"Literary" is probably not the first adjective that comes to mind when you think of Florida.
Time to reconsider. The Sunshine State has attracted dozens of notable writers, as a place to live and a place to write about, and it shouldn't come as a surprise. Whether it's hurricanes (deployed to great effect by such writers as Zora Neale Hurston, John D. MacDonald and Peter Matthiessen), alligators (Carl Hiaasen, Tim Dorsey, Karen Russell et al.) or bizarre criminals (Hiaasen, Dorsey, Jeff Lindsay, Randy Wayne White and many more), Florida offers plenty of material.
We have bustling cities and vast expanses of wilderness, pristine beaches and gaudy tourist traps, not to mention plenty of universities with writing programs. It's no wonder that well-known authors can be found in almost every corner of the state — and that their work has depicted Florida as everything from paradise to hell on earth.
To compile this map of literary Florida, I first chose to limit it to fiction writers, living and dead. Florida can claim plenty of great nonfiction writers, poets and playwrights as well, of course, but I was aiming for a manageable number. Here are my criteria for this selection of novelists and short story writers: They have lived in the state at some point and have used Florida as a setting for their fiction.
Since it's a selection, I have also chosen to grandfather in one writer who doesn't meet both criteria. Jack Kerouac is one of the most famous literary figures associated with St. Petersburg and Orlando, having lived for a time in both cities in the 1960s. But he never, as far as I know, wrote about Florida in his fiction.
However, a letter by Kerouac that recently came up for auction reveals that he planned to do so. Dated Sept. 27, 1968, a time when he was living in St. Petersburg, the typed one-page letter to New York literary agent Sterling Lord outlines Kerouac's plans for his never-completed final book, the working title of which was Spotlight.
He begins, "Here's what I'll do with SPOTLIGHT. I'll use my public appearances on TV and lectures as rungs in the ladder of the narrative. In betwixt, I can throw in more private matters, such as my two physical beatings in bars ('Spotlight' indeed), and other things, but the main tale will be. I'll start with when I'm living on that backporch in Florida with my Maw in 1957, broke, arguing about what to buy for dessert because we have no money for meat, and suddenly Time Magazine comes in to interview me about the upcoming publication of ON THE ROAD."
The letter goes on to describe a wild, globe-trotting plot for a book Kerouac never finished. He died in St. Petersburg in October of 1969 while still living with his "Maw," Gabrielle, and his third wife, Stella.
Though Florida fiction remained out of reach for Kerouac, the more than 80 writers mapped out here have captured the state's beauty and despoilment, tragedy and comedy, human crush and primeval nature, each in their own ways.
A who's who of florida fiction writers
Authors are listed under cities where they have lived. Also included is each author's age (or years of birth and death), the genre in which he or she commonly writes, and the title of one book set in Florida. Many of these authors have multiple Florida books.
Brad Meltzer, 45, thrillers, Book of Lies
Jeff Lindsay, 62, mysteries, Darkly Dreaming Dexter
Lisa Unger, 45, mysteries, Black Out
Kate DiCamillo, 51, children's books, Because of Winn-Dixie
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1896-1953, literary fiction, The Yearling
Zora Neale Hurston, 1891-1960, literary fiction, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Deborah Sharp, 61, mysteries, Mama Does Time
Elaine Viets, 63, mysteries, Shop Till You Drop
Harry Crews, 1935-2012, literary fiction, The Gypsy's Curse
Joe Haldeman, 72, science fiction, The Coming
Padgett Powell, 63, literary fiction, You & Me
Rick Yancey, 52, YA novels, A Burning in Homeland
James Weldon Johnson, 1871-1938, literary fiction, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
Charles Martin, 45, romance, Water From My Heart
Hugh Howey, 40, science fiction, The End Is Nigh
Ann Beattie, 67, literary fiction, The New Yorker Stories
Judy Blume, 77, children's and adult fiction, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself
Jimmy Buffett, 68, mysteries, Where Is Joe Merchant?
