10052017191626_500x500From the winner of the Florida Humanities Council 2018 Florida Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing

And the recipient of a Florida Department of State 2018 Florida Folk Heritage Award

This book is available at a discount price through April 30, 2018. To order, visit our website and use code REALFL at checkout.


“Nobody writes about the real Florida with as much insight and affection as Jeff Klinkenberg. His essays—spanning the length and breadth of this intoxicating, infuriating state—are pure gems.”—Carl Hiaasen, New York Times bestselling author of Razor Girl

“An authentic take on the most mysterious, confounding, and beautiful state. Klinkenberg’s gotten to the heart and soul of Florida, and the sincerity, love, and compassion that comes through in these stories kept me turning pages.”—Michael Connelly, New York Times bestselling author of The Lincoln Lawyer

“Too often this unique place finds itself the butt of a joke. In Son of Real Florida, Jeff Klinkenberg reminds us of its storied history and fascinating characters, its layers and natural wonder—and he does so with the glint of mischief in his eye. Deeply personal and often moving, rich in color and atmosphere, this collection is not just a love letter to the Sunshine State; it’s a paean to family, memories good and bad, and a life lived well in a wild, gorgeous, often misunderstood place.”—Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of The Red Hunter

“A time warp and a reflecting spring, reminding Floridians to appreciate what drew so many of us here. Klinkenberg takes you to places with exotic names and special identities to meet the most interesting cast of characters ever assembled.”—Gary R. Mormino, author of Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida

“This collection takes us to the heart of real Florida.”—Janine Farver, former executive director, Florida Humanities Council

As stories about “Florida Man” inspire wild headlines in the news, Florida’s most beloved chronicler is here to show that the state is more than the stereotypes. Award-winning journalist Jeff Klinkenberg has explored what makes Florida unique for nearly half a century, and Son of Real Florida: Stories from My Life is a compelling retrospective of essays on the state he knows so well.

Klinkenberg recounts what it was like to grow up in pre-air conditioning Florida and how he became a newspaper reporter in mid-century Miami. He introduces us to the stout-hearted folks who have learned to live and even prosper among the insects, sharptoothed critters, and serious heat. We meet beekeeper Harold P. Curtis and his prized orange blossom honey; frog whisperer Avalon Theisen; Sheepshead George of St. Petersburg; and Miss Martha, the oyster-shucking queen of Apalachicola.

Klinkenberg also takes us to some of the most interesting, little-known places in the state. We travel to Solomon’s Castle of reclaimed materials, the neighborhood of “Rattlesnake, Florida,” and the smallest post office in the United States. Along the way, he stops to impart true Florida wisdom, from how to eat a Key lime pie to which writers and artists every Floridian should know.

In this heartfelt tribute, Klinkenberg portrays Florida’s people, places, food, and culture with a deep understanding that does not relegate them to cliché. He writes with warmth and authenticity of a state he still sees as wondrous in its own ways. Though some may think the real Florida is a thing of the past, he says, “Do not tell me Florida is no longer a paradise.”

Klinkenberg_Jeff-AUPhotoJeff Klinkenberg wrote for the Tampa Bay Times from 1977 to 2014. He is the winner of the Florida Humanities Council 2018 Florida Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing; a two-time winner of the Paul Hansell Distinguished Journalism Award, the highest honor given by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors; and a recipient of a 2018 Florida Folk Heritage Award. He is the author of Alligators in B-Flat: Improbable Tales from the Files of Real Florida; Pilgrim in the Land of Alligators: More Stories about Real Florida; and Seasons of Real Florida.

More books by Jeff Klinkenberg: 

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All of Jeff Klinkenberg’s books are available at special discount prices through April 30, 2018. Order at upress.ufl.edu and use code REALFL at checkout.


In this interview Jeff Klinkenberg talks about his new book and the authentic Floridian experience. 

As a journalist, what was it like witnessing all the changes happening in Florida over the decades?

I’m 68 as I write this. As a boy and young man, I was too unobservant to notice many changes—there seemed to be no end to Florida to me. But as the years went by, I noticed the changes everywhere. Today I’m grateful for the “Real Florida” that remains. Quite a bit is still there, fortunately, but it no longer slaps you in the face when you walk outside like it did when I was a kid. You have to look for it now. When I was boy, for example, I could hear barred owls hooting through my open bedroom window at night. In Miami. When I hear them now, I’m usually in a state park or national forests. If you want to experience Florida, you have to get off the couch, look around, talk to people who may be different than you. In my writing, I try to show readers what’s here, the bad and the good, and what it means.

What makes the idea of Old Florida so special?

We are home to more than 20-million permanent residents and many more part-timers and tourists. Yet my state is crawling with dinosaurs—the alligators that have been around since Florida emerged from the ocean 25 million years ago. In fact, we see more alligators now than when I was boy, when they had been hunted to the edge of extinction. My modern state also boasts crocodiles, bears, panthers, and bald eagles. We have insects and plants found nowhere else. Wild Florida lies beneath the civilized Florida that people see every day. Floridians live in a unique place, and I’ve always enjoyed writing about the folks who have learned to live among the good, bad and ugly. We’re a tough lot.

