Jeff Klinkenberg wins Florida Humanities Council lifetime achievement award

Jeff Klinkenberg pictured in the Times studio in 2014. DIRK SHADD   |   Times
Jeff Klinkenberg pictured in the Times studio in 2014. DIRK SHADD | Times
Published Feb. 1, 2018

Journalist and author Jeff Klinkenberg has been named the winner of the Florida Humanities Council's 2018 Florida Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing.

"It's nice to be above the ground when these things happen," Klinkenberg said, after getting word Wednesday.

Klinkenberg, 68, wrote for almost four decades for the Tampa Bay Times, where his finely crafted Real Florida columns told the fascinating stories of the state's people and places who didn't make wacky headlines. He has also published six books, most recently Alligators in B-Flat. In March the University Press of Florida will publish his memoir, Son of Real Florida: Stories From My Life.

A five-person panel (I was one of them) chose Klinkenberg from 20 nominees, praising him as "a writer who has explored every nook and cranny of Florida in explaining the state's history and culture."

Steve Seibert, Florida Humanities Council executive director, said in a news release, "The humanities are the stories of our human experience. No one tells the stories of Florida experiences better than Jeff Klinkenberg."

Klinkenberg, who lives in St. Petersburg and North Carolina, said he found it "humbling" to be among the award winners, "people that I really admire."

The award's first winner in 2010, historian and priest Michael Gannon, "was my history professor at the University of Florida, and he was my pastor."

Novelist and journalist Carl Hiaasen, the 2011 winner, "has been more than generous to me." Novelist Patrick Smith, the 2012 winner whom Klinkenberg interviewed and, later, eulogized, "was a great storyteller."

University of South Florida historian and 2016 winner Gary Mormino is a longtime friend and mentor. And Klinkenberg recalled being in awe, when he was a young Miami News reporter, of Miami Herald police reporter and novelist Edna Buchanan, the 2017 winner, "in her pink pantsuit with bloodstained cuffs."

Klinkenberg noted "how lucky I was to work at the Times when I could do the things I was doing, and it wasn't seen as weird. I had some editors earlier who pushed me toward pop culture stuff. But then I had (former Times editor) Mike Wilson, who said just go out and find something interesting. And there was no shortage of interesting stories."

Klinkenberg will receive the award in April at the Florida Book Award luncheon held in the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee. In the meantime he planned to celebrate with a dinner of "my favorite comfort food, American spaghetti," a Depression-era recipe of his mother's.

Klinkenberg has been celebrating already this year. On Jan. 10, he was named one of three winners of the 2018 Florida Folk Heritage Awards.

"When it rains, it pours," he said. "I need to run out and buy a lottery ticket. The Florida lottery."