Friday, November 2, 2012


Writers on Writers in the Conch Republic

During the years Tennessee Williams lived in Key West, he swam at South Beach every morning before sitting down to write. “I work everywhere,” Williams said of Key West, “but I work best here.”

By Doc Lawrence

KEY WEST, FL--An island of only five square miles, nearer to Havana than Miami, Key West has one of the most intriguing literary heritages of any place in America. Whether drawn by the climate or its famed “anything-goes atmosphere,” many of the greatest writers of the modern era have called Key West home.
Ernest Hemingway wrote To Have and Have Not from his house here on Whitehead Street. Elizabeth Bishop worked on North and South from her place near the corner of White and Southard; she later rented the home to Charles Olson, who wrote his first published poems here. Many of Wallace Stevens’s poems were influenced by his stays at the Casa Marina hotel in Key West, where he walked on the beach with Robert Frost and brawled with Hemingway. Tennessee Williams lived on Duncan Street and partied with Truman Capote, James Leo Herlihy, and Thomas McGuane. Richard Wilbur and James Merrill lived in old town just a few blocks from one another, and played a regular game of anagrams with John Hersey. And the list goes on: Ann Beattie, Judy Blume, Annie Dillard, James Gleick, and Robert Stone are just a handful of the writers who continue to make a home in Key West.

I plan to attend the 2013 Key West Literary Seminar in January and learn how much better writers than me do everything so well, a variation of sorts on the all-too-true adage that old dogs indeed can learn new tricks.
The stated mission of the Key West Literary Seminar is “to promote the understanding and discussion of important literary works and their authors; to recognize and support new voices in American literature; and to preserve and promote Key West’s literary heritage while providing resources that strengthen literary culture”
The programs are relatively small and intimate. Attendance is limited to about 375 people at the San Carlos Institute, one of Florida’s most beautiful and historic landmarks. Each writers’ workshop is limited to 12 participants in order to ensure individual attention; they take place at various locations throughout Key West’s “old town” neighborhood, never far from the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean, the library, and good places to eat and drink.

Past seminars have included notables like Dave Barry, Roy Blount, Jr., Blanche McCrary Boyd, Christopher Buckley, Billy Collins, Christopher Durang, Clyde Edgerton, Barbara Ehrenreich, Percival Everett, Carl Hiaasen, Alison Lurie, Lorrie Moore, Cathleen Schine, Lee Smith, Calvin Trillin, Wendy Wasserstein, Al Young.

The 31st annual seminar is in January, an exploration of the world of literature through a particularly unifying theme, “Writers on Writers,”  investigating the rich and varied lives of those who have made this formidable craft their life while exploring the work of writing itself.

I’ll be there as an eager student, saving time. Of course, for walks, visits to places like the Hemingway home with time reserved for the great bars and restaurants.

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