Literary Fort Lauderdale: Las Olas Boulevard
Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, known for its upscale shopping and restaurants, has a rich literary heritage. Edgar A. Guest, Charles Willeford, the Broward County Library and its Bienes Museum of the Modern Book, and the many literary guests of book publisher Frederick G. Ruffner are all part of the historical literary tapestry of the area.
Edgar A. Guest
Columnist, humorist, and poet Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959), of Detroit, regularly wintered at The Riverside Hotel, the oldest hotel in downtown Fort Lauderdale at 620 East Las Olas Boulevard.
Guest began as a journalist at the end of the 19th century and soon became known as a daily columnist in more than 300 newspapers. In 1949, he published a poem entitled “Riverside Shufflers,” which was inspired by the hotel’s popular shuffleboard game. His best-known work is A Heap O’ Livin’, “…a collection of verse that eventually sold more than one million copies,” according to poetryfoundation.org. Read more about the poet and see his most famous poem here: https://www.buckleyschool.com/magazine.
A year before “Riverside Shufflers” was published, an author named Charles Willeford (1919-1988) began a writing career spanning more than 40 years. After he passed away in Miami in 1988, his vast archives became part of the Special Collections Department at the Broward County Library at 100 South Andrews Avenue, around the corner from Las Olas Boulevard. The collection includes his manuscripts, letters, records, art, books, and news articles.
His book, Cockfighter, is considered by many to be his best work, along with Miami Blues, part of the Hoke Moseley series, and The Burnt Orange Heresy. In the movie version of Cockfighter, for which Willeford wrote the screenplay, he played a referee. The archives are open to the public by appointment only.
Read more about Charles Willeford’s work here: https://crimereads.com/the-life-and-times-of-charles-willeford-miamis-weird-wonderful-master-of-noir.
Bienes Museum of the Modern Book, Broward County Library
While at the Broward County Main Library, the Bienes Museum of the Modern Book on the sixth floor is a noteworthy stop, with its rotating exhibits about writers, such as Zora Neale Hurston, and regional history. Learn more about Zora Neale Hurston in Florida here: https://authoradventures.org/trails/by-state/florida/hurston-zora-neale.
Frederick G. Ruffner, Jr.
In addition to the poetry, mysteries, and crime fiction, the Las Olas Boulevard of the 1980s and 1990s was the hub of a lively array of literary projects and events stimulated by reference book publisher and philanthropist Frederick G. Ruffner, Jr., the founder and longtime C.E.O. of the Gale Research Company, Omnigraphics Inc., and literary non-profit organizations.
Based in Michigan, Ruffner established an office at 2400 East Las Boulevard (down the street from his winter home). It was exciting to listen to and learn from the literary giants who converged on Fort Lauderdale during the Ruffner years, who attended business meetings on his yacht, author events at Broward County Library, and holiday soirees in his elegant Mediterranean-style house. Privately owned, the home is not open to the public, but part of its exterior can be seen in the 1960 coming-of-age film Where the Boys Are.
Watch this video about the role of the Electra yacht in literary history: Visiting the Electra.
The Broward County Library remains vibrant today, having won numerous awards in recent years.
On the Path
Fort Lauderdale is the second stop on Florida Author Adventures Trail #2.