Meg Cabot, 48, YA novels, Abandon
Jim Harrison, 77, literary fiction, Julip
Ernest Hemingway, 1899-1961, literary fiction, To Have and Have Not
John Hersey, 1914-1993, literary fiction, Key West Tales
Thomas McGuane, 75, literary fiction, Ninety-two in the Shade
Thomas Sanchez, 71, literary fiction, Mile Zero
Joy Williams, 71, literary fiction, Breaking and Entering
Stuart Woods, 77, mysteries, Blood Orchid
Patrick Smith, 1927-2014, historical fiction, A Land Remembered
Diana Abu-Jaber, 55, literary fiction, Birds of Paradise
Chantel Acevedo, 40, literary fiction, A Falling Star
Russell Banks, 75, literary fiction, Continental Drift
Dave Barry, 68, mysteries and YA, Insane City
Edna Buchanan, 76, mysteries, A Dark and Lonely Place
Edwidge Danticaticat, 46, literary fiction and YA, Untwine
John Dufresne, 67, literary fiction, No Regrets, Coyote
Patricia Engel, 38, literary fiction, Vida
James Grippando, 57, thrillers, Cash Landing
James W. Hall, 68, mysteries, Silencer
Carl Hiaasen, 62, mysteries and YA, Nature Girl
Elmore Leonard, 1925-2013, mysteries, Maximum Bob
Paul Levine, 67, thrillers, Bum Rap
Karen Russell, 34, literary fiction, Swamplandia!
Les Standiford, 67, mysteries, Havana Run
Charles Willeford, 1919-88, mysteries, Miami Blues
Ben Bova, 82, science fiction, Death Dream
John Green, 37, YA, Paper Towns
Susan Hubbard, 63, horror, The Story of S
Bob Morris, 65, mysteries, Bahamarama
James Patterson, 68, mysteries and YA, Lifeguard
Laura Lee Smith, 47, literary fiction, Heart of Palm
Mary Kay Andrews, 60, romance, Beach Town
Lee Irby, 51, mysteries, 7,000 Clams
Dennis Lehane, 49, mysteries, Live by Night
Jack Kerouac, 1922-69, literary fiction (see introduction)
Michael Koryta, 32, mysteries, Last Word
Kris Radish, 61, literary fiction, The Year of Necessary Lies
James Sheehan, 65, mysteries, The Alligator Man
Ian Vasquez, 49, mysteries, Lonesome Point
Sterling Watson, 67, literary fiction, Suitcase City
Wendy Wax, 59, women's fiction, The House on Mermaid Point
Peter Matthiessen, 1927-2014, literary fiction, Shadow Country
Randy Wayne White, 64, mysteries, The Man Who Invented Florida
Suzanne Brockmann, 55, thrillers and romance, Nowhere to Run
Tony D'Souza, 41, literary fiction, Mule
Stuart Kaminsky, 1934-2009, mysteries, Midnight Pass
Stephen King, 67, horror, Duma Key
John D. MacDonald, 1916-86, mysteries, The Deep Blue Good-by
Janet Burroway, 78, literary fiction, Bridge of Sand
Robert Olen Butler, 70, literary fiction, A Small Hotel
Connie May Fowler, 55, literary fiction, How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly
Bob Shacochis, 63, literary fiction, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul
Elizabeth Stuckey-French, 56, literary fiction, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady
Jeff Vandermeer, 47, science fiction, Annihilation
Kent Wascom, 29, literary fiction, The Blood of Heaven
Ace Atkins, 45, mysteries, White Shadow
Karen Brown, 54, literary fiction, Pins and Needles
Michael Connelly, 58, mysteries, The Last Coyote
Tim Dorsey, 54, mysteries, Shark Skin Suite
John Henry Fleming, 50, literary fiction, Songs for the Deaf
Alissa Nutting, literary fiction, Tampa
Enid Shomer, 71, literary fiction, Tourist Season
James Swain, 59, mysteries, Grift Sense
Rick Wilber, 66, science fiction and literary fiction, Rum Point
Lois Lenski, 1893-1974, children's books, Strawberry Girl
Debbie Macomber, 66, women's fiction, A Turn in the Road
Michael Lister, 47, mysteries, Power in the Blood
Piers Anthony, 80, science fiction, A Spell for Chameleon
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Colette Bancroft at email@example.com or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.