Announcing the 2017 Emerging Writer Awards

11/18/2016  by Lindsay Malboeuf  Comment on this Post

Clockwise from top: Munib Khan, Elizabeth Engleman, Melinda Susan Goodman

We are pleased to announce the winners of the Cecelia Joyce Johnson Award, the Marianne Russo Award, and the Scotti Merrill Memorial Award.

The overall quality of the hundreds of submissions we received before this year’s deadline is testament to the fact that we live in a vibrant time, and in a world that is animated, informed, and documented by powerful literary impulses. Unique and divergent works are being produced by an astonishing number of writers. It is a good time to be a reader.

Without further ado:

The winners are…


MUNIB KHAN is a Pakistani fiction writer. His fiction has appeared in Prairie Schooner and has been shortlisted for the 2016 Commonwealth prize. He has worked for Banipal and Wasafiri magazines in the United Kingdom. He holds an MFA from Purdue University and is pursuing a doctorate degree at Florida State University.


ELIZABETH ENGELMAN holds an MFA in Fiction from the University of Tampa, where she was recognized with the outstanding graduate award. She holds a master of arts in Poetry from Lancaster University and was a recipient of the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to Ireland. She writes a blog for the Family Center on Deafness and lives in Dunedin, Florida, with her family.

—selected by Billy Collins—

MELINDA SUSAN GOODMAN is a poet and writer who’s been teaching at Hunter College in New York City since 1987. She was editor of Conditions, the first international lesbian literary journal and is a recipient of the Astraea Foundation’s award for emerging lesbian poets. She holds an MFA in Poetry Writing from Columbia University and a master of arts in Literature from New York University.

The Key West Literary Seminar Emerging Writer Awards recognize and support writers who possess exceptional talent and demonstrate potential for lasting literary careers. Each winner will join us in Key West for the 2017 Seminar and Writers’ Workshop Program, and receive a prize package including a $500 honorarium, the opportunity to appear on stage during the Seminar, and full support for travel and accommodation.

2017 Teacher and Librarian Scholarship Winners

09/28/2016  by Lindsay Malboeuf  Comment on this Post

We are delighted to announce the winners of our 2017 Teacher and Librarian Scholarships! Each year we award individuals who are making a positive impact upon readers in their communities. We hope that participation in our literary community will inspire fresh engagement with literature in schools and libraries around the country.

Scholarship winners receive a full waiver of the Seminar registration fee and are provided financial assistance toward lodging costs.

We had many strong applicants this year, and have selected the following qualified recipients. Thank you to all who applied and congratulations to our winners—keep up the good work!

Amelia Blanquera

Amelia Blanquera is a Creative Writing Teaching Fellow in the Columbia University School of the Arts and a Teaching Assistant in the Writing Center at the Columbia University School of Social Work. She is also an adjunct instructor at the NYU School of Professional Studies, where she teaches creative writing in the Access Program. As a nonfiction writer, she is writing about the legal battles of the late 1990s that resulted in the preservation of New York City’s 600+ community gardens.

Alissa Boyd

Alissa Landram Boyd is an Adult Services Manager at Live Oak Public Libraries, the Savannah, GA, organization she has worked with for more than seventeen years. Her professional passions include musical storytelling, community partnership opportunities, and emphasis on the importance of public libraries as community fixtures. She holds an undergraduate degree from Armstrong State University and a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of South Carolina.

Maria Bragonier

Maria Bragonier is a public Waldorf high school teacher. Her twenty-five-year career in education has included teaching at-risk students in Los Angeles, working with Alzheimer’s patients in Wisconsin, and now her pioneering work as an educator developing one of the first Waldorf high schools in America. Maria has found that literature and the examination of human values, diversity, and power are at the heart of her vocation and life.

Sherilyn Brumback

Sherilyn was raised on a Native American reservation in northern Minnesota. After completing college at the University of Minnesota, she returned to the reservation and worked as a teacher and librarian at the local Bureau of Indian Affairs school. After fifteen years in central Florida, Sherilyn returned to northern Minnesota where she manages the Bemidji Public Library. Sherilyn is a foster parent to four children, and is committed to helping her community and Tribe.

Jenny Emery Davidson

Jenny Emery Davidson is the executive director of the Community Library in Ketchum, Idaho. Previously, she taught in the English department and served as an administrator for the College of Southern Idaho, a community college. She holds a doctorate degree in American Studies from the University of Utah.

Lisa-Erika James

Lisa-Erika James is a tenured high school teacher with the New York City Department of Education and has taught Theater, Spanish and English for fourteen years. She was the first African-American woman to graduate from Columbia University’s Theater Directing program, and as a professional theater director she has directed over forty productions.

