Carl Hiaasen, 2011 Lifetime Literary Award Winner
Carl Hiaasen is known internationally for his satirical novels featuring screwball characters in weird situations that could happen only in Florida. He’s been credited with almost single-handedly creating the “Florida noir” mystery genre.
But back at home, he’s also known as the take-no-prisoners columnist for the Miami Herald who for 25 years has ripped into the less-seemly sides of Florida politics and culture. He has particularly targeted political corruption, crime, overdevelopment, environmental degradation, and—you guessed it—screwball characters in weird situations that could happen only in Florida.
As a journalist he writes with “ferocity and passion, mordant wit, and moral outrage,” said one of his editors. He’s been compared to such great American muckrakers as Baltimore’s H.L. Mencken and Chicago’s Mike Royko.
In addition to producing a dozen novels, four nonfiction books, and thousands of newspaper columns over the past few decades, he has also written three popular children’s books.
In March, Hiaasen was named recipient of the 2011 Florida Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing. “Hiaasen’s writing embodies a consistent, often inspired, voice for preserving and protecting Florida and Floridians,” stated the award judges.
The Florida Humanities Council, which originated the award last year, oversees the nomination process, convenes a panel of independent judges, and announces the winner. Last year’s recipient was Michael Gannon, Distinguished Service Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Florida.
Hiaasen accepted the award at a luncheon hosted by First Lady Ann Scott at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, not exactly a comfortable venue for a columnist who has taken on every governor since 1985—or the novelist who created the character “Skink,” a former governor who is a crazed, swamp-dwelling environmental terrorist.
“This is the first I’ve been to the Governor’s Mansion,” Hiaasen said in his remarks at the award luncheon. “Shockingly, I’ve never been invited here before. Truly, I’ve pissed off every single governor since Bob Graham.”
Hiaasen, 58, emphasized that his choice of targets has nothing to do with political affiliation—and everything to do with his love of Florida. He was born and raised in western Broward County when it was a rural enclave of woods and swamp. He lived through Florida’s half-century of astounding population growth—much of it centered in the southeastern part of the state.
As a boy, he witnessed the bulldozers clearing trees to make way for more and more houses, roads, commercial strips, and malls. He saw wetlands filled and waterways polluted. He traces his sense of moral outrage to this violation of “a place that I love.”
“I’m going to go after anyone who I think is bad for the state,” he told the Tallahassee Democrat in an interview after receiving the award. “For anyone who has kids or grandkids who intend to live their lives as Floridians, there is no way you can stand on the sidelines, watch the circus, and not say something.”
Over the years, Hiaasen has said that he gets the ideas for his wacky novels directly from the newspapers. “Everyone in Florida knows the novels are documentaries,” he quipped at the award luncheon.
He added that he first came in contact with “the full bounty of Florida’s weirdness” at age 25, when he started as a Miami Herald reporter. The writing, he said, “is psychotherapy for me. It’s a lot cheaper than seeing a shrink.”
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