For non-residents like myself, the state of Florida holds countless mysteries: Is it a tropical paradise or the tail end of America’s dusty South? Why is it a perpetual political battleground? Who is “Florida Man,” exactly, and should we worry he’ll cross state lines? Florida is a vacation hotspot, a retiree’s oasis, a punchline for late-night TV hosts. And if you’re award-winning author Lauren Groff, it’s also home.
Over the last ten years, the Gainesville-based Groff has been writing stories set in the state, and in 2018 she published them as Florida, a collection that reveals Floridians to be simultaneously more relatable, much weirder, and far more emotionally involved than popular portrayals suggest. Its pages brim with women swallowing their rage, men aching with hurt they don’t know how to heal, and plants and animals struggling to survive a quickly warming planet. There’s darkness in this collection, certainly, but there’s also hope—to the extent that hope arises from compassion, for these characters are also terribly
compassionate, forgiving of themselves and each other, and always striving to see the goodness in their loved ones, even when blinded by fury.
Then there’s Groff’s prose, as scrupulous and effortless as ever, unfurling across the page like string tied to a kite in high wind. This is the author at her best, and that’s saying something: Her 2015 novel, Fates and Furies, was (like Florida) a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Kirkus Award, and was chosen by President Obama as his favorite book of the year. Her other accolades are numerous, as are the books in her growing oeuvre. She is the author of three novels and two short-story collections, with additional writing in the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Tin House, One Story, and Ploughshares, and in several anthologies. In 2017, Granta Magazine named her one of the Best of Young American Novelists of her generation. And in 2018, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction.
Last December, Groff and I sat down at Bauman Rare Books in New York City, as part of a Guernica fundraiser, to discuss what inspired Florida, her approach to writing more generally, and why climate change remains such a thorny-but-urgent problem faced by everyone—not just the folks living on Florida’s sandy coasts.