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Sarasota Authors Gathered Weekly

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann Shank, former County Historian
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Sarasota Authors Gathered Weekly photo

Richard Glendinning described them as "loose assemblage of kindred souls" who gathered for lunch on Fridays at the Plaza Restaurant on First Street. This assemblage was "a non-existent organization without a formal membership" that came together for 30 years. At a time when Sarasota was home to a growing "colony" of artists, a sizeable number of writers had also been attracted to the area. According to Glendinning in "A Host of Fridays," many wanted to remain unknown and be left alone to do their writing.

In a break from that isolation in November 1952, four authors lunched together at the invitation of MacKinlay Kantor. Out of this occasion grew the thought of inviting others to a weekly social gathering that would not be the occasion for serious literary discussion. Over the next 30 years, at least 202 authors participated, with the weekly attendance varying from 5 to 16.

Glendinning's list of Friday authors includes such local names as Karl Bickel, Dik Browne, Walter Farley, Glendinning, Charlie Husking, MacKinlay Kantor, John D. MacDonald, Ed Pierce and Waldo Profitt. Visitors included Art Buchwald, Buckminster Fuller, Mike Royko and William L. Shirer.

About five years after the lunches began, the participants devised a way to limit the "round of drinks" buying that sometimes mushroomed beyond reason. The game of Liars Poker became the tool; whoever played and lost the game bought the one round of drinks for that day. Glendinning concedes that that may have been the only topic on which everyone ever agreed. After the gamesters began recording the weekly results, a rotating plaque went to the person with the worst record for the year. MacKinlay Kantor earned that honor the first year.

Kantor and his family moved to Sarasota in the late 1930s and lived on Siesta Key. From 1928 with the publication of his first novel, "Diversy," to his death in 1977, Kantor published 45 books, and numerous poems, short stories and novelettes. His novel "Andersonville" won the Pulitzer Prize in 1956. Hollywood used several of his stories for movies and he wrote some screenplays. The bulk of his papers are in the Library of Congress. His wife, Irene Layne Kantor, donated the books and furniture from his library to Sarasota County in 1978. They and are on display the Sarasota County History Center.

John D. MacDonald's writing career began after his service in World War II. With a number of short stories and his first novel, "The Brass Cupcake," already published, MacDonald moved to Sarasota in 1951 and lived on Siesta Key. From the beginning, he joined the Friday lunch group. In a press article following MacDonald's death in 1986, he was described as "the heart and soul of the club," which by then was known as the Liars Club. MacDonald's work and fictional character Travis McGee, with houseboat Busted Flush, retain fans that subscribe to the JDM Bibliophile and meet periodically. His papers are housed at the University of Florida.

Venice writer Walter Farley, also participated in the Friday lunches, although Glendinning does not show his having played The Game. Farley's "The Black Stallion" was published in 1941 when the author was still in high school. The subsequent Black Stallion series conveys Farley's love for horses and has endeared him to generations of young readers. Farley moved to Venice in 1946 and lived there until his death in 1989. The youth department of the Venice Public Library contains the Walter Farley Literary Landmark.

In the photo above, from right to left appear: MacKinlay Kantor, Richard Glendining, Burl Ives, Herb Field, and Ronnie Hallman at the Buccaneer Inn on Longboat Key.