‘Voices of Booker Creek’ explores the ecological and cultural significance of a local urban stream

Booker Creek flows nearly three miles through St. Petersburg. Credit: Julie Armstrong.

(July 14, 2020) – A collection of writings and photographs chronicling a storied urban stream has been published by English professor Thomas Hallock and three graduate research assistants.

“Voices of Booker Creek” explores a waterway that runs roughly three miles through south St. Petersburg, from the west side of I-275 to the southern edge of the USF St. Petersburg campus. Along its route, the creek flows under Central Avenue, around Tropicana Field, beneath I-175 and through Campbell Park and Roser Park before depositing into Bayboro Harbor.

The book explores the intersection of Booker Creek’s ecological and cultural significance through essays, short stories, poems, news articles and images. “Voices of Booker Creek” delves into topics of land use, environmental justice, civil rights and urban nature.

For hundreds of years, Booker Creek has served as an important facet of life for people living on the Pinellas peninsula. The stream has been rerouted, bridged, buried and integrated into neighborhoods built along its banks. “Voices of Booker Creek” reveals a local history of living alongside the stream, beginning in the 1920s, when racially segregated communities began to form in Campbell Park and the Gas Plant neighborhood, through which the creek flowed.

Voices of Booker Creek

“Voices of Booker Creek” was produced by Thomas Hallock and three research assistants.

“Voices of Booker Creek” includes contributions from various residents offering a diversity of perspectives. Among the entries are writings from St. Petersburg council member Gina Driscoll, local historian Gwendolyn Reese, Poynter Institute writing coach Roy Peter Clark and eight students from Gibbs High School.

“The intent was always to provide as many perspectives as possible, from a homeless resident along the creek to city and county leaders, and across the many different sectors of the population,” said Hallock, who from 2018-2020 served as the Frank E. Duckwall Professor of Florida Studies. “We wanted to include this diversity because discussions of the creek clearly have come from top-down, starting from purposes of economic development and examining the area’s longer history only peripherally.”

The book’s lead editor, Anna Maria Lineberger, who received a master’s degree in English education at USF’s St. Petersburg campus, stressed that “Voices of Booker Creek” plays an important role in addressing issues of racial and environmental justice in St. Petersburg.

”In a nation with a long history of devaluing communities of color, it is vital that we gather, record, celebrate and mourn the history of being black in St. Petersburg,” said Lineberger, a professor of composition at St. Leo University. “‘Voices of Booker Creek’ is a testament to St. Petersburg’s black communities. It serves as one piece of a vast story stretching before and beyond itself. It bears witness to something far greater than what we can contain in one volume.”

Ariel Ringo, an English teacher at Gibbs High School, said her students enjoyed brainstorming and writing their contributions to the book. The project gave them a unique opportunity to experience nature in their own backyards.

“Through this book, voices from across south St. Pete and its surrounding areas can be heard,” said Ringo, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English from USF’s St. Petersburg campus. “The publication of this book allows for high school students to stand alongside college students, professors, members of the community and local politicians to discuss community and nature. What an amazing opportunity for my students to be a part of.”

“Voices of Booker Creek” is the third book in a series that Hallock has produced with graduate students that explore Florida’s urban nature and waterways. Hallock said his motivation to publish these books stemmed from a desire to challenge students to think critically and open-mindedly about what constitutes a natural environment.

“I started to design courses on nature writing about city creeks in the hopes of avoiding cliches,” he said. “Take a bunch of students down a gloriously unspoiled stretch of the Hillsborough River, for example, and I will receive a stack of predictable homages to gloriously unspoiled nature. It’s not that I don’t enjoy exploring wild spaces in Florida, so much that the writing about nature can be self-righteous and dull. Cities shake up the formula.”

A Zoom launch event for “Voices of Booker Creek” will be held on July 17 at 4:00 p.m, during which some contributors will read passages from their entires. For more information about the book or the launch event, contact Thomas Hallock: thallock@usf.edu.