What’s the old adage about walking in another person’s shoes? Like any city full of unique individuals, there are going to be countless experiences and perspectives. But for a city like Jacksonville, the sheer amount of space it covers and the diversity between neighborhoods—from the urban sprawls to the bustling beach towns—makes it seemingly impossible to pin down a singular sense of place. That’s a lot of shoes with a lot of miles to stroll. Luckily, finding one particular narrative is not what Bridge Eight Press set out to do in publishing 15 Views of Jacksonville.
“You can live your whole life here and not see the Jacksonville that somebody else sees from across, it’s just so big and everyone will tell you that,” says Jared Rypkema, Bridge Eight’s Publisher. “But what does that mean? What does that mean when you’re looking at the actual people from these areas? I think that was the best part that came out of it was a chance to see the city in a different way.”
Bridge Eight was founded in 2014, publishing poetry, essays, short stories and other literary works in print and online while serving as another catalyst for Jacksonville’s lit scene. 15 Views is the press’s first book, with a new novel slated for this spring. The newly released anthology joins the other Florida-centric 15 Views books (Orlando, Tampa and Miami via Nathan Holic/Burrow Press in Orlando) as a sort of spiritual successor, though it’s the first of its kind to take on Northeast Florida.
And for Bridge Eight that meant painting as truthful of a picture as possible in a set number of perspectives—the book attempts to cover as many of Jacksonville’s different neighborhoods while including a diverse set of voices to answer complicated questions about home, history culture, and how all of those distinct layers create a sense of place.
“What do writers, who really do think about characters and cultural impact and heritage and legacy and whether that’s good or bad, what do they think about when they think about this city,” says Rypkema. “And depending on what neighborhood you’re in that looks really different.”
Unsurprisingly, contributors are all homegrown, bringing together writers from UNF, Douglas Anderson, Edward Waters, FSCJ, Flagler College and more, including Mark Ari, Duncan Barlow, Alex Ender, Sohrab Homi Fracis, Teri Youmans Grimm, Shane Hinton, C.H. Hooks, Jackie Hutchins, Nan Kavanaugh, Tiffany Melanson, Marcus Pactor, Laura Lee Smith, Michael Wiley, Hurley Winkler, Solon Timothy Woodward, and a closing reflection essay by Tim Gilmore, who has written honestly and extensively about Jacksonville’s history in several books.
And with so many voices in play, a steady editorial hand was necessary to steer the project. Caleb Sarvis, Bridge Eight’s senior fiction editor, spent the last year or so paring the stories down in a way that one could lead into the next cohesively, maintaining individual identities while still being parts of the same whole.
“That was probably the most difficult part, figuring out where to start, and which voices and tones most naturally led into the next,” he says. “Jacksonville is a more diverse city than it gets credit for, and 15 Views of Jacksonville perfectly captures the eclectic feel and perspective of its inhabitants, but at the same time, it leaves more to want.”
Rypkema shared a description one of the contributing authors had in summing the anthology: in Jacksonville there are a million different views, here are 15. It’s a keen way to look at a project that, while celebrating, exploring and questioning life in Jacksonville, can ultimately go on forever.
But aside from the illumination found in its pages, the story behind 15 Views also sheds more light on the continuing support this city’s creative community has for its members and their ideas. A Kickstarter was launched by Bridge Eight in July to back the physical print production for the anthology. Jacksonville showed out with 195 supporters pledging over $9,000.
Had the crowd funding campaign not been as successful, it’s very unlikely 15 Views would be packaged in the way it is, let alone getting the gorgeous hardcover treatment.
“Jacksonville’s artistic communities are caring, unpretentious, and supportive, the real deal,” says Gilmore. “The Kickstarter campaign is another example of the community making sure what needs to happen happens.”
15 Views’ October release will be followed by a mini book tour throughout Northeast Florida, which flows nicely into October’s JaxbyJax Literary Festival. Now in its fifth year, the festival has featured more than 50 writers based in Jacksonville (not including those featured in the Student Showcase), while bringing hundreds more to a literary community that continues to thrive as one of the city’s best kept secrets.
“Jacksonville as a literary city is very real. We’re a hub of storytellers and poets that are either forgotten and ignored by the city, or unknown to the writers outside of Duval County,” Sarvis says. “What I hope for the book is that it marks a cultural moment for Jacksonville (our writers are alive) while simultaneously exposing the talent here to readers and writers elsewhere.”
This feature originally appeared in Void Magazine Vol. 9 Issue 6 under the title, “A Pinhole Look at The Bold City: Bridge Eight Presents 15 Views of Jacksonville.”