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Florida Book Awards: Too much of a good thing?

March 2, 2011

Randy Wayne White's Ultimate Tarpon Book is third best in nonfiction?!?

Stop the presses! The fifth annual Florida Book Awards were announced yesterday, proving, in the words of director Wayne Wiegand, “The culture of books in the Sunshine State continues to prosper!” Or…that the FBA is like a T-ball tourney where every team wins a trophy.

Not to rain on the celebration of those lucky writers who won, aaaaannnnddd not to mock (at least not too much) the value of state-level cultural prizes in cultivating and promoting things like art and literature, but sheesh: Eight categories, with up to five winners each, plus 14 regional gold medals, sometimes with multiple winners?

Talk about award inflation. If I had published a book in Florida in 2010 and I didn’t win something, I think I’d be looking for a rope and a tree. Just kidding, just KIDDING. But seriously, folks, how many plaques can you hand out at one go without devaluing the whole darned concept of awards in general and your prize in particular?

What is this, kindergartern? A gold star for every kid who made an attempt at drawing a cow?

It’s not enough that each of eight categories has a gold medalist, a silver medalist and up to three bronze medalists. No, it’s the regional medals that boggle the mind.

What? You mean there’s a medal for Miami and Coral Gables? Lake Worth and West Palm Beach and Wellington? How about including a prize for Freelance Book Reviewers Who Live on Terramar Street in Fort Lauderdale? Then I would have won an award, too. (Maybe).

Okay, that’s enough carping and scoffery. I recognize some of the names, and there are decent writers here, including crime novelist/travel writer Randy Wayne White, legal thriller master James Grippando, comic novelist T.M. Shine, young-adult novelist Christina Diaz Gonzalez, and crime-novelist-turned-children’s writer-turned-Discovery Channel tycoon Brad Meltzer.

I have to wonder, though, about the missing writers, though, like James W. Hall, whose thriller Silencer, received good reviews (as his work always does). Or Susanna Daniel, whose Miami-set debut novel Stilstiville is a lovely drama about an ordinary family. Or the many others I can’t think of right this second.

But to be fair: I’m sure the many, many, many other winners who receive something from the FBA are crackerjack storytellers, too.

The complete list:

Children’s Literature
Gold: Jan Godown Annino, She Sang Promise: The Story of Betty Mae Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader (National Geographic Society)
Silver: Mary GrandPre and Jack Prelutsky, Camille Saint-Saens’s The Carnival of the Animals (Alfred P. Knopf)
Bronze: Henry Cole, A Nest for Celeste:  A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home (Katherine Tegen Books)
Bronze: Brad Meltzer, Heroes for my Son (Harper Collins)
Bronze: Harvey E. Oyer III, The Last Egret: The Adventures of Charlie Pierce (Middle River Press)

Florida Non-Fiction
Gold: Margaret Ross Tolbert, AQUIFERious (Fidelity Press)
Silver: Julian M. Pleasants and Harry A. Kersey, Seminole Voices: Reflections on their Changing Society (University of Nebraska Press)
Bronze: Lu Vickers, Cypress Gardens, America’s Tropical Wonderland (University Press of Florida)
Bronze: Anna Lillios, Crossing the Creek (University Press of Florida)
Bronze: Randy Wayne White and Carlene Fredericka Brennen, Randy Wayne White’s Ultimate Tarpon Book (University Press of Florida)

General Fiction
Gold: Mark Mustian, The Gendarme (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam)
Silver: Patricia Engel, Vida (Black Cat/Grove Atlantic, Inc.)
Bronze: T.M. Shine, Nothing Happens Until it Happens to You (Crown Publishing Group)
Bronze: Mary Jane Ryals, Cookie and Me (Kitsune Books)

Gold: Carol Frost, Honeycomb (Northwestern University Press)
Silver: Lola Haskins, Still, the Mountain (Paper Kite Press)
Bronze: Kelle Groom, Five Kingdoms (Anhinga Press)

