Environmental/Nature Writers and Our Place
With its hundreds of freshwater springs and unique mix of southern hardwoods and subtropical vegetation, the environment of North Florida has been a wellspring of inspiration for writers since the American naturalist William Bartram visited in the 1770s. With his artistic skills, scientific knowledge, skilled prose, and spiritual sensibility, Bartram set a high bar in his book Travels and provided inspiration for later writers that continues today.
Somewhere between Gainesville and Cedar Key in the 1860s—whether clear headed or suffering from a malarial fever, we don’t know—John Muir penned into one of his earliest journals his idea that nature itself has intrinsic value apart from the resources it provides for humanity. Muir’s journals from this trip were published later as A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf. Muir continued to write about wilderness for the rest of his life and is best known today as the founder of the Sierra Club.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings found her writer’s voice in rural Cross Creek in southeastern Alachua County. She won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1939 for her book The Yearling, set in the Ocala National Forest. Rawlings wrote expressively and movingly about her natural surroundings, developing the environment itself as a strong character in her book Cross Creek. Her lyrical yet precise descriptions of Florida in the first half of the 20th century still resonate with today’s readers. Her home is now a state historic site, and the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society holds regular conferences in our area.
Cynthia Barnett, author of Mirage and Blue Revolution, points out that “By the time you count up Bartram, John Muir, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and their modern descendants our region becomes a literary site every bit as important as Jack London’s ranch in Northern California or William Faulkner’s home in Oxford, Mississippi.”
Barnett, a fifth-generation Floridian, has written two highly acclaimed books about water—Mirage, which won gold in the non-fiction category in the Florida Book Awards in 2007, and Blue Revolution, which was named one of the top science books of 2011 by The Boston Globe. But Barnett is just one of many distinguished contemporary writers who can claim a connection with our place. Jack E. Davis won gold in the Florida Book Awards in 2009 for his non-fiction book An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century. In 2010, the painter Margaret Ross Tolbert won gold in the same category for Aquiferious: 12 Florida Springs, with Art and Narrative.
Other writers with strong connections to our area include Bill Belleville, author of River of Lakes: A Journey on Florida’s St. Johns River; Archie Carr, author of A Naturalist in Florida: A Celebration of Eden; Lars Andersen, author of Paynes Prairie: A History of the Great Savanna; and Mallory O’Connor, author of Florida’s American Heritage River: Images from the St. Johns Region.
Maybe it’s something in the water that’s inspired all these writers! We invite you to visit and find your own inspiration here, too.