My AccountCart

Introducing Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Our new Assistant Director

12/04/2014  by Arlo Haskell  1 Comment
Kali Fajardo-Anstine


After a thorough search, we are extremely pleased to announce that we have found a new Assistant Director. Her name is Kali Fajardo-Anstine.

Kali (rhymes with ‘Polly’) comes to us from Denver, Colorado, and holds an MFA from the University of Wyoming, where she also served as Program Assistant. She has taught creative writing to at-risk youth in California, Colorado, and Wyoming. Her fiction appears in publications including Boston Review, Bellevue Literary Review, and Idaho Review.

Kali joins our organization at an exciting time of transition and describes her move to Key West as “a great adventure.” We know she’s up for the challenge, and we’re thrilled to have found the perfect person for the job.

Schedule announced for KWLS 33

12/02/2014  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

The complete schedule of events for the 33rd annual Key West Literary Seminar is now available: click here for complete details.

How the Light Gets In: Literature of the Spirit unfolds over the course of four days, beginning on the evening of Thursday, January 8, 2015. Opening night takes place at the Tennessee Williams Fine Arts Center and features a unique musical performance by the Paul Winter Consort. Following a brief keynote address by Pico Iyer, the Consort will present “Unbridled Joy,” a composition incorporating the voices of acclaimed poets including Mark Doty, Jane Hirshfield, and Marie Howe, among others. Day Two features five-time New York Times-bestselling author Wally Lamb, National Book Award-winner Barry Lopez, and MacArthur Foundation fellow Patricia Hampl, concluding with evening readings by Rumi translator Coleman Barks and two-time U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Day Three presents readings by celebrated poet Marilyn Nelson, a lecture by National Book Award winner Charles Johnson on “Politics, Race, Culture, and Spiritual Practice,” and finally an hourlong address on “Grace” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Marilynne Robinson. The seminar concludes on Sunday, January 11, with Walt Whitman Award-winner Mary Rose O’Reilley, and Robert D. Richardson, the acclaimed biographer of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, among others.

The final program on Sunday, January 11, is free and open to the public. Doors will open at the San Carlos Institute (516 Duval St.) at 1:45 for a program featuring Billy Collins, Mark Doty, Patricia Hampl, Marie Howe, Pico Iyer, Charles Johnson, Wally Lamb, and Mary Rose O’Reilley.

All other sessions are now full and closed to new registrants. Registration for the 2016 Seminar will open on December 16.

First Lear Scholarship to Cricket Desmarais

12/02/2014  by Arlo Haskell  9 Comments
Cricket Desamarais

Cricket Desmarais

We are delighted to announce the selection of Cricket Desmarais as the recipient of our inaugural Liz Lear Scholarship. Introduced this year, the annual award recognizes a Florida Keys resident who is passionate about the written word. The Lear Scholarship provides the recipient with full tuition to the seminar and/or our workshop program and is available only to local residents.

Cricket holds an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University and has written & worked professionally for twenty years as a freelance journalist, media specialist, poet, and editor. She is also a creative consultant and coach, a boat captain, and a yoga, writing, and dance instructor.

Cricket lives in Key West with her two young daughters and is the author of of I Love Coconut Oil: 56 Simple Tips for Every Day Use. Her novel One Hundred Fires, a historical fiction story set in the Florida Keys and Cuba during and just after The Depression, will be released by Salt Editions in January 2015. For more about Cricket, visit

2015 Awards to Deshpande, Bodwell, Kwak

11/14/2014  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

We are pleased to present the winners of our 2015 Seminar Emerging Writer Awards:


Scotti Merrill Award
selected by Billy Collins

Jay Deshpande, winner of the 2015 Scotti Merrill Award. Photo by Jane Hu.

Merrill Award winner Jay Deshpande writes: “When I’m writing these days, what I’m most desirous of is that something be at stake. All that matters is that we are in danger. That’s what I want to write from. If I have faith in anything it is my faith I have something to lose.” Deshpande’s poems have appeared in Narrative, Sixth Finch, Atlas Review, Handsome, Boxcar Poetry Review, and elsewhere. His debut collection of poems, Love the Stranger, is forthcoming from YesYes Books in 2015. He lives in Brooklyn.