Kristin Kelly

Kristin Kelly is Associate Professor of English at the University of North Georgia. Her current research concerns the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially as reflected in the poetry and prose of combat veterans. She has contributed to journals such as Annals of Internal Medicine;War, Literature and the Arts; and The Examined Life.

Kristie Betts Letter

Kristie teaches Hamlet to teenagers in a public school and plays a mean game of pub trivia. Her fiction has been recognized by Best American Small Fictions 2017, and published in journals including The Massachusetts Review, Washington Square, The North Dakota Quarterly, and The Southern Humanities Review. KT literary represents her work.

Rachel Luria

Rachel Luria is an Associate Professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Wilkes Honors College, and two-time winner of the South Carolina Fiction Project. A recent Associate Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, her work has appeared in The Normal School, Harpur Palate, Saw Palm, Dash Literary Journal, and others. She is also a co-editor of the anthology Neil Gaiman and Philosophy.

Carmen Marroquin

Carmen Marroquin was born in Nicaragua and raised in Miami, Florida. She is a public school English Teacher in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Her goal is to ignite a passion for literature in her students.

Kristine Mietzner

Kristine Mietzner has taught basic skills at a California state prison, memoir writing at adult schools, and facilitated writing groups in Northern California. Her writing has been published in Your Life is a Trip, Litro New York, and the anthology,Something That Matters: Life, Love, and Adventures in the Middle of the Journey.

JC Moya

JC Moya teaches World Literature, International Relations, and Comparative Politics at Immaculata LaSalle High School in Coconut Grove, Florida. His focus on African studies, gender studies, and comparative genocide form a unique and memorable curriculum for his students. JC spent part of this summer in Rwanda, conducting research on the ongoing process of post-genocide justice, reconciliation, and reconstruction.

Kelly Navies

Kelly Navies is an oral historian and librarian. After a productive career in the Washington DC Public Library as a Special Collections Librarian/Oral Historian, she recently joined the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture as a Museum Specialist, Oral Historian. Navies is also a published poet who studied with June Jordan as a student at UC Berkeley.

Kimarlee Nguyen

Kimarlee Nguyen grew up in Revere, Massachusetts, and received her bachelor’s degree from Vassar College. She is a full-time English teacher at The Brooklyn Latin School. Recently, she received her MFA from Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus. Her fiction has appeared in Drunken Boat, Hyphen Magazine, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, and Flash Fiction Magazine.

Adeline Oka

Adeline Oka is a prison educator, writer, editor, and communications strategist, with extensive international work experience in the legal, education, media, and non-profit sectors. A recipient of the Fulbright grant, Adeline holds a master’s in Development Studies from the University of Cambridge (UK), and a bachelor’s in English and Political Science from Amherst College.

Amanda Pauley

Amanda Pauley works as a Circulation Specialist on the Access Services team for McConnell Library at Radford University. She completed a master’s degree in Liberal Studies in 2008, and a MFA in Creative Writing in 2014, both at Hollins University. She also writes and publishes short fiction and is a member of the New River Valley Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist program.

Julianne Tillis

Julianne Tillis is a Youth Services librarian for Cabell County Public Library in Huntington, West Virginia. She is also a writer, book review blogger (, and the leader of the Wicked Wordsmiths of the West writing group.

Jacqueline Trimble

Jacqueline Trimble lives in Montgomery, Alabama, where she is an Associate Professor of English and chairperson of the Department of Languages and Literatures at Alabama State University. A current Cave Canem fellow and recipient of a 2017 literary arts fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, she is also the author of American Happiness, published by NewSouth Books.

Things Can Get Sweaty: Thomas McGuane and Arlo Haskell on Writing Key West

01/21/2016  by Cara Cannella  Comment on this Post
Arlo Haskell and Thomas McGuane. Photo by Michael Blades.

Arlo Haskell and Thomas McGuane. Photo by Michael Blades.

In a recent conversation with Thomas McGuane about his Key West novels—the National Book Award-nominated Ninety-Two in the Shade (1973) and Panama (1978)—Key West Literary Seminar executive director Arlo Haskell placed the “magical pair” alongside Ernest Hemingway’s Prohibition-era To Have and Have Not among the great literary time capsules of this place.

On stage at the San Carlos Institute, McGuane read aloud from Ninety-Two in the Shade at Haskell’s prompting: “When the sun first assembles itself over the broken skyline of Key West on a morning of great humidity, a thunderous light fills the city and everyone moves in stately flotation through streets that are conduits of something empyrean. Also, things can get sweaty.”


