The animated movie “Tangled” has seemingly awakened many Disney fans to the existence of Julia Tuttle, the local doyenne of English literature who brought her mother tongue, Haitian Creole, to her suburb of Miami.
Parents and school administrators quickly seized on Tuttle’s outspoken pro-immigrant comments, allowing her room to spread her message and remarks often came out in Spanish. Tuttle even managed to get the attention of movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who called her a “true inspiration.”
But Tuttle first found global recognition two decades ago when she won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. With two sons of her own, she chronicled her struggle to raise her family in a single-parent marriage and found inspiration in her community.
Her latest book, entitled “The Mother of Miami,” profiles the residents and friends of a fictitious Miami neighborhood. The story examines how homes evolve through time, with more than a few twists and turns toward the greener pastures of Paradise and beyond.
The idea of timelessness in the face of change is at the heart of Tuttle’s philosophy.
“Gone are the days of turmoil and anxiety for our children. Thank God,” Tuttle told her local radio station in Miami in 2011. “They’re growing up in a peaceful place. They don’t have to worry about war.”
Tuttle considers her sons Jack and Peter to be her inspiration.
“I consider them both the role models of my children,” she said at the time. “They came here at a time when I was the single mother. I couldn’t have supported them by myself, so I took on a job at the library.”
Despite the intellectual confines of the local library, Tuttle’s writing blossomed. Her son Jack has said “my mother is an incredibly strong, wonderful woman, who works very hard to educate me and grow me into the best version of myself I can be.”
Tuttle speaks to her two sons about their passion for sports and would make them play the piano when they were kids.
“They would play our songs. I used to love playing music so, of course, I would try to be like her in the piano,” Jack said.
By age five, Jack began performing.
By the time Jack was nine, Peter joined his father in football and by his teen years, both boy were playing professional soccer in Miami.
“Sometimes my dad and I would work out at the gym while my mom was playing with us,” Jack said. “Sometimes she’d be alone while I was playing football on the field. And sometimes while my dad and I were practicing sports, she would have two kids after school picking them up.”
It may have seemed like fun for them, but it was hard work for Tuttle. She found herself in a one-child household after falling in love with a Swedish man, Lorenzo, at a church after World War II. Six months later, he was gone.
“Lorenzo left when he was twenty-one. He came back six months later and married me,” Tuttle said.
The two met when he landed a job at a bank where she was a secretary. She worked for him for nearly a decade, but told people back in Haiti he was two or three years older than her.
For as long as she could remember, she kept her marriage a secret, even from her own children. That changed over time.
“During the years after my marriage, my son and my brother were looking for more adult experience. They’ve gone through a full adult life,” Tuttle said. “I wasn’t going to let them do that without me.”
It may not have been a surprise to her, but her children didn’t want her to leave, either.
“People kept asking about my mom, and my brother and I all thought it was a plot to play off my mom,” Jack said. “I didn’t believe it was true.”
But it was true.
When it came time for Julia Tuttle to decide if she wanted to be all the things she was not, she picked being a grandmother over being a single parent.
“I’m glad I did not wait to be an adult to be a grandmother,” Tuttle said. “There are so many things I didn’t experience growing up. Now when my grandchildren are growing up, I’m creating a new life in a new place.”
She now lives in Boca Raton, Florida, with her husband and sons.