Marianne Russo Award

Joshua Bodwell, winner of the 2015 Marianne Russo Award. Photo by Irvin Serrano.

Russo Award winner Joshua Bodwell is the executive director of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance and sits on the Maine Arts Commission. As a regular contributor to Poets & Writers, Bodwell has written profiles of Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford, National Book Award winner John Casey, and New York Times bestseller Andre Dubus III. He is a contributing editor at the online journal Fiction Writers Review, and his fiction and nonfiction have appeared in magazines and quarterlies such as Ambit (London), Glimmer Train’s Writer’s Ask, Threepenny Review, and Slice. His journalism has garnered awards from the Maine and New England press associations. He has lectured extensively in schools and universities and served three stints as writer-in-residence at Dulwich College in London. His website is


Cecelia Joyce Horton Johnson Fiction Award

2015 Cecelia Joyce Horton Johnson Fiction Award winner Chaney Kwak.

Johnson Fiction Award winner Chaney Kwak’s writing appears in Zyzzyva, Condé Nast Traveler, The Washington Post, National Geographic books, Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and other publications. He has received scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and residencies from Wildacres and the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts. He has won a special mention from The Pushcart Prize for his fiction, and is working on a novel.

About our Awards:

The Scotti Merrill Award, Marianne Russo Award, and Cecelia Joyce Horton Johnson Fiction Award recognize three emerging writers of exceptional merit each year. Winners receive full tuition to the seminar and writers’ workshop program, round-trip airfare, seven nights’ lodging, financial support for living expenses while in Key West, and the opportunity to appear on stage during the seminar. Past recipients include Patricia Engel, Nami Mun, and Kristen-Paige Madonia.

These awards are the legacies of the remarkable individuals for whom they are named; and a testament to the generosity of the patrons whose gifts will support them into the future. We are grateful to Holly Merrill and the Dogwood Foundation, to Peyton Evans, and to Cecelia Joyce Horton Johnson for providing the funds which allow us to recognize and support these dynamic writers.

More information about our Scholarship Program here.

33rd Seminar to feature Paul Winter Consort
Doty, Hirshfield, Howe to join famed jazz ensemble

10/30/2014  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
Paul Winter Consort in performance at the 1992 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival with Coleman Barks. Left to right are: Eugene Friesen, Eliot Wadopian, Coleman Barks, Glen Velez, Paul Halley, and  Paul Winter. Photo by Bill Abranowicz.

Paul Winter Consort in performance at the 1992 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival with Coleman Barks. Left to right are: Eugene Friesen, Eliot Wadopian, Coleman Barks, Glen Velez, Paul Halley, and Paul Winter. Photo by Bill Abranowicz.

In a dramatic first for the Key West Literary Seminar, opening night of “How the Light Gets In: Literature of the Spirit” (January 8-11, 2015) will feature a marquee musical performance by the Paul Winter Consort. Following a brief keynote address by Pico Iyer, the Consort will take the stage for a performance of “Unbridled Joy,” a unique musical-literary performance that will incorporate the voices of poets including Mark Doty, Jane Hirshfield, and Marie Howe, among others.

The name “consort” is borrowed from the ensembles of William Shakespeare’s time—the house-bands of the Elizabethan Theater that adventurously blended woodwinds, strings, and percussion, the same families of instruments that saxophonist Paul Winter combines in his contemporary consort. The Consort emerged from Winter’s 1960s-era jazz sextet which, at the invitation of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, had played the first-ever jazz concert at the White House.

Today, Winter is the winner of seven Grammy awards. Since 1980, he and the Consort have been artists-in-residence at New York’s St. John the Divine Cathedral, where they have presented over 100 special events, including annual Winter and Summer Solstice Celebrations, Carnival for the Rainforest, and their ecological mass, Missa Gaia/Earth Mass, which is performed annually each October as part of the Feast of St. Francis.

