about

The 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.

Established in 1983, the annual Seminar explores a different literary theme each January. The best writers of our time join readers from all over the world for four days of readings, conversations, lectures, panel discussions, and parties that add up to one of today’s smartest and most high-spirited literary gatherings. Our Writers’ Workshop Program is led by esteemed faculty and provides writers at all stages of development with opportunities to explore the craft of writing in a focused and nurturing environment. As part of our commitment to emerging writers, we present three annual awards; provide financial assistance to teachers, librarians, students, and writers; and provide writers’ residencies to support the production of new and compelling work. Our Audio Archives Project makes unique presentations from the Seminar available online for use by educators, students, and readers worldwide; and our blog, LITTORAL, explores Key West’s unique literary heritage in essays, interviews, and images.

All of our programs are relatively small and intimate: this is our delight, our charm, and the secret of our success. Attendance at the Seminar is limited to about 375 people: this is a full house in the theater of our home 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, drink, or catch a movie. Writers’ residencies serve a handful of writers each year, providing an opportunity to engage with Key West and the work of writing in a private and focused setting.

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, and James Gleick are just a handful of the writers who continue to make a home in Key West. It is a special place. We hope you will join us here soon.

Michael Blades, Vice President, was a fifteen-year attendee of the seminar prior to joining the board in 2009. He worked for many years for the coral reef conservation organization Reef Relief before taking a position as logistics director for the RPM Nautical Foundation in 2006. This is Michael’s eighth year as volunteer coordinator for the Seminar.
Judy Blume is the author of twenty-nine books. She has written for children, teens, and adults. Her latest novel, In the Unlikely Event, set in New Jersey in the 1950s, was inspired by a speaker at the 2009 Seminar. She is the founder, with her husband George Cooper, of Books & Books @ The Studios, Key West's newest full service, independent bookstore.  Come by and say hello.
Cynthia Crossen was a reporter and editor at the Wall Street Journal for twenty-eight years, where she created the Dear Book Lover column. Before that, she worked at the Village Voice and the American Lawyer magazine. She is the author of two nonfiction books, Tainted Truth and The Rich and How They Got That Way.
James Gleick’s new book is Time Travel: A History. Other books include The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood; Chaos; Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman; and Isaac Newton. Jim first joined us as a panelist for the 2001 seminar, “Science & Literature,” and became a member of the board in 2006.
Mary Grusin, moved to Key West from Minneapolis where she was program director for The Loft, a comprehensive literary center in the Twin Cities. Before that she filled various senior administrative positions in higher education in both the private and the public sector. At present she also devotes time to VNA/Hospice of the Florida Keys and Impromptu Classical Concerts. The Seminar has been the highlight of  Mary’s twenty-two years in Key West by  providing an amazing opportunity for lifelong learning.
Lynn Kaufelt is past President of the Key West Literary Seminar and was the Seminar’s first director in 1983. She is the author of Key West Writers and Their Houses, an active real estate agent, and serves on the advisory boards of The Studios of Key West and Take Stock In Children. Lynn was the 2009 Florence Spottswood Humanitarian of the Year.
Nancy Klingener, Secretary, reports on the Florida Keys for WLRN, South Florida’s public radio station.
Liz Lear is a familiar literary figure in Key West, having worked as a bookseller at Key West Island Books for many years. A writer and journalist, Liz has long been an invaluable behind-the-scenes contributor to the Seminar and served as its Program Chair in 2002, 2010, and 2014.
Annette Liggett came to Key West with a background as a Professor of Leadership and Planning. She serves on the board of several Key West civic and cultural organizations and is Past President of the Friends of the Key West Library.
Diane Shelby, President, is an enthusiastic reader and a consultant to businesses and nonprofits in matters relating to accounting and financial analysis. She is delighted to be part of the Key West Literary Seminar.
Carey Winfrey worked as a reporter, producer, and editor for newspapers, television, and magazines before embracing self-unemployment in 2011. He is the co-author, with John Leslie, of Hail to the Chief, a political thriller published in 2016. He is chair of the program committee for the 2017 Seminar.
Susanne Woods, Treasurer, came to the Keys ten years ago after a long career as a professor and academic administrator. She has written or edited seven books, has over forty articles on English Renaissance literature, and is proud of an essay on Orwell in the Iowa Review and of reviews in the Nation. She continues to write and do occasional teaching and administrative work.
Arlo Haskell stuffed envelopes for KWLS as a nine-year-old, became Media Director in 2008, and has been Executive Director since 2015. He is also the publisher of Sand Paper Press and serves on the board of the Friends of the Key West Library. He lectures on Key West history and is finishing a book about the origins of Key West’s Jewish community. He and his wife, Ashley, celebrated the birth of their daughter, Aviva Mae, in July.
Lindsay Malboeuf joined the Key West Literary Seminar in 2015 as the assistant to the director. She has called Key West home for the past twelve years. An artist, graphic designer and avid reader, she is excited to be a part of this dynamic team.
Freya Hendrickson Freya Hendrickson is the Program Coordinator for KWLS. Before arriving in Key West in 2011, she taught English in Japan and worked for the Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology at Boston University. She loves travel, running, hiking, and taking pictures. When she’s not at KWLS, you can find her slinging key lime pie at Blue Heaven restaurant, or taking advantage of all the outdoor splendor that Key West has to offer.
Ian Rowan has been with KWLS for over a decade as a volunteer, stage manager, and now as our Technical Director. He is a writer, a videographer, producer, and creator of the ILoveYouLetter.org project. Ian is currently writing a memoir about growing up on a sailboat in central America and his subsequent motorcycle trip revisiting the haunts of his youth. His family became landlubbers in Key West fifteen years ago and Ian continues to spend winters here.
Kate Peters is the KWLS Education Coordinator and is developing our new program for high school students, "Island in the Works." A passionate and innovative teacher of literature and writing with interests in curriculum development, interdisciplinary study, and the Harkness method, she teaches English at Saint Catherine’s School in Richmond, Virginia.
Shayne Benowitz Social Media
Jolly Benson Lighting Design
Margit Bizstray Writer Liaison
Cara Cannella
Melody Cooper Audio Engineer
Nick Doll Photographer
Jason Rowan Spirits
Dan Simpson Audio Engineer
Cayman Smith-Martin Set Design
Nick Vagnoni Stage Manager