April 16, 2018, is a date Jack Davis will remember forever.
Davis was sitting at his desk and was in conference with one of his students at the University of Florida when his phone began to ring and texts began to come in nonstop.
"I normally would have ignored them, but they didn't stop, so I thought I might better check and see if someone had died," recalled Davis with a chuckle.
All the calls and texts were to congratulate Davis on winning the Pulitzer Prize in history.
Davis's book "The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea" is what earned him the honor and part of it was written during his month-long sabbatical at Seaside in January 2013 when he was an Escape to Create artist in residence.
"I knew of the Escape to Create program and I wanted a quiet place to write," he said of coming to Seaside. "I'm landlocked in Gainesville and I wanted to be on the water and surrounded by other artists and musicians."
Davis lived in Fort Walton from the time he was 10 to 14 before moving to the Tampa Bay area. He is now a professor of environmental history at the University of Florida.
One of the first things Davis did upon arriving at Seaside was to purchase a kayak and a wet suit and he went out in the Gulf every day, which he said was important to him.
"I am an environmental historian and it's important to me to create a sense of place when I arrive at a destination," he said.
He also paddled the dune lakes, which he was not familiar with as a geographical phenomenon.
"After I became familiar with them, I wrote about them in the book and their uniqueness," said Davis. "It was really invaluable to me to be out on the water and get to know the dune lakes."
He also included chapters on the Gulf beaches, estuaries, birds, its fish, storms, weather, and even oil, but he doesn't allow the subject of oil in the Gulf to dominate.
Davis spent about five years researching and writing "The Gulf." He wanted to write it because no one had written the history of the Gulf and he felt it deserved to be included in history's narrative.
"I wrote it for an intellectually curious audience," he said. "From age 10 on I grew up on the Gulf, and even before that as we lived in Birmingham and when you live in Birmingham where do you go on vacation? The Gulf has a wonderfully rich history. I wanted to restore its rich history and identity. All of America is connected to it."
Davis was nominated by his publisher for the award and he was not aware that winning the Pulitzer was a possibility.
"With the Pulitzer, everything is top secret. I had no idea. I was oblivious until my phone started ringing and texts kept coming," he said. "I was rendered speechless. The words wouldn't come out of my mouth. I had to call my editor to make sure."
For the win, Davis will receive a $15,000 monetary prize, which he admits is not large, but the real reward is the prestige that comes in winning a Pulitzer, he said.
"The Gulf" also won Kirkus Award for non-fiction in 2017, which came with a $50,000 purse.
"I imagine I will put the winnings aside for my daughter's tuition," he told The Sun with a laugh.
He also donated $5,000 to Gulf of Mexico groups that are dedicated to cleaning up the Gulf.
Davis said his celebration of the Pulitzer win was rather low key with his family and friends at his home.
Next up for Davis is a cultural and natural history book he is working on of the bald eagle.