When I tell people that I am studying Florida Literature, they generally pause, look politely interested, and ask “what literature?” It’s a good question, a question I found a hard time answering only two years ago. I am preparing to teach a graduate course at the University of South Florida on Literature of Place: Florida, in which I will begin to explore what the literature of Florida looks like. I have discovered that the topic is huge and growing daily. There is a lot of energy in the creative arts in Florida, a place often looked down upon for its lack of culture. This project is an exercise in looking closely at the place in which I live and unfolding the layers of meaning that have become structured over time and through the lives of diverse people. It is also an exercise in exploring this unique place, its history, its ecology, its art and, of course, its literature. I was trained as an eighteenth-century British literature scholar, focusing on women and gender issues. My training, therefore, leads me to begin with the connections I can make in eighteenth-century Florida, and thankfully we have the wonderful Travels by William Bartram that chart the wilderness of the 1780s in Florida and Georgia. It is a fruitful beginning. The contemporary poet, Campbell McGrath, does a riff on Bartram in his phenonmenal collection, Florida Poems. In many ways Bartram sets an agenda for Florida literature that we are still responding to.
In this blog, I will post on the readings I have been doing and the plans I’m making for the course. I’ve also discovered that when I explain to folks what I am doing, they frequently have suggestions for favorite books and authors connected to Florida. I am grateful for all suggestions. Bring ’em on.