1. Archive


John Dos Passos Coggin

Coggin, a writer and political strategist from Annapolis, Md., is the author of Walkin' Lawton, a biography of the late Florida governor based on more than 100 interviews collected from Chiles' family, friends and staff. Coggin, 29, is a graduate of Yale University and earned his master's degree in public policy from the University of Maryland. He will be a featured author at the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading on Oct. 26 at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

What's on your nightstand?

Moby Dick, because I never read it before, and I have always loved maritime themes. I learned to sail when I was 10. I'm also finishing Best American Travel Writing of 2012, published by Mariner Books. I envision writing a travel book in the future, so I want to learn as much as I can. ... Also, some friends and I are going to write scary stories and then compare them on Halloween. So we're working on our short stories now. I'm using Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow as a model for mine.

Is there one story that stood out in the collection of travel writing?

The one that stands out is by Mark Jenkins of Outside magazine. He wrote about the two explorers (Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott) and how they competed against each other in 1910 to get to the South Pole first. (Amundsen) followed the native techniques and accomplished the trip, while (Scott) did not and perished (on the return). The essay placed me so firmly in the environs of the South Pole. It's the best example I know of the perils of dismissing native peoples' survival skills.

Reviews have called your bookWalkin' Lawton an oral history. Did you read other authors who used this technique?

Actually, George Stephanopoulos' book (All Too Human: A Political Education), a memoir of his time in the White House, had an impact. The first time I read it was when I was in college. I think it was because of his extensive recordkeeping and the fact his friend Eric Alterman met with him about a dozen times to tape memories (of his experiences) while he was in the White House. So when he wrote the memoir, he had an oral history and could create much like a screenwriter. I wanted to create that feel, real dialogue unfolded in real time.

Times staff writer Piper Castillo can be reached at