TD Allman Presents Finding Florida

Finding Florida
Understanding America and Knowing Ourselves

Popular author and speaker TD Allman returns to TSKW to present his unique, entertaining, and ever-so-slightly caustic take on the state we all call home. Last year, Allman presented ideas from his book Finding Florida, a meticulously researched and thoroughly readable encapsulation of the complete history of Florida. The book was short-listed for the 2013 National Book Award. Now, Allman returns with new insights and a new book, Miami: City of the Future, under his belt.

T.D. ALLMAN, author of
Miami: City of the Future

An historian, author and foreign correspondent famed for his eye-witness accounts of historic events, T.D. Allman was born in Tampa, educated at Harvard and Oxford, and is a former Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal and Edward R. Murrow Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has reported from places as various as El Salvador, Beirut, Haiti, the Plain of Jars, Ethiopia during the famine, and Tiananmen Square.

Allman’s latest book, Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State, has been praised in such publications as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. It was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award for non-fiction. His classic study of change in America, Miami: City of the Future, was recently republished by the University Press of Florida. His other books include Unmanifest Destiny and Rogue State. He is the coauthor or contributor to a dozen other books in which he deals with subjects ranging from his friendship with the French-language author Marguerite Yourcenar and his return to the Killing Fields of Cambodia, to his encounters with the King of Spain, Muammar Gadhafi, Boris Yeltsin and other world figures.

His byline has appeared on more than 1,000 articles of serious reportage, sent from more than 90 countries, on subjects ranging from the urban crisis in America to ethnic cleansing in Serbia, in such publications as Harpers, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the National Geographic and Le Monde.

Allman has taught or lectured at Yale University, Oxford University, the University of Oregon, the University of Indiana, the University of Alaska, UCLA, Berkeley, St. Thomas College, Florida International University and the Royal Institute of International Affairs. The T.D. Allman Studentships, financed by the Focus Foundation, seek to encourage independent scholarly investigation of past and present events. His archives are housed at Harvard’s Houghton Library.  He lives in New York, France and Miami.
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—–TD Allman answers questions about why he writes—

Q: What do you enjoy most when you are on book tour?

A: The visits with the local high school students: It was Updike, I believe, who said he wrote so that decades later, on a rainy afternoon, a bored kid would pick up one of his books and start to read. I don’t want to wait  that long!  I want kids to read my books now because Finding Florida and Miami: City of the Future explain how the world they see all around them came into being. One thing they’ll learn from my books is that you can’t understand the past – which means you can’t understand the present, let alone prepare for the future — until you stop denying the tragic nature of history. Kids are generally smarter than adults about that. They sense they’re not getting the whole story, that an air-brushed version is being projected on to them. So they are open to new facts that illuminate their own struggles to understand the world, and to become intelligent protagonists in it. The need to find solace in comforting misinformation comes later.

Q:  Who inspired you most in your decision to become a writer?

A:  I decided to become a writer at age seven.  It was in Tampa. I was walking home from the school bus stop, carrying my lunch box and book bag.  “I can write better books that that!” I told myself.  I was referring to the Dick-and-Jane primers they forced on us in second grade, and you know something?  I was right about that.

Q:  If you hadn’t become an author, what career would you have pursued?

A:  Since that Dick-and-Jane moment, I’ve been a writer. The form the writing takes has varied, but as every mediocre movie, boring sitcom or third-rate novel demonstrates, there is always a crying need for competent writers, for writers who can write better.   It’s just that people don’t want to pay good writers a living wage, so mediocrity tends to flourish. I became a war correspondent to get out of the draft, and then wrote about Florida because so much misinformation needed to be corrected. If that hadn’t happened I’d be writing about something else, somewhere else, somehow or other.

Q:  What three words best describe you as a writer?

A:  “highly original, stylish, and masterful,” according to my publishers. If you don’t believe me, check out

Q:  What’s your advice to aspiring authors?

A:  Write. A little girl came up to me at a dinner party a short time ago.  She asked me if I would send her one of my books because she wanted to be a writer.  “Then write to me, explaining why you want the book,” I found myself telling her. She wrote a very interesting email, so I asked the publishers to send her a copy of Miami.  Once she sends me her commentary on that book, I’ll send her Finding Florida.

At a book fair a fellow asked me if I would read his memoir. “I’ve already written thirty pages,” he told me. I told him to go write 500 pages, cut it to 350, then rewrite that five times, then expand it to 500, then cut it back to 250 pages, and then edit it five more times and then, maybe, get back to me. Writing is long. Writing is hell. Writing is like having a selfish, temperamental mistress who never gives back, and never says I love you. That’s why most books, scripts, commentaries and articles are so mediocre.  Very few people are willing or able to do the writing, the thinking, and the feeling necessary to produce a truly finished work.

There comes a moment in every work when I know I’m actually going to make it.  As I finish describing some particular human situation, I find myself sobbing uncontrollably with compassion for the people I have described. In Finding Florida, that moment’s on page 244, where I describe a white solder and a black soldier — loyal U.S. troops — who would be killed that day by Confederates.  I portray these early multi-racial Florida heroes as the precursors of today’s First Responders. You don’t care what color the fireman is when your house is on fire.

TD Allman

About the Author
T.D. Allman is the author of Miami: City of the Future, and Rogue State: America at War with the World. A native Floridian, Harvard graduate, and former Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, Allman was for many years the foreign correspondent of Vanity Fair, and is credited with uncovering the CIA’s “secret war” (a phrase he coined) in Laos. He has written about Florida for Esquire and National Geographic, and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Harper’s, The New Republic, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Le Monde, and The Economist, among other publications. He divides his time between Miami, New York, and the south of France.

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