Growing up in Florida is a hot topic in ‘Homegrown'

Published: Sunday, December 23, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 21, 2012 at 10:55 a.m.

Florida could have just been another place where Bill McKeen spent his formative years. Homestead Air Force Base in South Florida was one of the many places his military family lived during his childhood. But the three years his family spent living there when he was 7 to 10 years old were the years that shaped him, he said.


‘Homegrown in Florida' Edited by William McKeen; University Press of Florida; 304 pages; $24.95

He lived there during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which terrified him. "Living there was a real adventure," said McKeen, now the journalism department chair at Boston University. "There were lots of canals I would explore. We used to go the Keys to fish. I learned a lot in that time. It's my favorite place to live."

It's a sentiment the former chair of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications shares with the writers in "Homegrown in Florida," a collection of 36 stories about growing up here that McKeen edited.

The idea for the book came when writer Tim Dorsey was speaking at one of McKeen's journalism classes when he taught at UF. The two began reminiscing about Florida when they were young — Florida before it was a concrete jungle, before Disney World — when it was a place people were from.

The book, published this year by the University Press of Florida, includes personal stories of death, coming-of-age and childhood innocence and stupidity.

Ken Block, the lead singer of the band "Sister Hazel" from Gainesville, writes in the book about his younger brother's fight against cancer in the 1980s. Block recalls the summers his family spent at their condo in Crescent Beach before Jeffrey became sick. The two boys learned to surf at Crescent Beach. And years later, long after Jeffrey had died, Ken Block taught his son to surf in the same place.

Kristin Harmel, a 2001 UF journalism graduate, writes about how baseball changed her family's life in the early '90s when she was 13. Harmel writes about the many minor league baseball games her mother, sister and brother attended the summer of 1992 at the Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, where they lived. Her story details how baseball inspired her to become a writer. "For me, Florida is baseball," she said.

McKeen said he wanted to have a diverse group of writers to truly represent the state.

"There are so many different kinds of Florida. There's Miami, then there's beaches in the Panhandle," he said.

He's already planning a sequel but has no timeframe for it. It will ultimately depend on the success of "Homegrown in Florida," he said.

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