The son of a lawyer and a teacher, Carl Hiaasen was born and raised in south Florida. Having received his first typewriter at an early age, he forged a satirical voice by publishing an underground newsletter in high school. Hiaasen married Connie Lyford in 1970, attended Emory University, where he submitted satiric pieces to the school newspaper, and then transferred to the University of Florida, graduating with a journalism degree in 1974. After beginning his writing career at Cocoa Today (now Florida Today), he joined the Miami Herald in 1976 and gained recognition as an investigative reporter. As a reporter, he has focused on developments and projects that threaten Florida’s ecology and natural beauty for the sake of profit. He became a Pulitzer Prize finalist for a series on doctors committing malpractice in 1980 and for a series on drug smuggling in 1981. Since 1985 Hiaasen has been writing a weekly column that has been known to irritate regional developers and bureaucrats, who blame him for discouraging tourism. For his journalism and commentary advocating the preservation of Florida’s ecology, Hiaasen received the Damon Runyon Award from the Denver Press Club in 2003-2004, the Newspaper Guild’s Heywood Broun Award, and honors from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors.
Hiaasen began writing fiction in 1981, when he and William D. Montalbano (a former Miami Herald editor) collaborated to write three novels drawing on their experience as reporters and relying on detective and adventure fiction formulas. In 1986 the author ventured out on his own with Tourist Season and has continued to write mystery and detective fiction as well as novels for young adults and nonfiction. His novels reflect his offbeat imagination and satirical comic sense and are infused with social and political awareness, often centering on south Florida environmental concerns. Beginning in 1987, his fiction became more socially pointed and comical: He wrote, for example, of corruption in the fishing world (Double Whammy, 1987); corrupt plastic surgeons and feckless lawyers (Skin Tight, 1989); dishonest, ecology-destroying landowners (Native Tongue, 1991), and greed and iniquity in the wake of a devastating hurricane (Stormy Weather, 1995). Deviating from his normal mode in 1996, he joined with twelve other authors to write Naked Came the Manatee, an absurdly fast-paced mystery originally published in serial form in the Miami Herald’s magazine section, which brought together noted characters associated with each author.
In 1998 Hiaasen focused on the Walt Disney Company, describing with wild humor the company’s international aspirations in the nonfictional Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World. In 1999, Kick Ass: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen appeared, followed by Paradise Screwed: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen in 2001.
After Sick Puppy (2000) and Basket Case (2002), two more novels featuring the Hiaasen’s distinctive humor and convoluted crime situations, he wrote his first novel for the young-adult market, Hoot (2002). It won the Newberry Honor for excellence in children’s literature. The story deals with the danger facing burrowing owls owing to greedy land developers. A second young-adult novel, Flush (2005), dealt with illegal sewage dumping off the Florida coast. The author’s 2006 comic caper, Nature Girl, introduced within his socially conscious agenda such zany characters as a bipolar heroine intent on improving the world, a hapless telemarketer, and a Seminole failed alligator wrestler.
Hiaasen was divorced from his first wife in 1996; his son from that marriage is a newspaper reporter. He married Fenia Clizer in 1999 and settled with her and their son in the Florida Keys. Hiaasen’s fiction mirrors his passion as an environmentally concerned Floridian and journalist.