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Floridians: Real Stories from the Sunshine State Paperback – September 26, 2016
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About the Author
Writer-photographer-lecturer Ronald W. Kenyon was born and raised in Ashland, Kentucky. He was admitted to the Honors Program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where he specialized in English, political science, French and Spanish and won two Hopwood writing awards. The recipient of a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship, he attended graduate school at Stanford University. He also studied at Saint Lawrence University under a National Defense Education Act scholarship. Ronald W. Kenyon spent over thirty years living and working in France and the Middle East and has visited 48 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. Although nominally retired, he continues his writing and photography: projects in both areas are in progress. Like most of the characters in this book, he is a transplanted Floridian. Ronald W. Kenyon is a member of Artists of Palm Beach County.
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book, Ronald W. Kenyon, will happily show you its wares. Not a tourist trap, Floridians,
Real Stories from the Sunshine State, is a breezy, easy to read yet intelligent, historically
accurate and informative, and witty look at the state, its institutions, and inhabitants past
and present. And if variety whets curiosity then Florida, as one of the nation’s most
populous and rapidly growing states, is on the way to becoming a virtual warehouse of the
strange, funny, tragic, and even inspiring. The variety of species here is not only of
plants, birds, and reptiles, but also of humans.
It can be argued that the United States is historically made up of three distinct groups: the
indigenous, the enslaved, and the immigrant. The indigenous were mostly overcome,
overlooked and forgotten. The enslaved, after emancipation, were largely left to fend for
themselves. The immigrant, leaving or fleeing from places of fear, famine or persecution,
found a land both hospitable and hostile, filled with endless opportunities and fearsome
challenges. For all these groups’ survival and success resourcefulness has been all.
Kenyon profiles this resourcefulness in a number of Floridians he has either met in
person or whose history he has found and researched, and in them he provides his reader
with the flavor and taste of this unique state. There is a “half breed” Seminole woman
who despite being an outcast in the community in which she was forced to live eventually
became a tribal councilwoman and an author whose writings brought to life the history
and legends of her people. A native people who, by the way, now not only own a string
of gambling casinos, but also the Hard Rock Café international chain of venues. Then
there are the African American laborers who formed a school of artists,The Highwaymen,
who began by selling their paintings of Florida scenes literally from the trunks of their cars
along the state’s highways and roads to locals and travelers, and lastly to govenors and
presidents. Their works now hang in the governor’s house in Tallahassee and in the White
House in Washington, D.C. Next is the Guatemalan housemaid who left her native
country wearing only one shoe. A Christian Arab who runs a very successful and homey
Florida style BBQ restaurant. From the historical and political sphere Florida’s first two
Jewish senators, whose Sephardic families first emigrated from the North Africca and Spain,
and made it to Florida by way of the Virgin Islands (shades of Hamilton here), and ended
up both serving the Confederacy and later surviving its fall.
Of course any book about Florida must have its scoundrels (someone has to make a living
selling swamp!), and their representatives find their way here.
Ronald Kenyon is a very curious man. He has returned to the Florida he regularly visited
and grew to love while his parents vacationed here looking for a place to retire from their
native Kentucky. The Everglades not being enough he worked for the government as a
congressional aide in that other swamp we all know about. Restlessness and, again
curiosity, took him to live as an American expatiate in Europe and the Middle East. He
has recounted his travels and findings there in other fascinating books including Statues
of Liberty: Real Stores from France, On the Trail in France, and A Winter in the Middle
of Two Seas: Real Stories from Bahrain.
There are a lot of stories to be told in this world, and if you let him, he will tell you quite
a few. Enjoy!
There is a quirkiness, too, in many of these essays: particularly when seemingly unrelated juxtapositions end up making sense.
I also like that the last sentence in the book is a question: "What do you think John Lennon was dong in June 1979?" The author appears to like this device, since the last sentence in Statues of Liberty: Real Stories from France, is also a question.
Ending a book with a question invites the reader to interact with the book, think about the book, think about the author, think about the question itself. The reader might even want to keep the book or share it or reread it, rather than just throw it in the trashcan like some cheap thriller of the type you buy to pass the time on the train or the plane."
Now reading "Floridians". Finding it enjoyable reading each line, as Ronald W. Kenyon is in live conversation.
A good writer brings out jaunty interest. Turns out the written words are as acute as his spoken graphics.
Just one example of his diverse expressions- "As poor as Job's Turkey"; had me researching my family Bible. Thank you, Ronald.
His stories are varied and touched with humor. I had to pause to respond as to how I felt, and now anxious to return to a most enjoyable, less than 200 page, book. Highly recommend to people of "The Sunshine State" and anyone who just wants to feel warm, all over.
The author’s sharp eye and well-documented research complement and enhance his personal observations and experiences. His tone is sometimes serious, sometimes playful; sometimes he even waxes lyrical.
Kenyon's curiosity and love of life are contagious. His stories introduce us to a varied cast of characters of many ethnicities, social classes and conditions that are so diverse that we have no idea to whom or where he will lead us. That is the fun of this book--we are always wondering: What's next? Who's next? Where next?
I look forward to reading more of Ronald W. Kenyon’s work, perhaps in the New York Times or The New Yorker: his prose and his style are just that good.
Professor of Modern Languages
Borough of Manhattan Community College
The City University of New York