Largo High grad Jack Davis won the Pulitzer Prize without really trying

That's not really true, but he was a bit of a slacker in school.

Meet Jack Davis and get your copies of the Gulf

Oxford Exchange, 420 W Kennedy Blvd, Tampa. 813-253-0222.

May 27: 1 p.m.

click to enlarge "I knew he would win the Pulitzer. I told him he would win." - That's what one of Jack E. Davis' best friends, Lee Irby (Unreliable, The Up and Up, 7,000 Clams), told Davis after he read Gulf: The Making of an American Sea. - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
"I knew he would win the Pulitzer. I told him he would win."That's what one of Jack E. Davis' best friends, Lee Irby (Unreliable, The Up and Up, 7,000 Clams), told Davis after he read Gulf: The Making of an American Sea.

Attention, Largo High (and other recent grads) — you didn't need to be a rock star in high school to be a rock star in real life. 

Jack Davis, who recently won the Pulitzer Prize in history for his book, Gulf: The Making of an American Sea, should know. He was one of you — he graduated from Largo in 1974 and, by his own admission, he was not what you'd call a "top-tier student."

Apparently, though, life takes more into account than how well you did in your anatomy and physiology class. In addition to winning the Pulitzer, he has a Ph.D. and is a professor at the University of Florida. Plus, his book won a crapload of other awards, because yes, it really is that awesome and engaging and magnificently written. But what it isn't, is written by the guy voted Most Likely to Succeed by his high school chums.

That's right, you guys. He wasn't the valedictorian or the salutatorian. He wasn't SGA president and he wasn't the captain of the football team. He was — and these are our words, not his — maybe, just a little bit, kind of a slacker? 

And by slacker, we mean he wasn't as interested in hanging out in AP Calculus as he was checking out the springs or the gulf. Rumor has it from someone close to Davis — that'd be the man himself — that he would ditch to do just that.

It took some metaphorical tooth-pulling to get him to admit this, but he skipped "perhaps more days in my senior year than I probably should have." He won't say how many days he missed, only "I was not a top-tier student," but he also won't say he regrets it.

"I went to edifying places like Cars of Yesterday, Ringling Museum of Arts, Weeki Wachee, Homosassa Springs," he says, but he's quick to make sure we tell you, "in the end, having not worked harder when I was younger, I had to work much harder when I was older."

Incoming seniors and other people still in high school: You should not take this as permission to skip class and be a less-than-amazing student. But if you've already graduated and you weren't giving the valedictorian speech, listen up: amazing things may still await.

"Whether you liked high school or not, whether you did well or not," Davis says, "your experiences will always stay with you and many times, over the rest of your life, you will draw from those experiences in positive ways.

And here's a bit of humility from Davis: He initially didn't want to go on the record as being a Packer, because he didn't want to make the school look bad, because he hadn't been a great student (note to Davis: when you win a Pulitzer, there's really no way your alma mater will feel like mentioning them will bring down their rep).

What would the 61-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner tell the 18-year-old teenaged him?

"I guess I would say to him, 'you're not going to believe it.' If somebody told me when I was 18 that I was going to be a university professor with a Ph.D. I'd have said,  'you're crazy' and if somebody said I would be writing, publishing books, I would have said, 'you're crazy.' And that my books would win awards? I would be incredulous. If someone said 'one of your books would win the Pulitzer Prize,' I would have said, 'what's that?'"

Davis doesn't regret any moments spent at Florida's springs — or anywhere on the water, really — but he wishes he had paid more attention in high school, sure. 

"If you want to get somewhere in life you do have to apply yourself. Had I applied myself," he says — and insists he's being facetious — "I would have won a Nobel."






About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
Scroll to read more Local Arts articles
Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.

Newsletters

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected]