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Teacher & Librarian Scholarships Announced

09/03/2015  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

Teachers and librarians are the vanguard of literary culture. Each day they welcome new members to the community of readers, curate resources that reveal the histories of our cities and families, foster discussions about important literary works, and encourage the development of new voices in American literature.

We recognize a number of such professionals each year, by providing scholarships to support their attendance at our annual Seminar. We hope that participation in our literary community in Key West will inspire fresh engagement with literature in schools and libraries around the country.

We are honored to announce the recipients of this year’s Teacher & Librarian Scholarships, twelve remarkable individuals who serve readers at public and private schools, major academic institutions, and small community libraries, in places including Lubbock, Texas; suburban Chicago; Washington D.C.; Las Vegas, Nevada; Brooklyn, New York; and South Florida.

Each honoree will receive a full waiver of the Seminar registration fee and support for lodging expenses, and will join us in the audience this January for the 34th annual Seminar, “Shorts: Stories, Essays, & Other Briefs,” featuring Hilton Als, Ann Beattie, Junot Díaz, Thomas McGuane, Claudia Rankine, Karen Russell, Joy Williams, and more.

Scholarships to teachers and librarians are made possible in large part by generous support from Judy Blume’s Kids Fund.

Please take a moment to learn about our winners below:

2015-16 Teacher & Librarian Scholarships


Innocent Awasom


Lauren Christos

Innocent Awasom has been a teacher and librarian for the past nineteen years and is currently a Science Reference Librarian at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. He is liaison to the College of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources (CASNR) and the departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry; and the International Center for Arid and semi-Arid land Studies (ICASALS). He is passionate about providing access to, and ethical use of information resources to his students, faculty, staff, and community members. His writings and research dwells on narrative inquiry with a library and information science slant.

Lauren Christos
is a Reference and Research Librarian at Florida International University at the Biscayne Bay Campus. Her passions are serving as an intellectual freedom advocate and journeying to Burning Man.


Ian Doreian

Ian Doreian is an English teacher in Boston, Massachusetts, grounded in tenth-grade literature with the amazing students at John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science. Partnering with 826 Boston, his students write, edit, and publish an annual story collection centered on themes as varied as the food our families eat, to the paradox of memories so troubling they must be simultaneously remembered and forgotten. Coaching soccer, photographing concerts, and interviewing members of the Wu-Tang Clan takes up much of his free time.

Meghan Dunn

Meghan Dunn

Meghan Dunn lives in Brooklyn, NY, where she teaches English and serves as chairperson of the English department at the Brooklyn Latin School. She holds a master’s degree in Creative Writing from Emerson College and a bachelor’s in English from Boston College. Her poetry and prose have appeared in Ploughshares, Narrative, Poetry Northwest, Inch, and Post Road, among other publications.

Keisha Hester

Keisha M. Hester

Keisha M. Hester is a librarian at the Calumet City Public Library in suburban Chicago, Illinois. She loves to connect teens and adults with their next favorite read, and is currently working on her first novel.

Kelly Elaine Navies

Kelly Elaine Navies

Kelly Elaine Navies is a librarian, oral historian, writer, and the mother of an eleven-year-old girl. Currently, she works for the Washington, D.C., Public Library system in the Special Collections Department of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, which consists of Washingtoniana and the Black Studies Center. She received her undergraduate degree in African American Studies with an emphasis in Humanities from the University of California at Berkeley, and her master’s in Library and Information Science from Catholic University with a focus on Cultural Heritage Information. Her writing can be found in Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint and Bum Rush The Page: A Def Poetry Jam.

Michael Nelson

Michael Nelson

Michael Nelson has been a public librarian for a little over a decade, and recently joined the staff of the Key West Public Library. He has master’s degrees in library science and creative writing, both from the University of South Florida.

