Edna Buchanan Understands Why Some of Us Can Never Leave
"You can leave Miami, but Miami never really leaves you"
What’s Edna Buchanan’s advice for people moving to Miami? The Queen of Crime thinks you should buy a gun.
The woman who has covered over 3000 murders in our city emailed me after our interview, wanting to make sure she added her most important piece of advice for anyone wanting to move to Miami.
And if you’d seen the side of this city that Edna Buchanan has, you’d want to be armed too.
Miami’s greatest storyteller
She was the author of record for the cocaine-fueled chaos that was the 1980s. She discovered the lies that led to the McDuffie riots, has reported on over 5000 deaths and has won a Pulitzer Prize. She was the lone woman in a field saturated by men, and still produced the stories none of them could. Digging a little deeper and talking to people other reporters ignored. Ensuring every story she told was the whole story.
Yet she did it all with a trademarked pinch of sarcasm that told the world “This city really is ridiculous, isn’t it?” Her most famous lead– the one that introduced me to her and is still taught in journalism schools – began a story about a man who shot up a fried chicken joint because they ran out of the food he wanted.
“Gary Robinson died hungry.”
This is why we hate it so much but we never leave
As someone who has seen Miami at its absolute worst, one might think Edna Buchanan would have grown tired of this place and left.
But Edna Buchanan gets it.
“You can leave Miami, but Miami never really leaves you,” the Miami icon told us as we enjoyed a late breakfast at Epicure in South Beach.
“I think I’d be bored anywhere else. I hate leaving Dade County, even up to Broward or Palm Beach because I’m afraid I’ll miss something. “
As one who has tried to leave this city on two separate occasions, I can relate all too well. When the unpredictability and surrealism of Miami are what fuels your work, anywhere else just seems dull.
Leaving her mark on the next generation
She is an inspiration to anyone who loves this city and wants to tell its stories. Her use of descriptive verbs to illustrate crimes is why I pore over every article I write, seeing if I can change “showed” to “flaunted,” or “walked” to “shuffled.”
Our own Carlos Miller also got his journalistic spark from Edna Buchanan.
“Her articles got me into journalism,” he said. “She made me realize there is a profession for sarcastic people with a skill for writing. It was her articles that made me realize how crazy and unique Miami can be as a city.”
“I left Miami for ten years working as a journalist in three different states and in Europe. After confirming there is no place as crazy and unique as Miami, I returned home for good. All the other cities eventually bored me.”
Her influence extends past just journalism. “Cocaine Cowboys” director Billy Corben says that his film would not have been the same without her tireless reporting.
“We are incredibly grateful to Edna for being so passionate and ethical about what she did,” he explained.
“She made it a point to incorporate as many of the murder victims as possible in our newspaper of record during that time. We’d go back in the archives to read Edna’s stories. And without her, a lot of the stories, the names, and the victims in ‘Cocaine Cowboys’ would have been vanished and gone.”
Edna Buchanan vs. The Beautiful People
It’s not that Edna Buchanan is in love with Miami. Quite the opposite. Like every other Miamian, she is infuriated by inconsiderate neighbors. She describes the tow truck companies as “predatory,” and knows that we are a city that is perpetually raped by outside profiteers, much to the detriment of anyone who happens to be living here.
“We had the unfortunate experience of being discovered by the beautiful people,” she said.
“And the beautiful people don’t care about anything else but themselves. They’re so obsessed with themselves, so self absorbed, they don’t care what they do to the neighborhood.”
“I love Miami Beach, but I love it more for what is used to be than for what it is now.”
The Queen of Crime now the Queen of Romance
This Christmas season, Edna Buchanan is also finally telling the story she always wanted to tell. “A Dark and Lonely Place” is her new work of historical fiction, covering the lives of John Ashely and Laura Upthegrove, and their fictional 2011 descendants.
The book tells parallel tales of the legendary turn-of-the-century Florida bank robber and fugitive and a present day Miami cop. Both caught in similar unfortunate circumstances.
“I often thought about the Ashley gang when we had that perfect storm of the Mariel boatlift, the Mcduffie riots and the cocaine wars. And Miami was #1 in homicide nationwide,” she said.
“I thought ‘What would they think of what Miami had become?’ And better yet, what if there were these fictional descendents of theirs were here today?”
“Here today in Miami with the same chain of circumstances, could they survive? The theme of the book is can those of us with the outlaw imprint on our DNA change our destiny? Or does it always have to end the same way?”
Buchanan admits when she started the book, she wasn’t sure of the answer.
The book follows parallel stories of good men who kill in self defense but are railroaded for murder. Both are forced into exile and fall in with dangerous companions, fleeing the law with the women they love. It’s a love story told with the Edna Buchanan style, weaving in crime and South Florida history to make the tales unique.
She covers the Ashley gang of the 1900s the same way she did the cocaine wars of the 1980s. Mostly because, as she tells it, they are essentially the same.
“The more I learned about the Ashleys, the more I realized things didn’t change,” she said. “The 80s wasn’t ‘Paradise Lost.’ It was just Miami being itself. Miami is always cyclical. And always a violent place. And those of us who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”
Photos and video by Carlos Miller
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