You won't find a better introduction to the impressive range of contemporary Florida writers than the latest issue of Forum, the magazine of the Florida Humanities Council.
The issue is devoted to the winners of the Florida Book Awards for 2008. Coordinated by the Florida State University Library and sponsored by a group of literacy, educational and arts organizations (including FHC), the awards program "recognizes, honors, and celebrates the best Florida literature published in the previous year," according to its Web site ( floridabookawards.lib.fsu.edu ).
For 2008, the third year the prizes have been awarded, the judges considered 135 books entered in eight categories, selecting 28 gold, silver and bronze medal winners.
The new issue of Forum presents excerpts from some of the winning books as well as interviews with many of the authors.
John Dufresne, a Florida International University creative writing professor, won the gold medal for general fiction for his novel Requiem, Mass. He tells Forum that Florida is a place "where the mix of cultures and the stunning natural beauty spawn and provoke stories."
Lisa Unger, who won a silver medal in genre fiction for her thriller Black Out, says, "Florida slowly wraps itself around you like a strangler fig. . . . For all its kitsch and sunshine, it has a dark and feral center that really appeals to me. It's a wild place."
In the issue, you'll find excerpts from Black Out, Matters of Faith by Kristy Kiernan (bronze, general fiction), The First Hollywood by Shawn Bean (gold, Florida nonfiction), It Was Never About a Hot Dog and a Coke! by Rodney L. Hurst Sr. (bronze, Florida nonfiction), Pilgrim in the Land of Alligators by St. Petersburg Times Real Florida columnist Jeff Klinkenberg (bronze, Florida nonfiction), The Night Stalker by James Swain (bronze, genre fiction), Papa's Problem by Patrick Kendrick (bronze, genre fiction), Seven Notebooks by Campbell McGrath (silver, poetry) and Shimming the Glass House by Helen Pruitt Wallace (bronze, poetry).
Several of the featured authors live in the Tampa Bay area: Unger, Kiernan, Klinkenberg, Swain, Wallace, Tony D'Souza (The Konkans, silver, general fiction) and Emmett Snellings Jr. (Seminole Views, gold, book design).
The Forum issue also features an introduction to Florida books by editor Barbara O'Reilley and contributor Jon Wilson's roundup of new Florida nonfiction books.
To get a free copy of the Florida Book Awards issue of Forum and one-year subscription to the magazine, go to www.floridahumanities.org and click on the image of the magazine cover. Click on "Forum Extra" for radio interviews with many of the authors and other features.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435. She blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.