

But the evening’s most uplifting stories came from Maureen McDole whose Keep St. Pete Lit has made reading and writing more accessible to children and young people in St. Petersburg over the last 10 years. “We have expanded our youth programming since we started our outreach in 2018 and are now offering classes at local senior centers as well,” said McDole.

Keep St. Pete Lit founder Maureen McDole with son, Victor James, who created the cover art for her third book of poetry, published by St. Petersburg Press

And that’s not all. Keep St. Pete Lit has poetry open mics, book clubs, and has taken over as the publisher of Yellow Jacket Press, which has been the premier poetry chapbook publisher in Florida since 2008. Every year they partner with USF-St. Pete on Poetry Loud, a statewide poetry recitation contest for high school students sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts.

“Tune in weekly for our podcast Typewriter Talks, where we interview writers about their writing process,” said McDole. “We also have eight WORD! Book Boxes around South St. Pete where we give out free, culturally diverse children’s books.” 

McDole also introduced Sara Ries Dziekonski, Keep St. Pete Lit’s main elementary creative writing teacher for the last five years. Dziekonski teaches at Eisenhower Elementary, New Heights Elementary, 74th Street Elementary, Dunedin Elementary, Gulfport Elementary, and High Point Elementary. She explained that, when she first started working with the children, they didn’t have the tools and writing skills they needed to express the amazing energy of their stories. Said Dziekonski, “Now they do!” 

Find more on Keep St. Pete Lit at and St. Petersburg Press at