Joy Williams on Why She Writes

01/10/2016  by Vincent Scarpa  Comment on this Post
Joy Williams. Photo by Nick Doll.

Joy Williams. Photo by Nick Doll.

A better beginning to the last day of a writing conference can scarcely be imagined: a reading from the fearless, peerless Joy Williams. Joy is, for so many writers, a titan, a legend—a writer we feel we are writing in the great shadow of, and whose work proves instructive and essential to our practice and our lives. She took to the stage Sunday morning, donning her signature dark sunglasses, and read first from 99 Stories of God, once an e-book put out by Byliner but soon to be brought into print by Tin House.

The stories are very short—some just a few lines, hardly any longer than a page—and, like all of Joy’s fiction, they are expert portraitures, providing brief but nuanced peeks into lives and moments marked by longing, need, surreality, and existential confusion. In a story titled “And You Are…,” a bride and groom ask an uninvited man to leave their wedding. Just a few sentences later we learn, “the divorce cost seventeen times what the wedding had, and the children didn’t turn out all that well either.” In “Fathers and Sons,” The Lord communes in a den with a pack of wolves, wondering why the world is out to exterminate the glorious creatures. And in “Whale,” an elderly couple reminisces about a game they haven’t played in years, a game of seeing who could make the other cry in the fewest words possible. The story’s title comes from a remembered line once played in the game: “The last whale swam deeper.”


Inside the New Yorker : Daniel Menaker in Conversation with James Gleick

01/10/2016  by Cara Cannella  Comment on this Post
James Gleick and Daniel Menaker. Photo by Nick Doll.

James Gleick and Daniel Menaker. Photo by Nick Doll.


In last night’s John Malcolm Brinnin Memorial Event, “The Inside Story: Fiction at the New Yorker,” a revealing conversation unfolded between Daniel Menaker and James Gleick through historic anecdotes, textual analysis, and plenty of juicy bits.

“Was there allowed to be sex?” Gleick asked of stories that ran during Menaker’s decades-long tenure as a contributor and editor of fiction, alluding to the magazine’s restraint, especially under William Shawn, its second editor. “No,” said Menaker. From the long pause that followed, the crowd erupted in laughter, and the literary code-cracking continued.

In a candid and witty tone familiar to readers of his 2013 memoir My Mistake, Menaker chronicled his sometimes bumpy ascent at the New Yorker, where he was hired as a fact checker in 1969 and stayed for the next twenty-five years. With the support of William Maxwell—and input from other crucial characters, including Roger Angell, Robert Gottlieb, and Tina Brown—Menaker grew as an editor, eventually helping to shape the work of some of the twentieth century’s most influential writers. This year’s KWLS panelists Ann Beattie and Antonya Nelson were among them, along with Mavis Gallant, David Foster Wallace, and Alice Munro.


Yiyun Li and Victor LaValle on Giving Life to Characters

01/10/2016  by Kate Peters  Comment on this Post
Yiyun Li and Victor LaValle. Photo by Nick Doll.

Yiyun Li and Victor LaValle. Photo by Nick Doll.

Midmorning on Saturday, Yiyun Li and Victor LaValle took the stage for “Immune to Folly: Character and Self,” a joint reading and conversation. The talk’s title made reference to a concept from one of Li’s essays, Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life.

Li had arrived in the Unites States “an aspiring immunologist,” and on the subject of the immune system, she read, “its memories can go awry, selectively or worse, indiscriminatingly, leading the system to mistake self as foreign, as something to eliminate.” Immunity, she said, is “a trait that I have desired for my characters and myself, knowing all the same the futility of such a wish: Only the lifeless can be immune to life.”

Li also read two passages from her 2015 novel Kinder Than Solitude, both to resounding applause from the San Carlos audience. About the first, a lyrical passage highlighting the pleasures of a solitary life, Li shared that a trusted friend and reader had bracketed it with the curt annotation: “B.S.” The second passage, appearing later in her novel, contained the character’s realization that her belief in solitude was a delusion: “The crowdedness of family life and the faithfulness of solitude…make little dent…on the profound and perplexing loneliness in which every human heart dwells.”


