Authors at the Read-In: Arria Hagler, Dr. JoeAnn Mallory Burgess, Cynecia Welch, Farrah Donaldson.

Story & Photos by

The African American Read-In was held on Sunday, Feb. 18, at the Palaver Tree Theater.
The event wrapped up a weekend long celebration of African American Heritage in Wakulla County. Wakulla County Christian Coalition hosted the event.

Local authors Arria Haigler, Farrah Donaldson, Cyncia Welch and Dr. JoeAnn Burgess offered formal talks sharing personal inspiration and behind the scenes back stories regarding their work.
“I got into writing as a book reader,” said Farrah Donaldson, an English and Social Sciences teacher for Wakulla High School. “I have always had an active imagination, so I wanted to put it down on paper. I love my high school students, but I really love the small kids; I wanted to branch off and write for them.”
Donaldson is the author of the book “What Will LaRay Do Today?” LaRay is Farrah’s middle name.
Arria Haigler, author of “The House on Grape Grove,” said, “I am very excited to be here, I have always loved the arts, and I love writing books.”
“The House on Grape Grove” is a curated anthology of stories by young, Black women authors – and yes, all of the authors do happen to be me at various different ages throughout my life. It is 100 percent independent and written by me. My book has jokes about the Jheri curl, jokes about goths, jokes about the impending doom faced by the dying planet, because why cry when you can laugh, right? That’s my philosophy, and I guarantee you’ll find something to laugh at, either in my Halloween horror stories or the touch-your-heart holiday reads.”
“Keep Going” by author Cynecia Welch was inspired by, she shared, “my children and discussions with them of why parents have to go to work; parents need to earn money to afford the activities that you enjoy.
“I am dedicating my book to the time spent in Jackson County, Florida, this is where we did things like canning peaches and doing what real country people do, how we learned the country way of life, the communal care growing up in the country.”
Dr. JoeAnn Burgess, retired nurse and Director of Nursing, shared her stories of going to school in the early days alongside the potbelly stove, walking 6 miles to school and the teacher had to get wood and water and start a fire before school started.
“I need to write this history, we need to share this with our children, get this history documented.”
Two of Dr. Burgess’ books were donated to the Library of Congress when recognized by the publishing company for their historic value.
Burgess shared with the audience, “I don’t care how tired you are after working two jobs, you must read to the children.”
Verna Brock, former Wakulla School Board member and retired librarian, gave a very passionate speech on reading to children, the freedom of speech and literacy. Brock, who has dyslexia and learned to compensate for it at an early age. Brock’s mother also said, “My mother is not depending on the school system to teach me that it is HER job.”
Avid reader Da’Sha Rich shared information on Afrofuturism which is taking black struggle and turning it into a future, that it teaches you the importance of taking history and writing it down.
“It takes a while to become an avid reader, you have to first find something you love; try audio books, the narratives are great,” said Rich.
Kendyl Powell, a 9-year-old reader who attends Hartsfield Elementary in Tallahassee shared his report in school on equal rights and education.
Pastor Damon Rich shared “Part of a social status study for black boys and in order to predict how many prisons to build, they look at the kids not picking up reading by the 3rd and 4th grade.” He also said, “My stepfather was very adamant about me being an avid reader.”
Robert Manning said, “With a focus on minority kids, there is a misconception once you send the kids to school it is up to them to teach the kids to read. It is up to the parents, what the kids see is what they will become.”
Cynecia Welch, “Keep Going” is available at and books by Haigler and Donaldson are available on

Amaya Smalls picking out free books.