A Short List of Florida Authors

By: Shayne Benowitz

From Kinnan Rawlings and Hemingway to Leonard and Hiassen, writers find inspiration in the Sunshine State.

"The state with the prettiest name," Elizabeth Bishop writes of Florida in the first line of her eponymous poem.

Whether it's the name or the sugar-sand beaches, the dense Everglades or blue skies, there is something about Florida that has propelled men and women of letters to find inspiration here.

"Florida is not really a unified whole," said Mitchell Kaplan owner/founder of Books & Books and the co-founder of the Miami Book Fair International. "What is really remarkable is the great diversity. Florida has a community of writers in poetry, fiction, non-fiction and children's books published in (many languages) and supported by bookstores, conferences and writing programs."

University of Florida English Professor Emeritus Kevin McCarthy's The Book Lover's Guide to Florida lists more than 2,200 notable writers and 5,000 books with an emphasis on books published since 1950.

Here's a short list of Florida authors to consider for your next beach read.

Carl Hiaasen

His best-selling satirical novels include Tourist Season (1986), Nature Girl (2006) and, most recently, Star Island (2010).

With characters such as failed alligator wrestlers, inept marine scientists and muckraking reporters turned private eyes, his books often lampoon a certain absurdity to South Florida.

At the Miami Book Fair International, Hiaasen described Florida as "an inverse, magnetic vortex of weirdness," citing recent news stories such as the "balloon boy" family moving to Florida, the Tiger Woods scandal, "Rush Limbaugh-friendly pharmacies" and the lack of a state income tax.

A longtime reporter for the Miami Herald, Hiaasen has written a Sunday column for the newspaper since 1985.

Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard splits his year between Detroit and North Palm Beach. His Florida-based stories include La Brava (1983), Rum Punch (1992) and Get Shorty (1993).

Many of his 42 novels have been made into movies.

Susanna Daniel

Born and raised in Miami, Daniel's debut novel, Stiltsville (2010), tells the story of a marriage in Miami from 1969 through the '90s. The title refers to a cluster of homes that once stood on concrete and wood pilings in Biscayne Bay until Hurricane Andrew destroyed many of them in 1993.

Stiltsville was among the best debuts of 2010, according to Amazon.com, and made Oprah.com's 2011 Summer Reading List.

Daniel currently lives in Madison, Wis. During the long winters, she "dreams of the sun and the sea, and jumping off the stilt house porch at high tide."

Campbell McGrath

His fifth book, Florida Poems (2002), has poems entitled "The Manatee," "The Key Lime," "A City in the Clouds," "Edison in Fort Myers," "Benediction for the Savior of Orlando," "Trouble with Miami" and "The Orange."

He's carrying on a tradition of Florida poetry which includes Wallace Stevens, Richard Wilbur and Elizabeth Bishop.

Publisher's Weekly compared him to two-term United States Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who also spends time in Florida as a Senior Distinguished Fellow of the Winter Park Institute.

Robert Frost

The Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. poet laureate wintered in Florida from 1940 until his death in 1963. He occupied various residences in Key West before building a home in Coconut Grove.

In Key West, a poetry festival is held every April in his honor. The small garden cottage he rented there can still be visited today. In a letter to a friend, he wrote of Key West: "People who know say it is a Honolulu 5,000 miles nearer home."

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway and his second wife Pauline discovered Key West in 1928, and eventually bought a home at 907 Whitehead Street that can still be visited today. His works and literary legacy in Key West are still celebrated there on a yearly basis.

The Nobel Prize winner wrote five novels during his time on the island. His only novel that took place in the United States, To Have and Have Not, was set in Key West.

His affection for the island stemmed from game fishing in the turquoise-blue waters and carousing at Sloppy Joe's.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

One of the earliest chroniclers of life in Florida, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings settled in rural Cross Creek in 1928. In her books South Moon Under (1933), When the Whippoorwill (1940) and Cross Creek (1942), she wrote about the "Cracker" people of this remote part of central Florida. The Yearling won the Pulitzer Prize in 1938.

Of Cross Creek, Rawlings said, "From my first moment here, I have felt more at home than since my childhood days on my father's farm in Maryland."

Rawlings' property can be visited today and is now a historic state park.

Shayne Benowitz is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer based in Miami Beach.

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