Claudia Rankine and Kevin Young on Influence in Art and Poetry

01/09/2016  by Nick Vagnoni  Comment on this Post
P. Scott Cunningham, Claudia Rankine, and Kevin Young

P. Scott Cunningham, Claudia Rankine, and Kevin Young

The Friday session of the 2016 Key West Literary Seminar was capped off by a conversation between poets Claudia Rankine and Kevin Young, moderated by P. Scott Cunningham, a poet himself and also the director of the O, Miami Poetry Festival. The talk, titled “Art from Art from Life: Poetry & Its Sources,” began with Cunningham asking Rankine what might have been lost had images not been present in her most recent work, Citizen. Rankine replied that one of her main goals with the book was to explore visual culture—and interactions between blackness and whiteness, in particular—without trying to control the reader’s experience. “When one looks at an image, one can go anywhere,” she said.

In her view, the book creation process is curatorial—a way of stepping into and dissecting cultural moments to access feeling in ways that newspaper or textbook accounts might not. “I’m only interested in the fact of it,” she said, “because the fact of it accumulates to account for the feeling, and then the feeling leads me to the lyric.”


Billy Collins on Walt Whitman, Buddy Holly, and Poetry’s Visible Games

01/09/2016  by Nick Vagnoni  Comment on this Post
Billy Collins discusses “Visible Games: Poetry in the Aftermath of Rhyme and Meter.” Photo by Nick Doll.

Billy Collins discusses “Visible Games: Poetry in the Aftermath of Rhyme and Meter.” Photo by Nick Doll.

The second full day of the 2016 Key West Literary Seminar began with a talk by Billy Collins entitled “Visible Games: Poetry in the Aftermath of Rhyme and Meter.” To connect his talk to the theme of this year’s Seminar, Collins reminded us all that poets are the “kings and queens of shortness,” giving a few examples such as Howard Nemerov’s “Bacon and Eggs,” W.S. Merwin’s “Elegy,” and a haiku of his own.

The main topic of his talk, however, was the disappearance of rhyme and meter from modern poetry and the introduction of other “visible games” in their place. Collins recalled how, during a post-reading Q&A, a young girl asked him why his poems didn’t rhyme, and he confessed that he simply wasn’t very good at it. The reason the girl has asked him this question, Collins speculated, was that she didn’t hear in his work the kind of music she was accustomed to hearing—the rhyme and meter many listeners come to expect from poetry. Rhythms such as the iamb are inherent in human processes like heartbeats and breathing, Collins said, adding that rhythm and meter have long been “the superglue of poetry,” the “ice or salt,” without which, as Yeats said “all that is personal soon rots.”


Hilton Als and Junot Diaz on Baldwin and the Short Form

01/08/2016  by Shayne Benowitz  Comment on this Post
SHAYNE QUOTE TK. Junot Díaz and Hilton Als in Conversation: "Baldwin's Children, or, Our Bodies Long for (a) Home: Belonging, Exile, and Love in African Diaspora Letters."

Junot Díaz and Hilton Als in conversation.

The John Hersey Memorial Event inaugurated the 34th Annual Key West Literary Seminar Thursday evening with a conversation between Junot Díaz and Hilton Als entitled “Baldwin’s Children, or, Our Bodies Long for (a) Home: Belonging, Exile, and Love in African Diaspora Letters.”

Both authors credit James Baldwin’s short stories and essays as enormous influences on their work as writers of color, and for the Dominican-born Díaz, on helping him to understand exile in light of the immigrant experience.

Both Díaz and Als agree that the short fiction form has been immensely influenced by the essay.

“There’s something achingly true about the short form’s ability to wrestle with complexity,” Díaz contends, whereas “the only agreement in the novel is that it won’t end until the last page.”


Shorts: Night One in Pictures

01/08/2016  by Cara Cannella  1 Comment

Shorts: Stories, Essays & Other Briefs kicked off last night with a celebration of James Baldwin, the short form, and Arlo Haskell’s inaugural year as Executive Director of the Key West Literary Seminar. All photos by Nick Doll.

Stage design by Cayman Smith-Martin.
Hilton Als inherited a love of language from his mother, who was also his first reader. As a young writer, he left drafts for her in the kitchen late at night. By morning, she would leave comments.
Podium and stage design by Cayman Smith-Martin.
“How do we find a home?” Díaz asked. “One has to journey far to find a place you can call home—[a place] to rest your head and your heart.”
Hilton Als signs one of his books for KWLS attendee.
Arlo Haskell, celebrating his inaugural year as Executive Director of KWLS.
Jono Helmerich and Matthew Helmerich, patrons of KWLS.
KWLS Technical Director Ian Rowan and Dan Simpson of Private Ear Recording Studio.
Craft cocktail service provided by Aimee McNally, Nic Talbot-Richards, Jason Rowan of Embury Cocktails, and Daniel Shoemaker of Teardrop Lounge and The Commissary in Portland, Oregon.
KWLS Board Member Nancy Klingener, Mark Hedden, and Nick Vagnoni.