Joey Rubin

Joey Rubin

Joey Rubin is a high school English teacher in Las Vegas, Nevada, where, as a member of the Teach for America 2014 Corps, he seeks to understand and mitigate the realities of educational inequity that his students face. He is also a graduate of the master’s program in creative writing at the University of Wyoming, and a cultural journalist whose work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle,, and other national publications.

Seamus Scanlon

Seamus Scanlon

Seamus Scanlon is a Carnegie Corporation/New York Times award-winning librarian at City College’s Center for Worker Education. The Center was founded by the unions in the 1980s so their members could access higher education via classes offered in the evenings and the weekends. Scanlon is also a playwright (The McGowan Trilogy, Dancing at Lunacy) and fiction writer (As Close As You’ll Ever Be). The Spanish translation of this collection is forthcoming from Artepoetica Press.

Danielle Sellers

Danielle Sellers

Originally from Key West, Danielle Sellers teaches literature and creative writing at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, Texas. She holds master’s degrees from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Mississippi. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Subtropics, the Cimarron Review, Smartish Pace, and elsewhere. Her first poetry collection, Bone Key Elegies, was published by Main Street Rag in 2009.

Yasmine Shamma

Yasmine Shamma

Dr. Yasmine Shamma is currently Assistant Professor of English at the Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University. Her research focuses on the relationship of twentieth-century poetry’s forms to local, pastoral and built environments. She is currently working on a Digital Humanities project which aims to illuminate this relationship for the reading public. She holds a master’s degree in English Literature from Georgetown University, and a doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University.

Robert Wilder

Robert Wilder

Robert Wilder has been teaching at Santa Fe Preparatory School for twenty years. He is the inaugural winner of the Innovations in Reading Prize presented by the National Book Foundation.

Scholarship for Teachers, Librarians, Writers

04/14/2015  by Kali Fajardo-Anstine  Comment on this Post

Harris Elementary School, Key West, 1962-1963. Monroe County Public Library collection.

Do you know a teacher or librarian? How about a talented up-and-coming writer? To show our support for these passionate individuals, we’ve completely updated our Scholarship Program and streamlined the application process.

KWLS now provides ten national scholarships for teachers and librarians who wish to attend our annual Seminar. We offer Financial Assistance for up to twenty-five participants in our Writers’ Workshop Program. And we continue to present three annual Emerging Writer Awards. We’ve also stepped up our financial assistance program with work-study opportunities, and we’ve renewed our commitment to provide support for lodging expenses to those who may not otherwise be able to attend. Click the links below for a complete overview, as well as guidelines and applications for each opportunity.

Scholarship Program Overview
Teachers and Librarians Scholarships
Financial Assistance
Emerging Writer Awards

Pico Iyer & Barry Lopez on Wonder

01/17/2015  by Shayne Benowitz  Comment on this Post
Photo by Nick Doll.

Photo by Nick Doll.

Sunday morning Pico Iyer and Barry Lopez took the stage at the San Carlos Institute with a conversation entitled “Wonder: Entering and Exiting the Great Mystery.” Both authors travel frequently and extensively to write about their discoveries in humanity as outsiders in foreign lands.

As an introduction, Iyer noted the difference in their styles, explaining that Lopez travels in search of the past to places like Antarctica and Afghanistan, while his own travels are in a quest for the future, visiting Hanoi, North Korea and even spending two weeks inside the Los Angeles International Airport.

However, he explained that their common bond was expressed through their means of correspondence, letter writing. Iyer famously does not use a cell phone, computer, TV or car in the remote Japanese village he’s called home for 27 years, explaining, “I’m looking for the human, the homemade, the wonder.” Lopez has lived in rural Oregon since 1970, and coincidentally they both retreat to the same monastery on the California coast.

Photo by Nick Doll.

Photo by Nick Doll.

Lopez opened the conversation with a reading from his essay 6,000 Lessons, a sort of credo on why he travels: “Witness is what I was after, not achievement.”

