Over the course of hundreds of newspaper columns, many dozens of magazine articles and seven books, Jeff Klinkenberg interviewed, hung out, broke bread and spent quality time with people representing every disparate walk of life in Florida. It seemed that way, sometimes, as this naturally inquisitive Miamian – well, technically he was born in Chicago – spent 40 years criss-crossing the state, asking question after question, inserting himself, however briefly, into their lives for his work in the St.
Petersburg/Tampa Bay Times. They liked him, they trusted him, and he rewarded their faith by immortalizing their stories in marvelous, humorous, whimsically-written narratives read and re-read by hundreds of thousands of devoted readers. In Tallahassee on April 11, the Florida Humanities Council gave Klinkenberg its highest honor – the Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing.
Years in St. Pete
Organizations involved in
Tampa Bay Watch, does a lot of speaking at Universities. Aububon, Sierra Club. Interests: art, food, music. I had my hands in a lot of key lime pies, you might say.
What gets you out of bed every day?
This is going to sound corny, but I just can’t wait to get out of bed. I get up and I eat breakfast and I read the paper. Then I jump on my bike – today I did 40 miles. I usually do a bike ride around town, and then today I was out on the Skyway – I see dolphins, ospreys, white pelicans. I’m seeing what I would consider authentic Florida.
Why St. Pete?
Arrived in 1977 to write about the outdoors for the St. Petersburg Times.
What is one habit that you keep?
I write every day – something. Sometimes it’s email, sometimes I’m pontificating on Facebook. Sometimes it’s political, sometimes I just report what I’ve seen. Sometimes odd writing jobs.
Who are some people that influence you?
There are writers that I really love to read, but the people who inspire me are people who are trying to make the world a better place. I just saw somebody hand a power bar out to a homeless guy at a traffic light and I thought, you know, I’m going to do that too. We just live in a cruel time, there’s dark forces at work in our state and our country. I have grown children, and now grandchildren, and it sounds like a cliche but you really want to leave something for them.
What is one piece of insight - a book, methodology, practice - that you would share with our readers?
Pay attention. Take advantage of your life. You have a life and it means something. I used to tell my kids that life was a wheel with three spokes. Intellectual spoke, physical spoke, spiritual spoke.
What is one thing you wish you knew about your work 3 years ago?
I was still at the Times three years ago. Writers are usually a little neurotic and tough on themselves, but I wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself. Writers beat themselves up a lot, every day that it wasn’t quite enough.
I’ve got a wedding to go to in Italy. My youngest is getting married in May, so we’re going to go to that. Then we’re probably going to go to North Carolina for part of the summer. I’ve messed with a little fiction here and there, so I’d like to give it a try just to see what happens.