Every Florida Book Project
If you asked someone to name the literary figures of Florida, and if they were able to answer you at all, they would probably name three people: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Ernest Hemmingway, and Zora Neale Hurston. Hemmingway, however, really doesn't belong on the list. He certainly lived on Key West and he is part of the island's mythology, but he wrote only one novel set in Florida: To Have and Have Not.
Someone else might answer Carl Hiaasen or Dave Barry, two best-selling Florida humorists. Older readers with longer memories might suggest Elmore Leonard and John D. MacDonald.
As I have discovered new authors, I find a consistent theme runs through many of their works: that political corruption and greed was and is destroying the natural environment of Florida. Carl Hiaasen may have created the contemporary eco-thriller genre, but his message is the same of 19th century adventure novelist Kirk Munroe, best-selling 1960s crime novelist John D. MacDonald, and cracker westerns like A Land Remembered. That's over a hundred years of novels expressing the same frustration and loss. If you asked me to name the single defining feature of Florida literature, that would be it. It is the only consistent theme across time and genre.
The majority of novels set in Florida are of course crime thrillers, which should come as no surprise since the majority of novels published in the US are a thriller of one variety or another. There are so many of these mass-market thrillers in fact, that I broke them up across multiple pages. However, if we ignore the thrillers for a moment, there are enough works of incredible literature to fill multiple college literature courses. Literature from big names and heavy hitters like Stephen Crane, Denis Johnson, Peter Matthiessen, Tom Wolfe, Russell Banks, Karen Russell, Joan Didion, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, Harry Crews, Cristina García, Jose Yglesias, and of course Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Zora Neale Hurston.
If there is one criticism we can level against the Florida literary canon, it is the under-representation of minorities. Florida is one of the most ethnically, racially, and religiously diverse states in the country and yet there are only a few prominent Latino and African American writers, and no prominent Seminole authors, not to mention the many other groups who have settled here: Haitians, Greeks, Colombians, Mexicans, Dominicans, Indians, Jews, Arabs as well as many religious minorities. This needs to change. The stories of the migrant workers in the strawberry fields, the Lebanese in Temple Terrace, the refugees in Little Haiti, and everyone else, should be heard.