Beaufort County wrote the book on literary legends

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJuly 30, 2013 

No one should be expected to recite the name of every book written in Beaufort County.

We are too prolific.

The books themselves would stack higher than the Hunting Island Lighthouse. And they keep coming. So far this week, two people have pressed new books about the Lowcountry into my hands.

But a note from the Florida Heritage Book Festival in St. Augustine shows that we should be able to recite our literary heritage.

John Jakes will be honored with the Literary Legend Award during a banquet at the festival and writers conference Sept. 26 and 27.

"And here I thought that to be a 'legend' you had to be dead," he told me from Sarasota.

That's where John and Rachel Jakes opened a new chapter in life three years ago after 32 years on Hilton Head Island.

It's easy to see why Jakes would be attractive to the book festival.

Publicity material calls him "America's history teacher" and cites this Amazon review: "John Jakes is to historical American fiction what Stephen King is to horror: a one-man industry. Jakes is the author of over 60 books, including the eight-part Kent Family Chronicles, the North and South Trilogy, and innumerable short stories of the American West."

I'm happy for our former neighbor's latest honor, and appreciate the Florida book festival that benefits Friends of the Library and news-in-education programs in St. Johns County.

But a part of me wants to say, "Wait a minute. That's ourliterary heritage you are celebrating."

And that's fine, too, as long as we ourselves are not guilty of forgetting our own heritage.

The home in Sea Pines where John Jakes wrote the North and South trilogy was razed by an out-of-town developer. We can't keep every home as a shrine, but we must appreciate what took place there. The Civil War trilogy written there, and dedicated to Island Packet co-founder and prolific writer Jonathan Daniels, sold 10 million copies. Most of John Jakes' 16 consecutive books on The New York Times bestseller list were written here.

John Jakes drew upon our public library, Rotary Club, community theater, arts center -- and good old peace and quiet -- in becoming a literary legend.

In days of yore, W. Somerset Maugham lived in Beaufort County for about five years, writing "The Razor's Edge" here. But what John Jakes and Pat Conroy have achieved in our time is more than remarkable, as thousands of other writers can attest.

Beaufort County's literary heritage should be a story that never ends.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

Related content:

Florida Heritage Book Festival

Author writes 'The End' to time on Hilton Head Island, Sept. 26, 2010

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