Literary Tourism: Gainesville, Florida

Gainesville is a hip, progressive oasis in the middle of traditional ag-culture North Florida. The city revolves around the University of Florida– one of the most prestigious public universities in the nation– an institution that prides itself on its forward-thinking culture.

Wild Iris Books

Wild Iris Books It’s because of this ethos that the community is able to sustain the only feminist bookstore in the entire state, and one of only about a dozen open in the entire nation. Like any good indie, Wild Iris features a selection of local and national print fare. It also hosts events like their weekly feminist vent, where anyone can fill out a card with irritants like “guys correcting my form in the gym,” “bullshit beauty standards,” and “continued police brutality.”

It’s not just a bookstore– it’s a safe space. Originally created with the intention of providing a welcoming place for local lesbians to gather, the operators have since switched to a more intersectional “queer” focus. They host a recurring Free Store, where people donate items like clothes, toiletries, cosmetics, and menstrual hygiene products for those in need– particularly those having a difficult time during gender transition.

If a trip to Gainesville isn’t likely in the future, you can order from Wild Iris online at www.shop.wildirisbooks.com.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park

5-Rawlings loved to walk in the shade of the orange treesPerhaps one of the most remarkable events during the Great Depression was that a woman living in a backwoods hamlet in North Florida won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction by writing about a community of scrub-dwelling Crackers. The Yearling was not Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ first work– not by a long shot. She had written over a dozen short stories, and two novels, before The Yearling was published. But that inauspicious story about a boy and his deer best friend continues as one of America’s most beloved, and heart-wrenching, books.

Rawlings and her first husband, Charles purchased 72-acres in still-unincorporated Cross Creek, FL, a town about half-an-hour east of Gainesville. She was fascinated by the Cracker culture and filled notebooks with her observations about local animals, plants, dialect, and recipes. More than one publication found her on called to the porch to placate a neighbor furious to find him or herself fictionalized a little too colorfully.

She is long gone, but her homestead has been restored and preserved as a state park. The park is open every day, with rangers giving tours in period costumes during certain seasons. Visitors can pause on the porch, and look out over the same farmyard where she drew inspiration for her stories. Many of the items on display do not actually belong to Rawlings– they are authentic to the period. However, they do have her original four-poster bed, cookbook, and a shelf of books from her personal collection, among other belongings. If you’re feeling stout of heart, brave the smothering weather for a walk along her orange grove, visit the pole-barn, or take a peek at the tenant house where Zora Neale Hurston once stayed.

University of Florida: George A. Smathers Libraries

I can’t be the only oWest_dusk_600x296ne who combines vacations and research trips. The University of Florida has an impressive scholastic collection, with over 6 million print volumes, 6.5 million microfilms, 170,000 full-text electronic journals, and 1,600 electronic databases. The Smathers system consists of six libraries, and collaborates with the Levin College of Law.

Its microfilm collection spans records of concentration camp trials to the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau papers. Visitors not affiliated with the university can get a temporary card that allows them to access the catalog and microfilm collection. They can scan and save pages as they look through them. It also has an extensive collection of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ personal letters.

The library also has several extensive cultural collections:

  • Latin American and Caribbean Collection
  • The Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica
  • Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature
  • Map and Imagery Library
  • P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History

Living and doing research in Gainesville, and I’ve sought help from the UF library staff several times, and each time they’ve impressed me with their knowledge and helpfulness.

Gainesville is a charming, low-key alternative to more popular, and more overwhelming, cities like Orlando and Miami. It’s bursting with multinational restaurants, outdoor adventures, and activities for all ages and interests. Navigating is a cinch, as it’s big enough to have plenty to do, but small enough not to get lost in the hubbub.

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