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
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 of Key West, Key West's newest full-service, independent, nonprofit bookstore. Come by and say hello!
Mary Grusin
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 public sectors. At present she also devotes time to VNA/Hospice of the Florida Keys and the South Florida Symphony Orchestra. The Seminar has been the highlight of Mary’s twenty-four years in Key West by providing an amazing opportunity for lifelong learning.
Lynn Kaufelt is past board president and was the Seminar’s first director in 1983. She is an active real estate agent, the author of Key West Writers and Their Houses, 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
Nancy Klingener, Secretary, is the Keys reporter for WLRN, South Florida's public radio station. She has lived in Key West since 1991 and has worked as a staff writer for the Miami Herald, editor of Solares Hill, (a news and culture weekly), and news editor of the Key West Citizen, the Florida Keys' only daily newspaper. For five years she worked at the Monroe County Public Library in Key West.
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
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.
Michael Nelson has been a public librarian for more than twelve years, and he joined the staff of the Key West Public Library in 2015. He has master’s degrees in both library science and creative writing from the University of South Florida in Tampa. He joined the KWLS Board in 2017.
Michael Nelson
Hilary Parmentier
Hilary Parmentier is currently an English faculty member and chair of the Arts and Hospitality Department at Florida Keys Community College. She has worked to connect FKCC students, staff, and faculty to the community in many ways, including through the Key West Literary Seminar. Hilary was a five-year volunteer for the Seminar before joining the board in 2017.
Diane Shelby, President, first attended the Seminar in 1995 during the free and open-to-the-public Sunday afternoon session. She then became a Seminar volunteer and eventually joined the Board of Directors in 2005. Professionally, she works as a consultant to businesses and nonprofits in matters relating to accounting and financial analysis.
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 updated his documentary film about Key West authors, Writers on Bicycles, in 2017. He was program chair of last year’s Seminar.
Susanne Woods, Treasurer, came to the Keys twelve years ago after a long career as a professor and academic administrator. She has written or edited seven books, has more than forty articles on English Renaissance literature, and is proud of her reviews in the Nation and of an essay on George Orwell in the Iowa Review. She continues to write and do occasional teaching and administrative work.
Suzanne Woods
Arlo Haskell, photo by Nick Doll
Arlo Haskell has been executive director of the Seminar since 2015 and recently published his first work of nonfiction, The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar Makers, and Revolutionaries (1823-1969). He is also author of Joker, a poetry collection, and editor of poetry volumes by Harry Mathews and Héctor Viel Temperley. Born and raised in the Florida Keys, Arlo lives in old town with his wife, Ashley, and their daughter, Aviva.
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.
Freya Hendrickson
Katie Leigh
Katie Leigh has lived in Key West for the past 13 years. She is originally from Illinois and spent ten years in Chicago before trading in her snow boots for sunglasses. Besides providing administrative support for KWLS, she gives kayak tours and writes newsletters and press releases for local clients. In her free time, she enjoys running 5Ks and running after her two boys, Owen, 9, and Dawson, 3.
Ian Q. Rowan has been with KWLS for over a decade as a volunteer, stage manager, and now as our technical director. He is a writer, producer, filmmaker, and director of the feature documentary film The Narwhal’s Wake. He 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 twenty-seven years ago, and Ian continues to spend winters here.
Ian Rowan
Kate Peters
Kate Peters is KWLS Education Coordinator and lead teacher for "Island in the Works," our program for high school students. 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