By Rachel Giordano
WSRE welcomed best-selling author, Jeff Klinkenberg, to the Amos Performance Studio on Aug 28th as part of The Great American Read, presented by the WSRE Public Square Speakers Series event.
Klinkenberg has written about Florida culture for nearly four decades for the St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) and has four best sellers: “Alligators in B-Flat,” “Pilgrim in the Land of Alligator,” “Seasons of Real Florida,” and “Dispatches from the Land of Flowers.”
Klinkenberg grew up in Miami and explored the Everglades as a small boy. He developed a passion for reading at a young age and started writing books at the age of six. He described, with a comedic tone, the first book he wrote titled, “Davy Crockett and the Alligators” and was proud to admit that he illustrated the book, as well.
At sixteen, he started working with the Miami News and went on to graduate from the University of Florida with a journalism degree. He is a recipient of the Florida Heritage Award, alongside authors Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Zora Neale Hurston, both of which are on his list of must-reads.
He started the talk, which he named “Books that Every Floridian Should Have on the Shelf,” about ten years ago. Since then, the list of books has grown from 10 to 21. They range from “Travels” by William Bartram, published in 1791 to “The Gulf” by Jack E. Davis, published in 2017.
Klinkenberg’s appreciation for the authors he recommends showed throughout the talk. “One thing about Bartram is that he was an amazing illustrator, among other things, and a wonderful, natural historian.”
Author Harriet Beecher Stowe made Klinkenberg’s list with the book titled, “Palmetto Leaves,” which was published in 1873. Most people recognize Stowe’s work with ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which was the biggest best selling novel of the nineteenth century.
“She was the Danielle Steel of her era,” Klinkenberg said.
He shared his knowledge of Beecher Stowe, explaining that supposedly Abraham Lincoln once said to her, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book responsible for this Great War.”
Through Klinkenberg’s description of Stowe, he said, “She was a humanist and turned slavery into something worth fighting about,” in regards to the Civil War.
“Palmetto Leaves” is a memoir Stowe published regarding the time she spent in Northeast Florida, just south of Jacksonville. One story was about the shooting and killing of alligators here in Florida. Klinkenberg explained that she wrote with such prose that she influenced the behavior to stop. He went on to explain that Stowe was enamored with Florida and loved the orange trees and birds that are abundant in the state.
He made you get a feel for the author by reading a quote from Stowe: “The fact is that people cannot come to heartily like Florida until they accept certain deficiencies as the necessary shadow to certain excellences. If you want to live in an orange orchard, you must give up wanting to live surrounded by green grass.”
Author Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 book, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” was among the 21 books on Klinkenberg’s list. “She was a whirlwind of creativity and probably a genius,” he said. The book is still read in high schools and colleges, proving to be a worthy read to this day.
Hurston was a great reporter, as well, and gathered tons of information about the 1928 category four hurricane that hit Okeechobee, which took many lives. In fact, the hurricane in the book is based off of the Okeechobee storm.
Klinkenberg has many author friends, one of whom is Carl Hiaasen. Hiaasen is the author of “Tourist Season,” a funny yet dark comedy involving murder and alligators. He has known Hiaasen for a long time. Hiaasen is also a best-selling author, and his novel is number fourteen on Klinkenberg’s list.
When asked about his friend, Hiaasen has been quoted saying, “Nobody writes about the real Florida with as much insight and affection as Jeff Klinkenberg. His essays, spanning the length and breadth, including North Florida, of this intoxicating and infuriating state, are pure gems.”
If you would like to read any of the 21 recommended books by Klinkenberg, many are available at the PSC library. You can view them at Klinkenberg’s website at: www.jeffklinkenberg.com. Click on the link “Floridians Should Read These Books!”