Popular writer hopeful for future of Florida, youth
Alumnus, columnist, author
College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida alumnus Carl Hiaasen, a syndicated columnist and one of Florida’s best known literary voices, thinks today’s younger generation is every bit as literate as its parents and grandparents.
“Hoot,” the first of three of his novels aimed at younger readers, has an environmental storyline and did surprisingly well, he said. With the help of a movie adaptation, it continues to be extremely popular around the world, he added. He receives amazing letters from children. “They have a gut instinct for what’s right and wrong,” he said.
Thanks to writers such as Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and others, young people are buying and reading books, despite competition from cell phones and computers, he said. And all that texting and social networking requires them to write frequently. “Whether it’s literature or not, they’re engaging that muscle of the brain,” he said.
Hiaasen’s goal is to help them flex that muscle as much as possible. His work defines Florida for millions of readers and fans, but it doesn’t always look like a classic Sunshine State postcard.
Corrupt politicians, greedy businessmen and petty old criminals populate his novels, but the real-life stories he’s been telling in his columns for the last 25 years are just as colorful.
“On any given day, there is so much to write about in Florida. The well never dries up,” said Hiaasen, a 1974 UF graduate. “From the Panhandle to the Keys, it’s a wonderful freak show.”
At the same time, this Florida native’s concern for the environment has spurred others to recognize the exploitation of the state’s natural resources by developers and the apathy of elected leaders. “I consider myself as someone who wants to save Florida,” he said.
His work has found an audience not only in old-time Floridians but also among many newcomers who have invested their lives here and don’t like what they’ve seen happen. “There are a lot of folks in Florida who say ‘enough is enough,’” he said. “My books and columns give them some confidence.”
Hiaasen grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in west Broward County – an area he now describes as nothing more than a big parking lot. “Nobody learned any lessons from Dade County. Broward is worse; it’s all about the money,” he said. “As a journalist, you don’t have illusions about stopping it.”
He said the state grew too fast and too recklessly, and now residents are paying the price in the quality of life. “With a tax base from just a sales tax, it’s ludicrous to think the infrastructure will catch up,” he said.
As long as he doesn’t run out of material – and he doubts he will – Hiaasen expects to keep writing until he drops. “I’ll die face first in the keyboard,” he said. “If you talk to writers, you’ll find they have no choice.”