Booker T. Washington, the educator, author, and president of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, gave a famous speech in 1895. During what is known as the Atlanta Compromise Speech, he told the story of a ship was lost at sea for several days.
The crew had run out of fresh water, and they were dying of thirst. No land was in sight. When they spotted a friendly vessel and sent a signal to indicate that they needed water, the other ship immediately sent back this message: “Cast down your bucket where you are.”
The desperate crew sent a second message: “Water, send us water!”
Again, the response came back: “Cast down your bucket where you are.”
Four times this exchange occurred before the captain of the first ship lowered a bucket into the ocean. To his astonishment, that bucket was full of sparkling, fresh water. They were in the Atlantic off the coast of northern Brazil, where the Amazon so powerfully propels its water nearly one hundred miles into the ocean.
Washington concluded his speech with these words: “To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land, or who underestimate the importance of preserving friendly relations with the southern white man who is their next door neighbor, I would say: ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ Cast it down, making friends in every manly way of the people of all races, by whom you are surrounded.”
I was in Ireland during the summer of 2013, traveling with the Spalding University MFA in Writing students at their summer residency and hoping for a shot of encouragement and inspiration as a writer. An hour after I’d arrived and settled in, I headed out for a short guided tour of Dublin, and within the first few minutes of that tour, I met a couple of writers who would do just that–inspire and encourage me. The funny thing is that I traveled all the way to Ireland to meet a couple from my own waters.
Darlyn Finch Kuhn is a poet known for her saucy style and engaging readings. Her poems have been featured on Poetic Logic on WMFE-FM, and read by Garrison Keillor on the Writers Almanac. She was a Kerouac Project writer in residence in 2006. Her first book, Wax Rose, a poetry and short story collection, was published in 2007. Her second book, Three Houses, is a collection of love poems with collaborator Brad Kuhn, her husband. Together, Brad and Darlyn own Brad Kuhn and Associates, a stellar PR firm in Orlando.
And that is what I love about the Florida Heritage Book Festival. We don’t have to travel out of the state of Florida, out of our own waters, to find writers who inspire us. Every writer featured at the Festival has a connection to Florida. So why not cast your bucket where you are this September and join Brad, Darlyn, and me for three days of inspiration, instruction, and building friendships with hundreds of fellow Floridians.
(Sandi Hutcheson teaches at Flagler College and writes a column for the Sunday edition of The St. Augustine Record. She volunteers as coordinator for the Writers Conference portion of the Florida Heritage Book Festival)