Schedule Announced for “Shorts”

12/11/2015  by Lindsay Malboeuf  Comment on this Post
Opening night speakers, Hilton Als and Junot Díaz. Photos by Thea Goldberg and Nina Subin

After almost two years of planning, the 34th annual Key West Literary Seminar—“Shorts: Stories, Essays, & Other Briefs”—is now just four weeks away. We are excited to unveil the complete schedule for one of the most eagerly anticipated programs in our history.

It all begins with the John Hersey Memorial Event on Thursday night, January 7, at the historic San Carlos Institute. Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz and New Yorker theater critic and White Girls author Hilton Als take the stage at 7:00 for a special keynote conversation. Under the headline “Baldwin’s Children,” Díaz and Als are expected to touch on themes of home, exile, love, and belonging in short works by writers including Jamaica Kincaid and Octavia Butler, and in the essays and short stories of the great James Baldwin.

“By focusing on the short form,” Als writes, “we talk about how feelings, thoughts, politics, get distilled and compressed. Does the short form allow for greater or less intensity on the page, and in the reader’s imagination?”

That question will be explored throughout the weekend in a dynamic series of talks, readings, conversations, and interviews featuring twenty of today’s most accomplished practitioners of the short form. Highlights include a conversation with novelists and short-story writers Joy WilliamsKaren Russell, and Thomas McGuane (beginning from Williams’ observation that “a story is devious”); a talk by Gish Jen titled “Art, Culture, and Self”; a short-story reading by Ron Rash; and a dialogue between poets Claudia Rankine and Kevin Young on the roots of their verse in contemporary art, music, and culture.

Gish Jen, photo by Romana Vysatova / Thomas McGuane, photo by Bruce Weber / Ann Beattie, photo by Sigrid Estrada

The program also promises in-depth interviews of Ann Beattie and Antonya Nelson led by Daniel Menaker, the former fiction editor of the New Yorker, where their first stories were published. The tables turn for Saturday night’s John Malcolm Brinnin Memorial Event, as James Gleick interviews Menaker about “the inside story” of short-fiction’s most famous publishing outlet, the New Yorker.

As part of a series of “Readings in Conversation,” Jim Shepard and Molly Antopol will read from each other’s work and talk about their historical research; while Yiyun Li and Victor LaValle will discuss their fictional characters and the temptations of identifying with them. Two-time U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins will deliver a rare lecture, “Visible Games: Poetry in the Aftermath of Rhyme and Meter”; and Thomas McGuane will talk with Seminar executive director Arlo Haskell about Panama and Ninety-two in the Shade, the iconic and era-defining short novels McGuane set in Key West. Finally, solo readings by Brad Watson and Kelly Link will give audience members an intimate look at recent and unpublished work including Watson’s forthcoming Miss Jane.

2016 Awards to Jacks, Scarpa, Stephens

11/16/2015  by Lindsay Malboeuf  Comment on this Post

We are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s Emerging Writer Awards.

The overall quality of the hundreds of submissions we received before this year’s deadline is testament to the fact that we live in a vibrant time, and in a world that is animated, informed, and documented by powerful literary impulses. Unique and divergent works are being produced by an astonishing number of writers. It is a good time to be a reader. 

Without further ado:

The winners are...


Jordan Jacks is the James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at The Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Yale ReviewWeekday, and the Iowa Review. His story “Don’t Be Cruel” was recently listed as “Distinguished” in the 2015 edition of Best American Short Stories. Jacks has received fellowships from Bread Loaf, St. Albans School, and Washington University in St. Louis, where he received a master’s degree in 2012.


Vincent Scarpa is a third-year master’s candidate in fiction at the Michener Center for Writers. His stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading,  StoryQuarterlyIndiana ReviewBrevity, and other journals. He is a previous recipient of the Norman Mailer College Fiction award. He tweets at @vincentscarpa.


—selected by Billy Collins—

Rob Stephens’ poetry has appeared in Epoch, Copper NickelLake Effect, Minnesota Review, and other journals. His nonfiction is forthcoming from Entropy. He is a PhD student in Creative Writing at Florida State University, where he also earned a Master of Library and Information Science. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Jaclyn Dwyer, and his daughter, Tallulah.

The Key West Literary Seminar Emerging Writer Awards recognize and support writers who possess exceptional talent and demonstrate potential for lasting literary careers. Each winner will join us in Key West and on stage for the 2016 Seminar and Writers’ Workshop Program, and receive a prize package including an honorarium and full support for travel and accomodations.

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