Amongst the lessons of the frequent traveler is “the heresy in believing that one place is not so different from the other.” He criticized the use of collective nouns to describe a culture or a people. “What makes a community memorable is the sense of autonomy and deference in order to minimize strife,” Lopez said. “To ignore the differences [in the world] is unjust.”

Mark Doty on Desire and Longing

01/11/2015  by Nick Vagnoni  Comment on this Post
Photo by Nick Doll

Photo by Nick Doll

On Saturday morning, Mark Doty gave a talk on desire and longing, a topic, he admitted, that he was somewhat surprised to have been assigned. When he reviewed his selected poems, however, he said he was also surprised to find that much of his work did deal with desire and longing. Doty said that it was  “daunting to discover one’s own subject,” but nevertheless, in the talk that followed, he read several of his own poems that explored this theme, as well as a few poems by other poets.

To start, Doty picked up a thread discussed the day before: the power of writing to help us “lose the boundary between ourselves and others.” He first read his poem “Difference,” in which the speaker uses shape-shifting jellyfish as a metaphor for language—the way we shape words to objects, the way our mouths shape words, and our desire to name things. After the poem, Doty reflected on how religion and language both often begin in awe, and how our mouths are frequently the way we connect with the world—through our first nourishment and all of it thereafter, through speech, through breath, through signs of affection. There is, he said, “an eros to speaking and naming.”

He next explored giving oneself over to desire in his poem “Tiara.” In explaining the poem, Doty spoke of the “radical invisibility” of being gay, and “the need to give voice to that desire,” as well as the desire of last wishes, and what it means to ask something of others.

A Reading With Steve Stern

01/10/2015  by Kali Fajardo-Anstine  Comment on this Post
KWLS - Day One Afternoon-0373

Steve Stern

It seems fitting that some hours before Steve Stern took the podium at the 2015 Key West Literary Seminar, Jane Hirshfield and Barry Lopez discussed the idea of the trickster figure. We need trickster, they proclaimed. Someone has to shake things up, and more often than not, that burden falls on the writer

This couldn’t be truer for a writer like Stern who prefaced his reading by stating that he’d recently had a colonoscopy. Hey, that’s certainly how some kind of light gets in.

I’ll admit that prior to this afternoon, I wasn’t very familiar with Stern’s work, but somewhere along the literary highway I heard him and his writing described as very humorous, southern, and Jewish. What’s not to love? As someone who collects volumes of regional folklore, I couldn’t have been more delighted when Stern went off script and read his short story, “Lazar Malkin Enters Heaven.” The story centers on an old man named Lazar who despite missing one eyeball, one limb, and several organs, refuses to die. Stern read the story in a deep, commanding tone—not simply giving a reading, but retelling a tale. Audiences at the San Carlos listened up as each of us was transported out of our red seats and plopped down into a Tennessee town where angels walk among us with hidden wings.

What a glorious story-time it was.

Compassion, Joni Mitchell, & Dick Cheney

01/10/2015  by Nick Vagnoni  2 Comments
Patricia Hampl, Marie Howe, and Wally Lamb. Photo by Nick Doll

Patricia Hampl, Marie Howe, and Wally Lamb. Photo by Nick Doll

The first morning of the 2015 Key West Literary Seminar was filled with discussions of compassion. Wally Lamb began his reading on Friday by talking about Joni Mitchell, and her song “The Magdalene Laundries” in particular. Lamb read a version of an essay that wove Mitchell’s lyrics with his own experiences teaching writing workshops at a women’s prison in Connecticut. He explained that he had originally intended to only do a one-day workshop at the prison as a way of giving something back after the success of his book She’s Come Undone, but following that first day’s workshop, he decided to continue and fifteen years later he still returns to the prison on a regular basis. Lamb said that the lyrics of Mitchell’s song about the notorious Irish “asylums” and their brutal treatment of young Irish women resonated deeply with the incarcerated women in his workshops, and this notion of seeing oneself in the other, and the other in oneself was something that resonated throughout the rest of his reading and on the panel that followed, where Lamb was joined by Patricia Hampl and Marie Howe.

