Thursday, October 29, 2020

A Journey Into Florida’s Past


Guests ask Smith Jr. to sign their books and ask questions. Photos by Jesus Calo

Guests ask Smith Jr. to sign their books and ask questions. Photos by Jesus Calo

The Everglades Society for Historic Preservation hosted its annual “Welcome-Back Historical Talk” recently at the temporary Everglades City Hall building. (The original building is currently undergoing hurricane repairs.)

“A Land Remembered,” and other novels by renowned author Patrick D. Smith, was the topic of the presentation by the late author’s son, Rick Smith Jr. Patrick D. Smith’s work was nominated seven times for the Pulitzer Prize and five times for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He passed away in 2014.

Smith Jr. provided an insightful, humorous take on memories and stories from his father’s books.

Patrick D. Smith’s words live on in text and video.

Patrick D. Smith’s words live on in text and video.

A professional video producer, Smith Jr. and his wife Kim reside in California and travel across the country to paint a picture of some of Florida’s history through memories depicted in his father’s fiction and nonfiction novels. Smith Jr. combined his humor and storytelling gift that added character to the multi-media presentation. His presentation included videos, photos, and visual effects that brought his father’s words to life. At various points throughout the presentation, a video of the late Patrick D. Smith showed him speaking of his memories or characters in his novels.

As almost all of his novels are based in Florida, many folks are surprised to discover that Patrick D. Smith is from the small town of D’Lo, 20 miles south of Jackson, Mississippi. Which brings us to when he wrote his first novel, “The River is Home” at the age of 25, which happens to be one of Smith Jr.’s favorite books. He proudly recounted that his father sat down and wrote the haunting tale set in the Deep South in a short span of ten days.

All ten of Patrick D. Smith’s novels were available for sale.

All ten of Patrick D. Smith’s novels were available for sale.

Back then, as Patrick D. Smith was new to the publishing world, he looked up companies at the library and chose what he thought was a small publication called “Little, Brown, and Company.” He wrapped his manuscript and included a letter that read: Dear Little Brown, this is my novel, please publish it immediately. He received a letter within two weeks saying, “We will,” making him the youngest published author in Mississippi at the time.

“He wrote all of his books on a typewriter,” Smith Jr. stated. “He never even learned how to plug in a computer.”

Fast-forward to “A Land Remembered,” published in 1984, Smith’s second novel nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The story covers 110 years of Florida life, between 1858 and 1968. It follows the wealthy Solomon MacIvey as he surveys the Miami landscape that his family’s wealth created. Timelines stagger as the story jumps back to 1958 and recounts his grandfather Tobias when he arrives in the Florida wilderness with his wife. This novel includes factual information because Smith wanted to dig deep and discover why pioneers migrated to Florida to establish a new home when it was such an area of wilderness. Most of the novel is told through memories.

Throughout his father’s novels, Smith Jr. pointed out that he always established a “sense of place” within his storylines. He depicted moments in history by highlighting the struggles through the eyes of the people who needed their stories told.

“You realize he almost always wrote about the underdogs in life,” Smith Jr. said. “He highlighted stories of people considered lower-levels of society, people who were struggling, poor, illiterate, facing depressive times when life gets tough. But he always established a sense of place.”

Throughout Patrick D. Smith’s life, he published a total of ten novels. In order: “The River is Home” (1953), “The Beginning” (1967), “Forever Island” (1973), “Angel City” (1978), “Allapattah” (1979), “A Land Remembered” (1984), “The Last Ride” (2000), “The Seas That Mourn” (2001), “In Search of the Russian Bear” (2001), and “A White Dear and Other Stories” (2007).

Witness Rick Smith Jr. present a memorable discussion about his father Patrick D. Smith and the experiences that influenced his novels with emphasis on Florida’s pioneers. Smith Jr. plans to return to the area in March. For more information, visit ALandRemembered.com/Everglades.

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