The “Florida Man” stereotype paints a negative portrait of Floridians. Laughingstock Florida seems to be a new narrative in books, on Twitter, and on late night television. How do you feel about it?

Well, some of it is funny. Nobody does it better than my friend Carl Hiaasen. Of course, he’s a brilliant satirist who writes fiction. I balk at the nonfiction narrative that suggests that “weird” is the only thing a very complicated and interesting place has to offer. Yuck! Whenever I see an “Only in Florida” tweet I start googling. Most of the time those only-in-Florida capers are also happening in other states. Incidentally, no writer traveled more in his state, looking for interesting things to write about, than me. So I always wondered why I never was lucky enough to encounter what others were calling “Weird Florida.’’ Like, where is it? Visitors who expect to be entertained by “Weird Florida” are likely to go home disappointed. But if they take the time to look they may see a lot of alligators and meet some interesting people. You know, maybe I am the “Florida Man” everybody is talking about. After all, I like snakes. I like to wade through swamps. I like skinny dipping. What a weird old bastard I am!

About 1,000 people move to Florida every day, according to statistics. Any advice for newcomers on how to enjoy what’s here?

I’m an immodest fellow. Read my books, for heaven’s sake. Seriously, put on your boots and explore. Open your eyes. Look up. You might see a bald eagle. Eat a fish you have caught yourself. Bake a Key lime pie for dessert. Go for a swim in a crystal-clear spring. Plant your own orange tree. Visit an art museum and look for paintings inspired by Florida. Get off the interstate. Stop at a country store. Talk to the guy at the fish camp.

People who don’t know Florida often believe your state has no seasons beyond “hot and humid” and “not so bad.” Does Florida have seasons?

Yes, Florida has four seasons. But they are 180-degrees different from what a northerner might experience. Summer, with its heat and hurricanes, is our harsh season. If you are a Yankee, winter is the season you have to endure. Here, winter is a delight. Our fall is like a northern spring. We know summer is over. Beyond the psychological, observant Floridians know the seasons by the birds we see passing overhead and the fish that swim past the seawall.

What is an authentic Florida meal and where can I get one?

I’m a “when in Rome person.” When I visit a Florida restaurant, I don’t order salmon from the Pacific Northwest or a lobster from Maine. As a Floridian, I want to eat something fresh that reflects where I’m from. I want to eat snapper, grouper, stone crabs, spiny crawfish, speckled perch, cobia. Give me homegrown collards, stoneground grits, a good summer watermelon, Key lime pie, a Temple orange. Florida is a melting pot of many cultures, which means I will eat a Cuban sandwich when I travel to Tampa’s Ybor City, and roast pork from Miami’s fabulous Versailles Restaurant. I’ll eat a Greek salad when in Tarpon Springs, oysters when I’m lucky enough to be in Apalachicola, and Minorcan clam chowder when I’m supping in America’s oldest city, St. Augustine. I never drive through LaBelle without stopping at the Harold P. Curtis Honey Company for his orange blossom honey. It’s heaven.

What is your favorite place in Florida?

So many great places, so little time. In winter, no place thrills me more than the Big Cypress and Everglades National Park area of South Florida. I grew up down there, and it always feels like home. In the summer, a swim in 72-degree Alexander Springs in the Ocala National Forest cools me off and reminds me of early camping trips with my folks. From Ocala, it’s a quick drive to Cross Creek, where one of my favorite Florida authors, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, wrote her great novel, The Yearling. I’ll go to the Keys, where I spent so many memorable days as a kid, just about any time. I’ll sweat, I’ll slap mosquitoes, but what a magical place.

What Florida authors do you think embody the spirit of Real Florida?

From the 18th century, William Bartram. In the 19th, Harriet Beecher Stowe. In the 20th, Zora Neale Hurston, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Stetson Kennedy, Robb White, John D. MacDonald, Archie Carr, Patrick Smith, Peter Matthiessen. You can’t go wrong looking up Al Burt, Gloria Jahoda, or Ernest Lyons either.

Any advice for others who want to write about Florida? And what makes Florida special for writers?

My advice to writers would be to avoid clichés and false narratives of Florida as either a hellhole or a paradise. It’s both. Go deep. Read history. Talk to oldtimers. Write the truth. What makes this place interesting? It’s that Real Florida is still hanging on in the 21st century.

What are you working on next?

Well, you may have Son of Real Florida: Stories from My Life in your hands by now. It’s by far the most personal collection of essays I have ever written. Beyond that, I’d like to try some short fiction based on my Miami boyhood, when old Florida was giving way to the new of civil rights, immigration and air conditioning.

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