"If bestselling author Carl Hiaasen had never been born, we might have to invent him."
So said a letter from the University Press of Florida, one of his publishers, nominating Hiaasen for the 2011 Florida Lifetime Achievement Award in Writing. On Friday, he was named the winner.
"It's a surprise," Hiaasen said by phone. "There are a lot of great writers in Florida. It's humbling to think about the company you're in."
Hiaasen, who turns 58 next Friday, is a Florida native and the author of a dozen novels, three books for kids, four nonfiction books and a relentless stream of watchdog journalism — he has been on the staff of the Miami Herald since he was 23.
His novels, from Tourist Season in 1986 to last year's Star Island, have been national bestsellers. With Florida settings that range from South Beach to bass fishing tournaments, from strip clubs to the Ten Thousand Islands, and populated by an ever-changing cast of, to put it mildly, eccentrics, they are riotously funny crime comedies with an edge of environmentalism and political satire.
His novels for young readers, Hoot, Scat and Flush, focus on environmental concerns as well. (Both Hoot and his 1993 novel Strip Tease have been made into movies.)
As a reporter and columnist for the Herald, Hiaasen has written about several decades' worth of political shenanigans, corporate bad behavior and countless corners of Florida's deep well of weirdness, winning an array of journalism awards.
This award, he said, is "a little more special" because his work is so closely related to Florida. "You get something called a lifetime achievement award, though, you know you're not young anymore. The buzzards are beginning to circle."
The Florida Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing was instituted in 2009 by the Florida Humanities Council, which oversees nominations and convenes a panel of judges (five of them this year, including Times book editor Colette Bancroft). The first winner was historian Michael Gannon.
Of this year's winner, the judges issued this statement: "Despite a distinguished pool of nominees, Carl Hiaasen emerged as the committee's choice when considering the overall quality and variety of his journalism, editorial writing, and popular fiction and, no less, its importance. Hiaasen's writing embodies a consistent, often inspired, voice for preserving and protecting Florida and Floridians."
The award will be presented to Hiaasen on March 23 at a special luncheon at the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee.
"It will be interesting," Hiaasen said. "I've never set foot in the Governor's Mansion, for good reason. I've never been invited by any governor, Republican or Democrat. It should be fun."
Colette Bancroft can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8435.