The Consort has also collaborated with many of the outstanding poets of our time, beginning from their 1980 collaboration with Gary Snyder, Turtle Island, in which their improvisations were integrated with the narrated poems. For twenty-five years, the Consort was the “house band” at the biennial Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. In Key West, Winter’s ensemble will be composed of cellist Eugene Friesen, percussionist Jamey Haddad, and pianist Paul Sullivan. They will be joined on stage by poets Coleman Barks, Billy Collins, Mark Doty, Patricia Hampl, Jane Hirshfield, Marie Howe, Marilyn Nelson, and Mary Rose O’Reilley.

Announcing Workshop with Marilyn Nelson

08/05/2014  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
Marilyn Nelson

Marilyn Nelson. Photo by Derek Dudek.

Marilyn Nelson has confirmed that she will join our faculty for the 2015 Writers’ Workshop Program. A three-time finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Newbery and Coretta Scott King honors, Nelson joins us for the first time in Key West, where she will also appear as a panelist at our 33rd annual Seminar, “How the Light Gets In.”

Nelson is a professor emerita at the University of Connecticut and the founder of Soul Mountain Retreat. Her all-levels workshop, “Giving Praise, Alabanza,” will explore formal mechanics and what Nelson calls “the feeling heart of the poetry of praise.”

Nelson joins a distinguished faculty offering 11 different workshops, each with its own focus and eligibility requirements. Limited availability remains for other workshop opportunities led by Paulette Alden, Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew, Billy Collins, Jane Hirshfield, Mary Morris, Susan Shreve, and Lee Smith.

KWLS Now Hiring: Assistant Director

08/04/2014  by KWLS Admin.  Comment on this Post

Open chairs, open podium. Photo by Nick Doll.

A unique employment opportunity is now open with the Key West Literary Seminar.

With Miles Frieden set to retire in January after a brilliant twenty-year run as Executive Director, long-time Associate Director Arlo Haskell is being promoted to the top spot. Haskell will oversee the hiring of a new full-time Assistant Director.

The Assistant Directorship is a unique position requiring a dynamic individual who possesses a broad range of proficiencies. The ideal candidate is a discerning and enthusiastic reader with strong writing and editing abilities; is adept in a variety of computer programs and online technologies; is comfortable with receiving and recording payments and managing accounts; and displays warmth, generosity, and professionalism in relationships with writers and organizational partners.

Click here to learn more about this position and apply to become the new Assistant Director of the Key West Literary Seminar.

Update: 11/01/2014: This position has been filled. Sincere thanks to all who applied.

Early Key West Account Found in Charleston

07/22/2014  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
David Henry Mordecai, 1849 ey West travel diary

Page three of David Henry Mordecai’s 1849 travel diary, including his sketch of “a cocoanut tree.” From the Lowcountry Digital Library of the College of Charleston. (Click for the complete digitized version.)

One of the earliest known travelogues of the Florida Keys and Key West has been uncovered in South Carolina at the College of Charleston. It establishes, among other things, that Key West’s reputation for drunkenness and questionable behavior has done nothing to dissuade talented writers from visiting the place for 165 years.

The 1849 account is contained within the pages of a diary written by a fifteen-year-old boy named David Henry Mordecai. He was the son of Moses Cohen Mordecai, a prominent South Carolina businessman and politician whose shipping company held a contract to supply Key West with delivery of the United States Mail. Prior to the Civil War, Mordecai’s “Isabel,” a three-masted paddle steamer, represented a vital connection between Key West and the outside world, providing twice-monthly mail, cargo, and passenger service to Charleston and Havana.

Donated to the College of Charleston as part of the Thomas J. Tobias Papers in 1994 and added to their Lowcountry Digital Library in 2010, young David’s handwritten document transmits an impressive breadth of sense-impressions and acute observation. And though the section devoted to the Keys is just four pages long, its detail makes it one of the important documents of Key West’s early history.

As the diary begins, Mordecai describes his surprise at sailing through the wild and fecund waters of the Florida Straits, while acknowledging the armed conflict then underway between the U.S. government and Florida’s native population:

     About noon we passed a part of the gulf stream, this is a great natural curiosity for it is a current running north I believe about 60 miles broad and its waters are of a different color than the ocean and they do not mingle with it. I am ignorant of the cause. In the stream we saw turtles, sharks, flying fish & some dolphins. During all this day we sailed along the Florida Coast and passed two keys belonging to Father one called Indian Key and the other Salt Key. Indian Key has some houses of fishermen upon it. We also passed Cape Florida and the place where stood the light house in which the keeper was smoked by the Indians in the Seminole War.

