Elmore Leonard: Seldom a Mystery

09/11/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
 
Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard, in an undated publicity photo provided to KWLS in 1988.

We note the passing, last month, of Elmore Leonard, acknowledged master of crime fiction and one of the most influential writers of his time. He was 87.

Leonard joined us in Key West twenty-five years ago for the 1988 Seminar, “Whodunit? The Art & Tradition of Mystery Literature.” It was our first foray into crime fiction and Dutch, as Leonard’s friends knew him, was quick to call attention to the oversimplification of his work implied by so-called mystery writing. “I’ve come to accept,” Leonard wrote to program coordinator Les Standiford in the letter included here, “that what I do lies somewhere in the ‘mystery’ field, though there is seldom a mystery as to what’s going on in my plot or who done it—if in fact it’s even done. But I do deal with crime and that’s what we’re talking about really: works in which crime motivates the plot.”

Leonard’s career had taken off in the early 1980s as Hollywood producers discovered the lucrative potential for screen adaptations of his work. But his relationship with Hollywood was an uneasy one. “Dealing with Hollywood can be fun—” Leonard cracked, in preparatory notes for a KWLS panel discussion entitled “Mystery Literature and Adaptation into Film,” “’til you write the first draft. My advice: Refuse to be picked up at the airport in a limo. Otherwise, if you walk out of the meeting you won’t have any transportation.”

Speaking onstage at the seminar with novelist Donald Westlake and film critics Sheila Benson and Richard P. Sugg, Leonard went into more detail on the aesthetic compromises that working in Hollwood required. “The major mistake that producers make,” said the novelist, whose gritty realism earned him a reputation as “the Dickens of Detroit,” “is to cast stars in the role of characters who were never written as stars and were never meant to be stars.”

Leonard continued to create work for television and film throughout his life. But he’ll be remembered as a writer of books, a humbler form that better withstands the mutability of fashion and popular culture. “I’d like to write a good screenplay, but I’m not sure I ever will,” Leonard told us in 1988, with a touch of longing. “But that’s o.k., because honestly, I get lots of satisfaction—actually I get all my satisfaction—out of writing books.”

Elmore Leonard letter to Les Standiford 1987

A letter from Elmore Leonard to Les Standiford, June 16, 1987. Click for full-size view.

Print under the Palms: of days & presses gone

07/31/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
 

Players are going to play, and writers are going to write, but once upon a time writers depended upon an arsenal of heavy machinery and skilled technicians to bring their words to readers’ eyes. Herewith, a tribute to the backstage heroes that brought prose to the island city back when spilling coffee on your laptop meant you had to change your pants and a font could be held in the hand.

All images via the Monroe County Public Library; click for full-size versions at their excellent Flickr site.

Linotype workers at the Key West Citizen, circa 1960.

Linotype workers at the Key West Citizen, circa 1960.

The printing office at the United States Naval Station, Key West.

The printing office at the United States Naval Station, building 101.

Linotype press operator at the Key West Citizen, circa 1960.

Linotype worker, Key West Citizen.

Linotype worker, Key West Citizen.


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Daniel Menaker to teach Humor Workshop

07/30/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
 

Daniel Menaker will teach “The Art of Comic Writing” in Key West in January 2014. Photo by Chip Cooper.

We are very happy to announce that Daniel Menaker will rejoin our writers’ workshop faculty for January 2014. This brings the number of courses in our 2014 Writers’ Workshop Program to ten, our broadest offering yet.

Menaker’s “The Art of Comic Writing” will cover humor in writing in all its forms, with a concentration on short comic pieces along the lines of the New Yorker’s Shouts and Murmurs column. Menaker’s unique high/low approach to comic writing will examine humor in such classic literary works as Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice, while also incorporating video from The Daily Show with John Stewart, and considering the work of such comedians as Richard Pryor and Chris Rock.

The workshop is open to all levels and requires no advance submission. Click here for more details.

Menaker worked as an editor and writer for 26 years at the New Yorker, and has contributed fiction and humor and essays and journalism to Harper’s, the Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, and many other publications. The former Executive Editor-in-Chief at Random House and an O. Henry Award-winner, he is the author of six books, two of them New York Times notable titles. Menaker’s memoir, My Mistake, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in November of 2013.

Final Chapter Keynote is Elizabeth George

07/10/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
 

Elizabeth George, #1 New York Times bestselling author and creator of the Inspector Lynley mysteries.

Following on yesterday’s announcement that Sara Paretsky will deliver the keynote address for “Chapter One,” we are thrilled to announce that Elizabeth George will have keynote honors for the “Final Chapter” of the 2014 Key West Literary Seminar: The Dark Side.

George is the acclaimed author of the Inspector Lynley series, which continues in October 2013 with its eighteenth installment, Just One Evil Act. Her 1988 debut, A Great Deliverance, earned a rare triple crown in the mystery world, winning both the Anthony and Agatha awards for best first novel along with France’s Le Grand Prix de Literature Policiere. Most of George’s Inspector Lynley mysteries, which are set in the U.K., have been produced for television by the BBC and are broadcast in the U.S. on PBS’s Masterpiece. She has been called “a superstar of the crime-fiction world” whose “devilishly complicated” novels “reveal the sad spectrum of human dereliction.”

A former high school teacher, George left education when she sold her first novel. In 2000, she founded the Elizabeth George Foundation, which provides emerging writers with up to one year of funding for living expenses so that they can have an opportunity to succeed.

George will deliver the John Hersey Memorial Address to begin “The Final Chapter” of the Dark Side on Thursday, January 16, 2014. There is still time to register for this session, where George will be joined by celebrated authors including John Banville (aka Benjamin Black), Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Lyndsay Faye, Tess Gerritsen, Sue Grafton, and Sara Gran.

