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By Robert Connors
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A Book, a Pulitzer Prize, and an Entertaining Talk at Lake Wales Library


Last updated 4/12/2019 at 9:21am

Robert Connors

Dr. Jack E. Davis earned a Pulitzer Prize for his new work entitled "The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea"

A visit to Lake Wales by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dr. Jack E. Davis brought rich reward to a group of citizens who attended his talk at Lake Wales Library Thursday. Davis spent time answering their personal questions following his presentation.

Among other accolades, Davis was awarded a 2018 Pulitzer Prize for his latest work, entitled "The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea."

"I didn't set out to write an academic book. I like to write books that people want to read," Davis said, describing the twenty-dollar test for academic books. "Put a $20 bill in the book at page 100, put the book on the shelf, and come back in 10 years. The money is still there," he said to audience laughter.

"I grew up on the Gulf of Mexico, and have this life-long, intimate relationship with it," Davis told the audience. Yet he explained that the Gulf is little understood by the American public.

"The Gulf is not even mentioned in most US history books, or mentioned only in passing," he explained. He described that as a historical gap that needed to be filled. Most Americans think of the Gulf of Mexico only in reference to the BP oil disaster, or as the source of hurricanes, he added.

Davis's book is a comprehensive look at the sea that helped to shape the United States and was in turn reshaped by this nation. A self-described environmental historian, he delves deeply into the relationship between people and the watery world they interact with. "I love to make connections," he said, and referred to the connection between polluted rivers and the popularity of Saturday morning cartoon shows in the 1960's. "You'll have to read the book to find out about that one," he added, to more laughter.

He described the multitudes of estuaries which line the shores as the birthplace, nursery, and home of thousands of species, including many of the fish that make the Gulf a rich fishery for both sport and commercial purposes. "Louisiana alone has 5300 square miles of estuarine marshes," Davis told the group. By way of reference, that is more than three times the area of Polk County.

"Thomas Jefferson bought Louisiana primarily to control access to the Mississippi River, and therefore to the Gulf of Mexico," Davis said. That was crucial to the growth of the nation, he pointed out.

Louisiana, he said, is the only US state that is shrinking, losing hundreds of square miles to erosion, in part due to the network of canals dug across the marshes for oil company access.

Robert Connors

Dr. Jack E. Davis spoke with an appreciative crowd at Lake Wales Library

Humans have also had a serious impact on Galveston Bay, the Gulf's largest estuary, which suffers 200 to 300 toxic spills annually, he said. "Every bit" of the sewage from Gulf coastal cities was once dumped untreated into the Gulf. Even cities and towns in the Midwest were sending their waste down the Mississippi, helping to create a vast dead zone south of Louisiana the size of Delaware.

Yet he also pointed out the improvements that have been achieved by the Clean Water Act of 1972. Tampa Bay is now in better shape than when he was growing up there in the 1960's. "Today there are places that are pristine. There are grass beds, and more fish and birds that I never saw then."

In awarding their prize the Pulitzer committee observed: "We especially admired "The Gulf" for fusing originality, erudition and literary skill...The Pulitzer Board's selection of "The Gulf" is a tocsin, telling the public of a work of history that counters the denial of environmental destruction as fake science..."

The acclaimed book runs 532 pages, and is available in libraries, bookstores, or online.


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