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Famous author's writing room preserved in Sarasota

MacKinley Kantor
Posted at 5:11 PM, Sep 16, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-16 17:11:00-04

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Sarasota has long been a mecca for writers and artists. One of the most famous was MacKinlay Kantor, whose simple home stood right on Sarasota Bay.

It's gone now, but the room where he wrote his books is still intact.

You can visit it at the Sarasota History Center on Porter Way.

Kantor and his wife Irene moved to Shell Road on Siesta Key in 1937. "Sarasota was a real magnet for authors and artists because it was beautiful laid back and relaxed and it was really an inspirational place to be," says Jeff LaHurd with Sarasota County Historical Resources.

And they raised their two sons there. "MacKinley Kantor was one of the best known writers in America, and he won the Pulitzer Prize for the novel Andersonville."

He also wrote for most of the popular magazines of the day, from Collier’s to Playboy. "He wrote screenplays, the movie Best Years of our Lives, which was an Academy Award-winning movie, was taken from one of his books."

When Cantor moved here, Sarasota was already becoming a mecca for writers and artists. "He was followed by John D. MacDonald, who moved to Siesta Key. MacDonald wrote the Travis McGee series."

E.B. White, who wrote Charlotte’s Web; Walter Farley, who wrote the Black Stallion; and Ben Stahl, who wrote Blackbeard’s Ghost, were also there.

They formed a sort of informal club. "All these writers would get together every week on Friday down at the plaza and play liar’s poker."

Kantor was also very active in the community. “When the block population was trying to find a beach to swim in, he was saying he would write an article: Sarasota cheats its black children unless they found a place for the African-American community to swim."

Kantor was a war correspondent in both the second world war and Korea, so he didn't take kindly to threats. "Someone once suggested to him he might find a cross burning in his front yard. He replied if somebody tries it, they'll get a bullet in them."

When Kantor died in 1977, his wife donated his office and its contents to Sarasota County Historical Resources, and they painstakingly restored it to look exactly as it was when he wrote there. "Basically it's almost 100% like he left it," says LaHurd.

MacKinley Cantor never had central air conditioning never had central heat, never owned a television set, and he never had an electric typewriter and certainly not a computer. And yet some really great work came out of that very office.