Hampl explained how, as a memoirist, she finds herself more often than not using herself to navigate the lives of others. She cited Whitman’s “Song of Myself” as another example of this, and Howe continued to explore this idea of exchanging the self for the other as a way of generating compassion, saying, “this is the hard part…but that’s where our imagination must take us…Dick Cheney is me.”

Ultimately, Howe said, even though it’s difficult to inhabit the skin of those we may not like, it eventually makes us more compassionate. Lamb picked up this thread by noting some of the negative responses he’d received for his first-person portrayal of a pedophile in his novel We Are Water. He pointed out that his purpose in giving voice to the character was not as a means of exonerating, but rather to remind readers and himself that this person was still “a part of our humanity, another person in our world.”

Opening Night w/ Paul Winter Consort

01/10/2015  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

“How the Light Gets In: Literature of the Spirit” began Thursday night with a marquee music-and-poetry performance featuring the Paul Winter Consort.

All photos by Nick Doll.

KWLS - Opening Night--46

Pico Iyer delivers the John Hersey Memorial Address just before the band plays.

KWLS - Opening Night--62

The Paul Winter Consort, featuring Paul Sullivan on Piano; Eugene Friesen on cello; Paul Winter on alto saxophone; and Jamey Haddad on drums.

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Drummer Jamey Haddad

KWLS - Opening Night--85

Marilyn Nelson

KWLS - Opening Night--97

Poet Mark Doty read a new poem concerned with the death of Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy killed by the police in Cleveland in November, 2014. He was accompanied by cellist Eugen Friesen.

KWLS - Opening Night--109

Billy Collins

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Jane Hirshfield

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Marie Howe

KWLS - Opening Night--135

Coleman Barks

Thirty-third Seminar Underway

01/09/2015  by KWLS Admin.  Comment on this Post

Registrants for the 33rd annual Seminar began checking in at the San Carlos Institute on Thursday afternoon before climbing aboard trolleys for the ride to the Tennessee Williams Fine Arts Center. Images of the opening night readings and concert coming soon…

All photos by Nick Doll.


Longtime Seminar attendee Christine Bassett proudly displays her badge.


A sea of name tags during the calm before the storm.


KWLS board members Annette Liggett and Michael Blades make their list and check it twice as registrants begin to arrive.


Incoming Executive Director Arlo Haskell answers questions for an arriving guest.


A happy attendee receives her welcome packet from a KWLS volunteer.

Light Getting in as KWLS 33 Begins

01/08/2015  by KWLS Admin.  Comment on this Post

Sunrise near Key West. Photo by Flickr user NervousEnergy.

The thirty-third annual Key West Literary Seminar is underway. Check-in for those who are registered for the event takes place at the San Carlos Institute (516 Duval St.) from 1:00-5:00 pm today, Thursday, January 8, 2015.

“How the Light Gets In: Literature of the Spirit” will explore literature’s relationship to the inexplicable. “Our hope,” writes program co-chair Pico Iyer, “is to talk about essentials—what lasts and what is at the heart of us—through poetry, essay, fiction, and even silence; to push words as far as they can go and then to respect what remains when they give out.”

Opening night features a unique musical performance by the Paul Winter Consort at the Tennessee Williams Fine Arts Center. 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.

Sunday afternoon’s program is free and open to the public:
first-come, first-served. Doors will open at the San Carlos Institute (516 Duval St.) at 1:45 pm for a program featuring Billy Collins, Mark Doty, Patricia Hampl, Marie Howe, Pico Iyer, Charles Johnson, Wally Lamb, and Mary Rose O’Reilley. See the full schedule here.

The 2015 Seminar also marks the end of Miles Frieden’s remarkable twenty-year career as KWLS Executive Director. Congratulations, Miles, on a job well done. And welcome to our incoming Executive Director, Arlo Haskell.

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.

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