Childhood memories can last a lifetime, shaping us into the adults we become. Homegrown in Florida is a paean to those memories as well as a valentine to growing up in the Sunshine State. William McKeen, a former University of Florida professor who now chairs the Department of Journalism at Boston University, has assembled an impressive and diverse array of authors and journalists to present life-altering memories. Each part of the state is represented, from the Panhandle to the Keys, in 37 entries that include essays, poems, song lyrics, book excerpts and an interview. Not every memory is pleasant but each is poignant in its own way. Scattered throughout the mixture of original work and previously published tales are childhood photos.
Bestselling crime fiction author Michael Connelly, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, has written before about how, as a teenager, he stumbled upon a gun that had just been stashed by a man who had shot another. But Night Shift isn’t a reprint; Connelly took the time to rewrite his tale.
A selection from Tim Dorsey’s comic mystery Florida Roadkill illustrates the maturation of his character Serge A. Storm, a Florida aficionado and serial killer, on a statewide trek that includes beloved children’s shows, jai alai and Burdines. An excerpt from Carl Hiaasen’s young adult novel Flush looks at a boy’s adoration of his father. Isis, from Zora Neale Hurston’s short story collection Spunk, is an affectionate look at childhood mischief from this respected author who lived in rural Eatonville near Orlando.
Journalist/author Bill Maxwell’s Crescent City offers a sobering account of segregation, racial discrimination and verbal and physical assaults by white men that he endured during the 1950s. He also fondly remembers growing up in the close-knit black community of Crescent City, between Deland and Palatka.
In 1972, western Broward was a long way from the traffic-challenged suburbs of today. That’s where journalist James Conner Baltzelle sets Eight Court Punks, his amusing slice of life about a summer day in Plantation. Growing up in a family of Cuban exiles who settled in Miramar in the early 1980s, journalist and nonfiction author Carlos Frias, who now lives in Pembroke Pines, shows how he learned to move comfortably between cultures in Twelve.
Homegrown shows a raw, slower-paced Florida. “We remembered the sun-bleached old Florida, when the closest thing to a tourist attraction was that mom-and-pop place on U.S. 27 where you could ‘watch Gramps wrestle an alligator,’ ” writes McKeen in the introduction. “Where exactly was that place? I can’t tell you now. Did it exist or was that manufactured by memory?”
That place still exists in Homegrown.
Oline H. Cogdill reviewed this book for The Sun Sentinel.