LUCY BURDETTE: Today I'm excited to introduce the Southernmost NPR reporter, Nan Klingener. (You can see her below on her official WLRN bike!) She interviewed me for my seventh Key West book, Fatal Reservations, and I thought it would be fun to return the favor so you could hear more about her life as a reporter. Welcome Nan!
I recall reading a few years ago that you went to get training for future NPR reporters. Can you tell us how that came about? And what kinds of things you learned?
NANCY KLINGENER: I went to the Transom Story Workshop in Woods Hole, Mass. It’s not specifically for NPR reporters but rather a workshop about audio storytelling in all its forms. That includes public radio reporting but also podcasts — which are exploding right now — and even sound art. I was already freelancing for WLRN and talking to them about opening a bureau in the Keys. But I had no radio training or experience and the station is 150 miles away. My editor at WLRN suggested I look at the Transom website, because it has a lot of resources. I saw the information about the workshop and, in a reckless moment, applied. It meant I left my home and life in Key West for two months, which was hard. But it also meant, essentially, attending grad school for radio in an intensive two-month period. I learned a lot and it was actually really useful to leave my life and my routine and immerse myself in a different place and mindset.
LUCY: Your range for stories is the length of the Keys. How do you choose what to focus on? What's a typical day like?
|Photo by Amy Lynch|
LUCY: Tell us about one or two of your favorites.
|Photo by Mark Hedden|
Another of my favorites was a two-parter about the Cuban history and influence in Key West. I’ve always been into the history of this area and that’s definitely reflected in my stories. Those of us who live here can see, hear and taste the Cuban influence but a lot of people in South Florida probably don’t realize that in the 19th century, Key West was the equivalent of Miami for the Cuban diaspora. And that was before Miami existed.
LUCY: Now, Key West. How did you decide to move to the island? What do love about island life, and what, not so much? How have things changed over the past 20 + years?
NAN: I came to Key West in 1991 as a reporter for the Miami Herald. Back then, the Herald had a Keys section that ran six days a week and a bureau with two reporters and a part-time clerk. It was supposed to be a job that you were in for maybe a year or two and then moved on — it was famous for producing reporters that went on to great acclaim. But I just fell in love with living in a place where you could pick up the phone or walk into someone’s office. I felt much more at home here than on the mainland, maybe because I’m from New England and the clapboard houses and 19th century layout felt right to me. I had been saving up for grad school but about a year after I got here, I decided that the best thing I could hope for after grad school was a good job at a good newspaper in a good place — and I had all those. So I took the money I’d been saving and made the down payment on a sweet little condo in Old Town. That was the best financial decision of my life.
I love Key West because it’s a small town that’s never boring. You can walk or ride your bike most places and its long tradition of non-judgmentalism means that you can really feel free to be who you are. (See photo from Fantasy Fest 1993. Photo by Jennifer Podis--theme that year was "Lost in the Sixties,", hence Nan's tie-dye look as she interviews Pumpkin Man.)
I think that’s especially true for those of us who came from elsewhere. I love that even in this small town, there are so many overlapping circles and you can always meet someone or see something surprising. And I love the rest of the Keys, even though I don’t know them anywhere near as well. Each island has its own character and its own idiosyncrasies.
Not so much? It’s hard to live in a place that’s an increasingly expensive resort and winter retreat. Even though I’m ridiculously fortunate in that I met my husband here and we got a foothold in the real estate market, it’s hard to see your friends and colleagues struggling to make it here, or leaving because it’s just not worth it. And it’s hard to watch your neighborhood change from being a real neighborhood, with people who live here year round, to just being a kind of facsimile of a neighborhood.
At the same time as it’s been getting more expensive, we’ve also gained access to a lot of things that make life better. Some of that is just the Internet and other technology — we didn’t have public radio at all, much less a bureau, when I moved here in 1991. Back then, we only had a six-screen multiplex – we used to go on these overnight missions to Miami and watch six movies in two days. Now we have an indie movie theater as well as whatever you want to stream. And the cultural scene in general is so active as to be overwhelming during season, but that also means there’s plenty to choose from and it might be someone local doing something interesting, or it might mean an artist from elsewhere bringing their work here.
I’m not crazy about the heat and stifling humidity all summer, either, but I’ve made my peace with it.
LUCY: Thanks for visiting Nan! Reds, questions and comments?