By Gary McKechnie
Perhaps it is Florida’s diversity that lends itself to an author’s literary expression. Our state is a cauldron of content and inspiration that bubbles up through a rich mix of landscapes, cultures, and unforgettable characters.
And through books and articles and films, famous Florida authors and writers are continually extending an open invitation to readers around the world to visit their home state.
Even better, in a few special cases, readers can even visit their actual home.
1. Ernest Hemingway
Key West, 1899-1961
Of all the writers who have called Key West home, none are so closely associated with the island as Ernest Hemingway. Between 1928 and 1940, the house at 907 Whitehead Street was the author’s primary residence. It was here that he wrote all or parts of A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, To Have and Have Not, and The Snows of Kilimanjaro – reasons enough why the island hosts Hemingway Days each July.
The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum will give you a sense of how Hemingway could work at such a prolific pace. He enjoyed the privacy provided by Key West’s remote location, savored the tropical landscape that surrounded his estate, and created a sanctuary for himself in his personal writing studio. When his workday was done, Hemingway could wrap up a chapter and stroll over to a Duval Street watering hole for a cold one with his pals.
Just like the island’s writers do today.
2. Marjory Kinnan Rawlings
Cross Creek, 1896-1953
The gifted but struggling writer arrived in the rural Central Florida environs of Cross Creek in the 1920s. With determination (as well as income from her citrus grove) Rawlings managed to stay solvent for a full decade until she achieved lasting success with the publication of The Yearling, her 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel which turned into a 1946 feature film starring Gregory Peck.
Although she died in 1953, the Cracker setting that inspired several more novels (as well as a popular cookbook, Cross Creek Cookery) is still here and still intact. About 20 miles southeast of Gainesville the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park appears just as it was in Rawlings’ day with her own typewriter books and furnishings still at the homestead. Even the park’s docents dress the part wearing period (ie: 1930s) apparel to add to a wonderful level of historical realism.
Still remote, still rural, it takes very little to envision the author at work here. You can still see her breathing in the fragrance of the surrounding citrus, listening to the call of the crickets, and gaining inspiration from Old Florida.
3. Zora Neale Hurston
While her home is no longer here, writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston’s impact on America’s oldest incorporated black community - has been long lasting.
She lived in Eatonville only until her teens, but this formative connection, return visits, and her subsequent reputation as one of the leading writers of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance is enough for the town to celebrate the author who influenced generations of writers black and white - including Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker - through works such as Jonah’s Gourd Vine Mules and Men and Their Eyes Were Watching God.
The Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts features a gallery with changing exhibits and a small shop selling Hurston’s books. A few blocks away is the Moseley House, where Hurston stayed when visiting her hometown. But to truly appreciate Hurston’s legacy arrive in time to enjoy the highlight of the town’s cultural calendar: Zora! Festival, an annual celebration of art, music, and literature held each January.
4. Jack Kerouac
Before a New York Times review of ‘On the Road’ shot him to fame, the author who transformed American literature and the nation’s youth culture spent his last anonymous days in Orlando at 1418½ Clouser Street working his next book, ‘The Dharma Bums.’ In 1996 nearly 30 years after Kerouac died in St. Petersburg at age 47, author Bob Kealing launched a drive to buy and restore the broken down rental home and create the Kerouac Project: a retreat for a writer in residence. The Florida author's home is on the National Register of Historic Places and notably is Orlando's only historic literary landmark.
Epilogue: The Florida Book Shelf
After you've visited these famous Florida authors' homes, consider delving into the works of other local writers past and present.
Shel Silverstein Author/Musician – Key West
Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Giving Tree, A Light in the Attic
George Abbott Playwright – Miami Beach
Damn Yankees, The Pajama Game, Pal Joey
Harry Crews Author/Screenwriter - Gainesville
Florida Frenzy, The Hawk is Dying
Marjory Stoneman Douglas Author/Journalist – Coconut Grove
The Everglades: River of Grass
Stetson Kennedy Author/Folklorist/Journalist – St. Augustine
The Klan Unmasked, Southern Exposure
John D. MacDonald Author - Sarasota
Travis McGee series, The Executioners
Randy Wayne White Author – Pine Island
Dead Silence, Night Moves, Chasing Midnight
Carl Hiassen Author/Writer – Vero Beach
Hoot, Native Tongue, Bad Monkey
Patrick D. Smith Author – Merritt Island
A Land Remembered, Forever Island, Angel City
Tennessee Williams Playwright/Author– Key West
The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof
Elmore Leonard Author/Writer – Pompano Beach
Get Shorty, 3:10 to Yuma, 52 Pick-Up
Janet Evanovich Author - Naples
Stephanie Plum series, Wicked Appetite
Pat Frank Author – Tangerine
Alas Babylon, Hold Back the Night
Dave Barry Author/Writer – Miami
Dave Barry Slept Here, Dave Barry Turns 50, Dave Barry's History of the Millennium (So Far)
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