Popular Fiction
Gold: William Culyer Hall, The Trouble With Panthers (Florida Historical Society Press)
Silver: Randy Wayne White, Deep Shadow (GP Putnam’s Sons)
Bronze: Joyce Elson Moore, The Tapestry Shop (Five Star/Gale/Cengage)
Bronze: Charles Martin, The Mountain Between Us (Broadway Books)
Bronze: James Grippando, Money to Burn (Harper)

Visual Arts
Gold: Jason Steuber, Laura K. Nemmers and Tracy E. Pfaff, editors, Samuel P. Harn of Art at Twenty Years: The Collection Catalogue (University Press of Florida)
Silver: Margaret Ross Tolbert, AQUIFERious (Fidelity Press)

Young Adult
Gold: Christina Diaz Gonzalez, The Red Umbrella (Alfred A. Knopf)

Spanish Lanugage
Gold: Jose Alvarez, Los Alamos del Parque (Editoral Voces de Hoy)

Winners by Location
Cape Coral/Ft. Myers/Sanibel Island area
Randy Wayne White and Carlene Fredericka Brennen

Cocoa Beach/Merritt Island area
William Culyer Hall

Coral Gables
James Grippando

Ft. Lauderdale area
Henry Cole

Lola Haskins
Margaret Ross Tolbert
Jason Steuber

Joyce Elson Moore

Charles Martin

Lake Worth/Lantana area
T.M. Shine

Miami area
Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Patricia Engel

New Smyrna Beach
Kelle Groom

Orlando/Winter Park area
Carol Frost
Anna Lillios

Jan Godown Annino
Mary Jane Ryals
Mark Mustian

José Álvarez

West Palm Beach
Harvey E. Oyer III

The eight Gold Medal Winners will  be recognized on March 23 at the Historical and Cultural Awards Ceremony sponsored by the State of Florida’s Division of Cultural Affairs at the R.A. Gray Building in Tallahassee. All award recipients will be recognized at the Florida Library Association Conference Banquet on May 5 in Orlando.  For information about the banquet, contact Sharon Gray at

Congrats to all the winners. Just think how great you’ll feel if and when you take home a prize that really means something!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2011 1:52 pm

    I need a rope and a tree. I had prayed to God to win this award. I has said I would pay them back by helping people in many ways. I was sure I was going to win. So I asked God what happened?

    In a big booming voice he answered me.
    “Help me out my Son. At least enter the contest.”

    O yeah.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 2, 2011 2:26 pm

      Very funny, Mike. No, really.

  2. matt permalink
    March 2, 2011 7:11 pm

    Not to ruin your rant, but did you notice that their is only 1 gold medal for each of 8 categories? Also did you notice that the winners names of each category happen to be the same as the geographical winner? coincidance ? I don’t think so , this is where the winners are from. Good Job!!!!

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 2, 2011 10:20 pm

      Sorry, Matt, but you’ve not defeated my rant. Yes, there is one gold medal for each category, but there is also silver and bronze, with as many as three bronze medals awarded in some cases. I will grant that I misread the “winners by location” portion of the press release, but that doesn’t alter the central objection: Too many awards. On the other hand, who cares what I think? If you won an award, promote the hell out of it. That’s what arts prizes are for, anyway.

      • matt permalink
        March 3, 2011 6:21 pm

        I understand what you are saying, but i think there was somewhere around 179 entries into this competition? So that may be why the awards run so deep? Either way you look at it the top 4 or 5 in each group are sure to be a good read. So don’t let the fact that too many awards given take away from the point of the competition, to give credit where credit is due. Thanks for taking the time to reply to my earlier post. I wish you all the best.

  3. March 3, 2011 11:40 am

    Hi Chauncey,

    Heads up for you . . . the jury will be announcing the winner of the Florida Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing late this afternoon. We will have a press release out tomorrow morning early. Last year’s winner, as you may recall, was Dr. Michael Gannon, the University of Florida professor emeritus. I can send you the release on this blog or another email i have for you, which is
    all best,
    Jon Wilson

  4. matt permalink
    March 3, 2011 6:29 pm

    Sorry but that earlier comment was for you. For some reason I addressed it to Mike?

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