Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Books

Edna Buchanan receives Florida Humanities Council's lifetime achievement award for writing

"I thought everyone forgot about me," Edna Buchanan says. "I was on Facebook and I stumbled across these people debating whether I was dead or alive."

That must have given pause to the woman who wrote a bestselling memoir called The Corpse Had a Familiar Face. But, she says, she was "really excited and amazed" to get a call from the Florida Humanities Council to let her know that she is the recipient of its 2017 Florida Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing. An independent panel of five judges (of which I was one) selected Buchanan from a field of 19 nominees on Wednesday. Previous winners include poet David Kirby, historian Gary Mormino, and novelists Janet Burroway and Carl Hiaasen.

A statement from the judges called her "a mover and shaker in not one but two fields. Edna Buchanan won the Pulitzer Prize for police reporting and went on to become a pioneer in Florida crime writing with a series of bestselling novels as well as a true-crime memoir. … She was dubbed 'the queen of crime' by the Los Angeles Times, but her books are a tribute to persistence and sheer doggedness as well." The award is scheduled to be presented April 6 at the Florida Book Awards banquet in Tallahassee.

Buchanan, 77, worked the police beat for the Miami Herald for 18 years, covering some 3,000 murders as well as other crimes and disasters and winning the Pulitzer in 1986 for general news reporting "for her versatile and consistently excellent police beat reporting," according to the Pulitzer citation.

She published her first novel, Nobody Lives Forever, in 1990, and has published 14 more bestselling mysteries, many of them about intrepid Cuban-American reporter Britt Montero, and all of them set in Miami

"Miami is my town," Buchanan says by phone from her longtime home in Miami Beach, where she lives with her dog, a rescue named Hairy P. Houdini. She was born in New Jersey but found her home in Florida. "Once I got the job at the Herald I didn't want to work anywhere else. In my novels, Miami is always a character."

Does she miss being a reporter? "Oh, yeah. I'd go back in a heartbeat. But 'there' isn't there anymore."

She's talking about the recent demolition of the Miami Herald building — "I have photos of the demolition. Every time I drive by there going to the grocery store, it breaks my heart" — but also about the dramatic changes in the newspaper business.

"How come none of them foresaw Trump?" Buchanan says. "None of them cover their beats. None of them are out there sniffing the air. They're just sitting in their cubicles. I always knew when something bad was going to happen or when something good was going to happen."

But Buchanan is still busy writing, happy to be back at it after putting a "tough year" of ill health behind her. Her last novel, A Dark and Lonely Place, was published in 2011. Fans will be happy to hear she's hard at work on a new one, Dead Man's Daughter.

"I've got a good draft, and I'm trying to trim and polish it now," she says. "Britt (Montero) is the dead man's daughter, of course, because her father was executed by Castro when she was tiny. Now she has this baby, and the baby's father died in the last book, so she's another dead man's daughter.

"It's a good story."

Buchanan runs a writers' group at her church and has taught at Florida International University. Working with other writers is "so much fun," she says. She has also been a consultant for true-crime television shows.

At the behest of her publisher, Simon & Schuster, Buchanan is on Facebook. "I didn't want a Facebook page, but my publisher said if you have more than 5,000 friends on social media they promote your books. So I did it, and now there are tons of cops and prosecutors and lawyers on it. It's sort of fun, although it can really be too attractive."

Most, of the time, though, she's writing. "I really, really love my work. I loved being a reporter. I love writing books."

In both careers, she's focused on the same subject: "The most dangerous creatures on earth are human beings."

Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

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