Once Upon a Time in Florida
Stories of Life in the Land of Promises

Edited by Jacki Levine

Foreword by Nashid Madyun
Hardcover: $45.00
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Distributed by University Press of Florida on behalf of Florida Humanities.
Florida Book Awards, Honorable Mention for Florida Nonfiction
Curated from the archives of FORUM, the award-winning magazine of Florida Humanities, this anthology presents 50 often surprising and always intriguing stories of life in Florida by some of the nation’s most talented writers and scholars.
“Handsomely designed and packed with photographs, this wide-ranging anthology is a fine introduction for newcomers as well as a treasure trove for residents who want to better understand the state they’re in.”—Tampa Bay Times
“Just as the music of our lives strikes the same perfect tone every time we listen, this is a collection of best resonance. These essays and stories . . . reflect the mission of Florida Humanities itself, to help us understand the complex richness that is Florida.”—From the foreword by Nashid Madyun, executive director, Florida Humanities
“For 50 years, Florida Humanities has worked to serve the needs of communities around the state to provide Floridians with opportunities for dialogue, cultural enrichment, and meaningful engagement with history, literature, and ideas. Once Upon a Time in Florida, from the humanities council’s magazine FORUM, captures the state’s unique identity, rich historical past, and the diversity of its residents. From the Apalachee, Calusa, Timucua, and other Native peoples who cultivated the land and harvested the sea millennia before Ponce De Leon made landfall, to Zora Neale Hurston’s groundbreaking work documenting the folklore and musical traditions of the state’s African American towns and communities, to the creation of Disney World, the book illuminates some of Florida’s most fascinating and consequential characters and moments and the magnetic pull the state has always exerted on America’s dreamers.”—Shelly C. Lowe (Navajo), Chair, National Endowment for the Humanities
“Jacki Levine has skillfully woven together essays from FORUM, the award-winning magazine of Florida Humanities, to give readers precious insights into the emergence of the Sunshine State as a place that for better or worse has become a trendsetter in American politics, culture, and economics. This volume reaffirms the enduring importance of the humanities in grappling with the beguiling historical problems of the United States that remain unresolved in our own time. Once Upon a Time in Florida is a brilliant anthology of Florida history and the human condition.”—Paul Ortiz, Professor of History and Director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, University of Florida
“Celebrating fifty years of Florida Humanities and its magazine FORUM, Once Upon a Time in Florida is a declaration of love for a state and its unique history. Beautifully designed, richly illustrated, and brilliantly written, the collected fifty essays illuminate the Florida experience for multi-generational Floridians and newcomers alike.”—Barbara Mennel, professor and former director, Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, University of Florida  
“It’s been said that modern Florida was shaped by larger-than-life figures from elsewhere. Many of them as well as plenty of homegrown characters are represented in this compilation of works by premier storytellers. Florida is such a diverse and complicated place that it seems ready-made for an anthology like this one, which shows us why Florida is endlessly fascinating and a story that is still unfolding.”—David Powell, author of Ninety Miles and a Lifetime Away: Memories of Early Cuban Exiles
Once Upon a Time in Florida transports readers into the eventful life and times of this remarkable state through 50 stories vividly rendered by some of the nation’s most acclaimed writers and scholars, along with 150 evocative images. This collection opens more than 14,000 years ago with the first people to inhabit the peninsula and continues through the state’s territorial beginnings, the era of slavery, statehood, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow period, and Florida’s transformation into a complex, powerful megastate.  
Throughout, readers will encounter the unexpected: The myth-busting truths behind Ponce de Leon’s search for the Fountain of Youth; the real First Thanksgiving; the first legally sanctioned free Black town; the revealing wartime letters of novelist Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings; the Jacksonville principal who penned the lyrics now known as the Black National Anthem; and the little-known story of how Mary McLeod Bethune saved World War II-era Daytona Beach. The stories also highlight Florida as a magnet for dreamers and doers, featuring the heady days of the Space Age seen through the eyes of a teenager; the secretive mission that brought Walt Disney to Orlando; the music culture that has churned out a stream of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers; and a look at how Florida’s glossy image has been indelibly shaped through the eyes of Hollywood.
Told through the lens of the humanities, at its heart this anthology is the story of what it means to be a Floridian. In these pages, folklorist Stetson Kennedy travels the back roads with novelist Zora Neale Hurston, capturing vanishing stories and songs. Former U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina in Congress, remembers her family’s early days as Cuban refugees. Novelist Lauren Groff describes how the writings of literary giants taught her to love Florida. Columnist Bill Maxwell and novelist Beverly Coyle, who grew up in the waning days of Jim Crow, share clear-eyed memories of experiences as different as black and white. And southern grit writer Harry Crews tells of a family memory evoked by the Suwannee River.
There is much more to discover in this vibrant anthology, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of Florida Humanities, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and presents selections from the timeless and treasure-filled archives of Florida Humanities’ award-winning FORUM magazine.    
Jacki Levine is a longtime Florida journalist. She was editor of FORUM, the award-winning magazine of Florida Humanities, from 2017 to 2021. Previously, Levine was managing editor of the Gainesville Sun for 14 years and founding editor of Gainesville Magazine. She grew up on Miami Beach and currently lives in Gainesville.
Contributors: Jerald T. Milanich | J. Michael Francis | Michael Gannon | Kathleen Deagan | Darcie A. MacMahon | Larry Eugene Rivers | Robert A. Taylor | Casey Blanton | Rick Kilby | Gary R. Mormino | Stetson Kennedy | Betty Jean Steinshouer | Gordon Patterson | Rick Edmonds | Andrea Brunais | Steven Noll | Richard Foglesong | Eric Deggans | Bill Maxwell | Beverly Coyle | David R. Colburn | Nila Do Simon | Stephen J. Whitfield | Willie Johns | Ron Cunningham | Jon Wilson | Dalia Colón | Bill DeYoung | Maude Heurtelou | Lauren Groff | Maurice J. O’Sullivan | Michele Currie Navakas | Craig Pittman | Thomas Hallock | Edna Buchanan | Philip Caputo | Gary Monroe | Peter B. Gallagher | Bob Kealing | Jack E. Davis | Charlie Hailey | Terry Tomalin | Bill Belleville | Cynthia Barnett | Jack E. Davis | Jeff Klinkenberg | Harry Crews

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