Everybody has a story, they say—and that's especially true in Sarasota. Our beautiful seaside city tends to elicit a powerful emotional response in those who live or visit here, and each of us can recall an incident that sparked—or sealed—our love for this place. For this 35th anniversary issue, we invited 35 writers, artists, leaders and neighbors to share their stories about iconic moments in Sarasota.
We figured we'd get an interesting mix of voices and memories, but the stories they sent us exceeded our wildest expectations. Touching, funny, wise and surprising, they paint a multifaceted portrait of our city, refracted through the eyes and emotions of a remarkable cross-section of citizens.
A number of our writers recalled the moment they discovered Sarasota. Before they were married, tourism director Virginia Haley and her now-husband happened to drive down Longboat Key on a spring-training tour of the state; their memories of "the gem of a city on the bay" convinced them to make the move from Washington, D.C., a few years later.
Late novelist Clifford Irving's first encounter was darker; he describes the "bittersweet summer" he spent on Longboat Key before he went to jail for the Howard Hughes hoax. And novelist John Jakes writes about an aborted pilgrimage here in the 1970s, when—what else?—tourist-season traffic kept him from meeting the American writer he admired most, the late John D. McDonald.
We smiled over Larry Thompson's confession that he agreed to interview for the job of president of Ringling College mainly to escape the Michigan cold for a few days and get in a game of golf; he thought Florida was all about "Mickey Mouse and early bird specials" and had no intention of ever living here.
Artist Virginia Hoffman remembers an idyllic Sarasota childhood, when she'd ride her bike to watch the Stickney Point bridge operator crank open the drawbridge with a crowbar and pitched a temper tantrum to get her parents to give her an extravagant $3 for the violin lessons she craved.
Other writers were lured here by our cultural treasures, from Tony Award-winning director Frank Galati to former U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, who wrote that volunteering for the arts not only jump-started her political career but led to her meeting "the love of my life," her late husband, Anders Ebbeson.
SCOPE director John McCarthy recalls his boyhood adventures in South Lido Park, where he "waded waist deep through the mangrove tunnels, found hummingbirds and rattlesnakes" and even conducted his own survey of the canals and hammocks. And Broadway playwright and screenwriter Craig Lucas explains how his recent sojourn at the Hermitage Artist Retreat changed his work—and life.
Retired psychologist Thomas Clyburn recalls in gripping detail the day he was bused from Booker High to be one of the first black students at Sarasota High. His account of walking alone into that school, through a sea of hostile faces, his heart racing, shook me to my core and left me wondering how we ever tolerated a world that forced a young man to endure such an ordeal.
Our 35 stories cover many other topics, from the 9-11 hijackers who trained here to rescuing a baby dolphin to an open-mic debut at McCurdy's Comedy Theatre. We can't imagine a better anniversary gift to the magazine—and to you. We'll also post every story on Facebook during this anniversary month. And if you have a Sarasota story you'd like to share—we know you do!—leave a comment here with your own.