Upon arriving in Key West, Mordecai conducts a survey of the island and its natural and man-made features:

     About 7:00 we arrived at Key West an island and a safe place for vessels in distress. It contains about 3,000 inhabitants. We walked about the place and here I first saw a cocoanut tree. It is beautiful from 50 – 60 – 70 feet high and no leaves except at the top… All the tropical fruits grow in Key West except the Orange which does not thrive on account of the Salt air. The houses are some wood and some stone all with piazzas and no chimneys except in some kitchens or placed for ornament for they never need fires there.

Finally, Mordecai turns to the inhabitants, describing the human character of the frontier island, whose remoteness from the rest of the world his father’s shipping company had just begun to lessen:

     We strolled along the different places and found in almost every place men as drunk as they could be. The population is composed of but few really respectable persons, a great many wreckers, sailors and negroes who when they get a chance generally take more than their fill in intoxicating drinks.

Mordecai left for Cuba the next day and filled the remaining 150 pages of his diary with vivid and arresting descriptions whose sound composition belies his young age. The precocious youth would soon go off to Harvard, where he presumably met some “really respectable persons,” and travel widely throughout Europe and North Africa. He died, tragically, at 25.

Mordecai & Co.'s three-masted paddle steamer, the "Isabel," provided mail service to Key West during the years before the Civil War.

Mordecai & Co.’s three-masted paddle steamer, the “Isabel,” provided mail service to Key West during the years before the Civil War. From the Monroe County Public Library in Key West.

Bookleggers Library comes to Key West

05/20/2014  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

One of our favorite Miami literary upstarts is finally coming to Key West, for a not-to-be-missed event this Saturday from 3:00-8:00 at the Green Parrot Bar.

Bookleggers Library is a community mobile library founded two years ago with a mission to provide the South Florida reading public with access to free books. Through partnerships with public, private, and academic libraries as well as private book collectors, Bookleggers identifies desirable deaccessioned titles and gives them to readers at no charge in environments that recreate the spontaneity and surprise of a great book. Their one-night-only giveaways have been established in galleries, bars, museums, schools, and wide-open spaces from Miami Beach to the Everglades, exchanging thousands of books with thousands of people.

Now, finally, Bookleggers comes to Key West and the Green Parrot Bar, with the support of the Florida Keys Community College Library. “Here’s how it works,” says free-book impresario and Bookleggers founder Nathaniel Sandler. “Everyone gets one free book. More books are available for trade or for a small donation. Come out for a book, a beer, and a laugh!”

Bookleggers will be posting up on the porch in front Green Parrot Package Goods and Spirits at 609 Whitehead Street on Saturday, May 24th from 3:00-8:00 PM. Follow @bookleggers on Twitter for more info.

David A. Kaufelt, 1939-2014

05/11/2014  by Arlo Haskell  35 Comments
David Kaufelt

David A. Kaufelt, 1939-2014.

David A. Kaufelt, a novelist who founded the Key West Literary Seminar and did more to establish the island city as a fixture in the national literary consciousness than anyone since Ernest Hemingway, died this weekend at his Flagler Street home. He was 74.

He arrived in Key West from New York in 1974, fresh off the success of his debut novel, Six Months with an Older Woman, which was soon adapted into a made-for-TV movie starring John Ritter. Here, Kaufelt and his wife Lynn fell in with a community of distinguished writers that included poet James Merrill, journalist John Hersey, novelist Thomas McGuane, and playwright Tennessee Williams.

Kaufelt’s idea for the Key West Literary Seminar grew out of a disappointing meeting in New York, where he and literary agent Dick Duane had failed to persuade a group of publishers to send top writers south for a lecture series organized by the Council for Florida Libraries. New York publishers were convinced, said Kaufelt, that no one in Florida cared about books.

“I said we have so many writers of so many persuasions in Key West, we could have our own literary festival,” Kaufelt later recalled. And within a few years, that’s what he did, creating the event that, more than thirty years later, continues to present some of the most acclaimed writers in the English-speaking world to standing-room-only audiences.

