1. Life & Culture

Times columnists salute Carl Hiaasen

As he retires from his 35-year run as a columnist for the Miami Herald, some of his Tampa Bay Times peers take note.
Published Mar. 16, 2021|Updated Mar. 16, 2021

On the occasion of Carl Hiaasen retiring from his column for the Miami Herald, we asked several current and former Tampa Bay Times columnists to weigh in on his career. Here are their responses.

My native Floridian dad thoroughly enjoyed the regular comeuppance Carl Hiaasen gave certain politicians on the pages of the Herald, and he passed that on to me. Hiaasen defined outrage and voiced it for the rest of us. Across Florida, a whole lot of bad actors must be doing the Snoopy dance at the news that he won’t be pointing that razor-sharp column at them anymore. — Sue Carlton

His columns and novels can stand apart, of course, exceptional in their own ways. But for me, it’s the whole package. It’s the combination that has been the most inspiring, the most instructive to witness. Reading Carl Hiaasen in every form helped me understand that all the absurd and wonderful material any writer ever needs is right here in the real world. We are walking among characters every day, if we only open our eyes, squint sideways and pop them back out onto the page. — Stephanie Hayes

Carl has so many gifts. He’s a true Floridian. He grew up on the edge of the Everglades fishing for bass and catching snakes. It’s how I think he formed his profound sense of place and the love for the environment he brings to his work. Most of us know him as a brilliant satirist from his novels, of course, but he’s also been the ferocious columnist, slayer of bad leaders and bad ideas, I will especially miss. He’s a generous guy. He doesn’t take cheap shots at the addled and unlucky souls lazy writers make fun of in those obnoxious “Weird Florida” stories. If I have one complaint about Carl — and I guess it’s a big one — it’s that he’s annoyingly tall and handsome. — Jeff Klinkenberg

Carl Hiaasen is Florida’s own Jonathan Swift, a satirist who looks at his native state with the appropriate combination of love and disgust. He sees us for what we are — on a good day, at least — a crazy quilt of eccentric characters unfazed by mosquitoes the size of ponies and sinkholes that can swallow up a house in minutes, delighting in the sheer weirdness of life at the bottom of America. He also calls out our elected “leaders,” the nation’s greatest collection of venal, clueless jerks determined to drain and pave every inch of the old green Florida in the name of profit. We will miss his righteous rage in the pages of the Herald. — Diane Roberts

One afternoon in an Albertsons in Tallahassee, in 1986, I spotted a hardback copy of Tourist Season atop a pile of discount books, and I bought it because I was intrigued by the first page. The rest of the book — the first of Carl’s wacky thrillers, featuring a Florida newspaper columnist gone rogue — blew my mind. Although it was laced with hilarious satire, he’d captured something real about life in Florida, and he kept doing it in book after book. His columns have often been angrier, more lacerating, but just as true and just as funny. I think Carl’s birthday should be a state holiday, commemorated each year with a 21 weed-whacker salute. — Craig Pittman

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Not that he ever knew it, but Carl Hiaasen was my mentor when I started writing metro columns in 2012. Apparently worried — and justifiably so — about my ability to transition from sports to news, friends began buying me books featuring some of America’s greatest columnists.

My two favorites were Hiaasen’s Kick Ass and Paradise Screwed. I kept them on a shelf within easy reach of my office desk, and I can’t tell you how many times I picked one up looking for inspiration, encouragement, direction or just a midday laugh.

To me, the beauty in Hiaasen’s columns was his perspective. He knew when to raise an eyebrow, and when to swing a mallet. He knew the difference between a politician being silly as opposed to being disgraceful. And nobody was better at stripping away all the bureaucratic nonsense and convincing readers that they should be as outraged as he was on any given day. — John Romano

Since Dave Barry was in knickers, Carl has been the voice of Florida journalism.

But retire from what?

We retire from jobs, a working life.

Here is a dirty little secret. Column writing is not work. It is not a job. Writing a column is both a joy and a privilege. How do you retire from that?

Here is a prediction. Someday, a Florida pol will do or say something incredibly dense. Really, they will. And Carl, you will get the itch to scratch it. — Dan Ruth


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