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Once Upon a Time in Florida: Capturing Our State’s Rich History on the Page

The book "Once Upon a Time in Florida" on top of a bronze statue of a man sitting on an alligator, located in Heritage Square in front of the Orange County Regional History Center.

This post is brought to you by our community partners at the Orange County Regional History Center.

“Generation after generation, Florida has been a collection of cultures, thoughts, and ambitions brought by people from around the world,” writes the executive director of Florida Humanities, Nashid Madyun, in the foreword to a new book, Once Upon a Time in Florida: Stories of Life in the Land of Promises, that’s as expansive and colorful as the land it seeks to capture.

Begun in 1973, Florida Humanities is the state’s nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. For 50 years, its aim has been to help Floridians, both recent arrivals and longtime residents, get to know their home state through programs that highlight Florida’s history, literature, environment, architecture and civic issues. To mark its half-century anniversary, Florida Humanities staff sought to distill all that into one volume.

It’s a tall order: Florida is big, complicated, and diverse. Its history reaches back centuries and encompasses the dreams of generations. But to tell Florida’s story, the volume’s editor, Jackie Levine, had a tremendous resource: the pages of FORUM, the award-winning magazine from Florida Humanities filled with the thoughts of an eclectic blend of “Pulitzer Prize winners, scholars, literary giants, famed journalists, artists, photographers and thinkers,” as Madyun describes them.

From the treasure trove of FORUM’s pages over 35 years, Levine culled 50 essays that reveal the complexity and richness of the Sunshine State and presented them in an expansive book, 9 x 11 inches, elegantly designed and richly illustrated.

Authors from Orange County and environs are well represented in its pages. Orlando author Rick Kilby describes the lure of Florida’s springs for Victorian-era visitors who came south “to take the waters”; Rick Foglesong, Rollins College professor emeritus, reveals how Walt Disney set his sights on Orlando with a secrecy worthy of a spy novel; Maurice “Socky” O’Sullivan, also of Rollins, reflects on the state’s varied literary life; and veteran journalist Bob Kealing reminds us of Florida’s connections to the history of rock ’n’ roll. The late, influential Central Florida environmental writer Bill Belleville is represented by an essay, “Florida’s Deep Blue Destiny,” and by an appreciation of his work by Cynthia Barnett. And that’s just a sampling.

Central Floridians have a great chance to learn more about the book and its creation at the Orange County Regional History Center on Sunday, January 14, 1:30–3 p.m., in a panel discussion presented as part of the museum’s Brechner Speaker Series.

For the program, Jacki Levine, the anthology’s editor, will be joined by the three of the authors represented in it: the distinguished Florida historian Gary Mormino, writer and artist Andrea Brunais, author of “Memoirs of a Child of the Space Program,” and NPR journalist Eric Deggans, whose essay discusses portrayals of Florida on television. Guests are invited to a reception with light snacks prior to the panel.

Learn more about the program and register. Books will also be available for purchase at the event.

Orange County Regional History Center is a Local Wanderer partner. Local Wanderer lets you check out passes to local arts and cultural venues using your library card!

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Juneteenth Closure

Orange County Library System will be closed Wednesday, June 19, in observance of Juneteenth. The library system will resume normal business hours on Thursday, June 20. View a complete list of holiday closures >