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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

UF former journalism professor to publish book of stories

One boy watched his friend die. Another met Elvis Presley and was never the same. Small-town living felt more like Israel than cosmopolitan Westfield, N.J. did, and the Cold War breathed down the necks of ordinary families.

Growing up in Florida made an impression on writer and former UF journalism professor William McKeen. It compelled him to collect stories from people who grew up in the same area.

His newest book, “Homegrown in Florida,” will be released next week. It includes stories from Tom Petty, Michael Connelly and Carl Hiaasen that explore how living in the Sunshine State impacted them.

“What we have in this book is a collection of stories that are often about very small moments in life, but the ones that, years later, seem to resonate with the people telling the stories,” McKeen, 57, said.

Two of his own stories are in the book, one of which is about living on an Air Force base north of the Florida Keys during the Cold War.

McKeen moved to Boston about two years ago, and he’s been working on “Homegrown in Florida” for about six years. He said he did not have trouble finding stories to fill it.

“For us and for many, Florida is not just a place people go to, it’s where they come from,” McKeen’s website states.

Freelance writer and editor Alisson Clark, 35, was teaching at UF with McKeen when he told her about the book. She said she offered to contribute.

Clark wrote about her unhappy childhood move from New Jersey to Merritt Island.

There, Clark’s grandmother introduced her to a girl her age — an “incredibly awkward” meeting that Clark said shaped her first impressions of her new life.

She said she was terrified and convinced she had moved to another world. After a while, though, she realized Floridian kids weren’t much different from her friends in New Jersey, Clark said.

She grew to appreciate the wildlife and natural beauty of Merritt Island.

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“Even if you live in the suburbs, you can see a coral snake,” she said.

UF faculty member and filmmaker Boaz Dvir, 44, wrote about being the only person with an accent in the small town of Homosassa. As a child, he moved from Israel to New Jersey, just outside of New York City.

“I had an incredible culture shock,” he said. People seemed disconnected from each other.

But when Dvir moved to Homosassa at 14, he said he felt “ten times” more at home there than in New Jersey. The town was community-oriented with a strong sense of family.

“Everybody knows each other, and I think that essence really connected me back to Israel,” he said.

McKeen said he hopes “Homegrown in Florida” will inspire people to preserve local history by sharing their own childhood memories.

“I think everyone’s got great stories,” he said.

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