While serving as president of the KWLS board of directors, Kaufelt continued to work as a novelist, producing books including American Tropic (1986), a historical-fiction account of Florida’s development, and the series of murder mysteries featuring lawyer-cum-detective Wyn Lewis, among them The Fat Boy Murders (1993).

Kaufelt also created and led a beloved literary walking tour, whose popularity owed as much to the intimate view it provided of the homes of Key West writers as it did to the dapper enthusiasm and infectious charm of its guide. “A lot of tourists come to Key West and they only see Duval Street or the Pier House,” Kaufelt said of his inspiration for the guided tour. “I wanted them to see what Key West really looks like.”

National Public Radio sent a reporter to Key West in 1990 to profile the walking tour. On the recording, which is available in its entirety in our audio archives, Kaufelt explains what attracted him and other writers to the island where he had made his home:

“I have a theory why we all live here—it’s called the Peter Pan theory. Freud said that we are at our most creative when we are in our very early youth, before we’re five years old. That’s where we are here. We wear shorts, we ride bicycles, we have the water, a great symbol of the unconscious, and we’re free to be children here and let our spirits go. There’s nobody in suits and ties telling us what we have to do.”

Kaufelt is survived by his wife, Lynn Kaufelt, and by their son, Jackson Kaufelt. A memorial service will be announced.

Listen: David A. Kaufelt’s Peter Pan Theory (excerpt)


Click here for full audio.

NEA Grant to Support Digitization Project

04/23/2014  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post


We are excited to announce that the Key West Literary Seminar has been chosen as one of 886 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an Art Works Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Art Works grants support the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and enhancement of the livability of communities through the arts.  The NEA received 1,515 eligible applications under the Art Works category, requesting more than $76 million in funding. Of those applications, 886 are recommended for grants for a total of $25.8 million.

The $10,000 award from the NEA will allow us to complete the digitization of archival audio recordings created at seminars during the 1980s and 1990s. These include presentations by Annie Dillard, Elmore Leonard, Barbara Ehrenreich, Joseph Heller, Tony Kushner, Jamaica Kincaid, and Robert Stone. Digitization is a crucial component of our Audio Archives Project, which produces unique presentations by some of the world’s most influential writers for use by educators, students, and readers worldwide. The project began in 2007 and received a major boost in 2009 with funding from the Florida State Department’s Division of Cultural Affairs. We are honored to have the support of the National Endowment for the Arts as we embark on the final push to preserve these important recordings.

The Real Lives of Writers

01/19/2014  by Cara Cannella  Comment on this Post
Tess Gerritsen, Michael Connelly, Alafair Burke, and Michael Koryta. Photo by Nick Doll.

Tess Gerritsen, Michael Connelly, Alafair Burke, and Michael Koryta. Photo by Nick Doll.

Alafair Burke, Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, and Michael Koryta came together yesterday afternoon to share behind-the-scenes revelations and anecdotes in “Real Life: What did you make out of yours?” Even the self-proclaimed introverts onstage opened up bravely to let curious KWLS attendees in on the magic and the mundane in their creative lives, and what they would do if they weren’t writers. In this peek under the kimono, we experienced the same satisfied delight found in reading the Paris Review interviews series (George Plimpton’s exchange with poet Billy Collins is among our favorites). In its intimacy and humor, the candid conversation among these fascinating writers captured so much of what makes KWLS unique.

Tess Gerritsen and Michael Connelly. Photo by Nick Doll.

Tess Gerritsen and Michael Connelly. Photo by Nick Doll.

Tess Gerritsen

Alternate career: Botanist

On being the only Chinese kid in her childhood town: “My father said, they’re never going to accept you, so you have to be better than they are.”

On writing as a passport to amazing experiences—like viewing a hospital CT scan of an Egyptian mummy as research for one of her books: “It took months to arrange because the hospital attorney cited the HIPAA Privacy Rule. The museum said, ‘We’re the parents,’ and signed the form.” (more…)

©2014 Key West Literary Seminar | | Developed by: Magnetic Web Media