—Register for “The Dark Side”—

Chapter One Keynote is Sara Paretsky

07/09/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
 

Sara Paretsky, the New York Times #1 bestselling author and creator of V.I. Warshawski, the groundbreaking leading woman of American crime fiction.

We are excited to announce the selection of Sara Paretsky as the keynote speaker for the first session of the 2014 Key West Literary Seminar: The Dark Side.

Paretsky revolutionized crime writing in 1982 when she introduced private investigator V.I. Warshawski in Indemnity Only. By creating a female investigator with the grit and smarts to tackle problems on the mean Chicago streets, Paretsky challenged a genre in which women’s roles had been limited to vamps or victims. Fifteen more novels, including the 2012 Breakdown, have tracked the exploits of Warshawski, whose passion for social justice reflects Paretsky’s own.

Beyond the literary world, Paretsky has earned acclaim for her impassioned social advocacy, supporting organizations that promote literacy and reproductive rights, fighting on behalf of the mentally ill homeless, and drawing attention to the growing wealth gap through the Occupy movement.

Her awards have included the Cartier Diamond Dagger and Gold Dagger from the U.K.’s Crime Writers Association and she was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for her 2007 memoir, Writing in an Age of Silence.

Paretsky will deliver the John Hersey Memorial Address to begin “Chapter One” of the Dark Side on Thursday, January 9, 2014. She will be joined at the sold-out first session by celebrated authors including Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, William Gibson, Carl Hiaasen, Joyce Carol Oates, Alexander McCall Smith, and Scott Turow.

Watch this space for details about a free-and-open-to-the-public session to be held on the afternoon of Sunday, January 12, 2014. Or follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter.

Priority Deadline for Scholarships is June 30

06/17/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
 

Fewer than thirteen days remain to meet the priority deadline for applications to our Scholarship Program.

Teachers, librarians, and writers who would not otherwise be able to attend the seminar and/or writers’ workshop program are urged to apply now for financial assistance. We are looking for applicants whose professional roles and personal skills allow them to have a positive impact upon readers of all ages; and for emerging writers committed to improving their craft among our literary community in Key West.

Dynamic writers who possess the voice, skill, and poise to succeed at the national level are also urged to apply for one of our named awards. Winners of the Joyce Horton Johnson Fiction Award, the Scotti Merrill Memorial Award, and the Marianne Russo Award receive full tuition to our January seminar and 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.

All financial assistance applications received by the priority deadline of June 30 will receive equal consideration. Thereafter, applications will be considered on a rolling basis until funds/space are depleted. Award applicants interested in financial assistance as a ‘backup plan’ are also urged to apply by the priority deadline of June 30.

The KWLS Scholarship Program aims to nourish a vibrant literary culture by providing support to teachers and librarians while promoting the work of new voices in American literature. We are enormously grateful to Judy Blume’s KIDS Fund; Joyce Horton Johnson; Holly Merrill and the Dogwood Foundation; and Peyton Evans and the Rodel Foundation. Thanks to their generosity we have provided support to more than 275 individuals with nearly $250,000 in fee waivers and lodging and travel assistance.

Adam Gopnik on Crime-Lit, Carl Hiaasen, & ‘Florida Glare’

06/14/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
 
Florida Glare

Illustration by Leslie Herman from the New Yorker.

The New Yorker‘s annual summer fiction issue features a brilliant article by Adam Gopnik on the current ‘state’ of crime fiction—the focus of our forthcoming seminar, “The Dark Side”—and what it reveals about the transformations in American life.

In “The Back Cabana: The rise and rise of Florida crime fiction,” Gopnik discusses the roots of the crime genre in the canonical California-noir books of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald. “But another line of crime fiction,” Gopnik argues, “may have supplanted the L.A.-noir tradition as a paperback mirror of American manners—the fiction of Florida glare.”

Gopnik draws the line of influence in Florida Glare from John D. MacDonald, whose hero Travis McGee fought crime from a houseboat on the Intracoastal, to Elmore Leonard and practitioners including James W. Hall and Carl Hiaasen. Much of the piece focuses on Hiaasen, Florida Glare’s reigning king, who “has a constant sense of how easily brutality and ineptitude and inconsequence flow together.”

The crux of Gopnik’s point is that the relatively orderly world that gave birth to California noir has dissolved in our current state of affairs. “In L.A. noir, the essential fear is of corruption—the system is fake. In Florida glare, corruption is taken for granted. The thing to fear is chance.” In Hiaasen’s world and in ours, “nothing connects, but everything coincides.” “You find no balanced ‘Double Indemnity’-like sense of sin and nemesis, just reality-show surrealism that goes on and on until someone dies, or turns the set off.”

If you’re not a New Yorker subscriber, you can listen to Gopnik discussing Florida Glare with Tom Ashbrook on the radio program “On Point.” You can also listen to Gopnik in our Audio Archives; his 2011 keynote address—“Rituals of Taste”— is classic Gopnik, a tour-de-force disquisition on how our “taste” for food is intertwined with our “taste” for the arts, literature, fashion, and politics. And you can see Carl Hiaasen and James W. Hall, along with top crime writers from all over the country, at our 32nd annual Key West Literary Seminar—”The Dark Side.”

Archive adds rare Tennessee Williams Audio

06/10/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
 
Tennessee Williams Audio Recording

Tennessee Williams joins the KWLS Audio Archives.

A rare audio recording of the great playwright Tennessee Williams is the latest addition to the KWLS Audio Archives. After decades in the vault of the Key West branch of the Monroe County Public Library, the original reel-to-reel recording was recently discovered by library staff and digitized with funding support from a private donor. Alongside the tape was a letter from Williams, explaining that he produced the recording at a local radio station in 1971 for the benefit of the library. The half-hour sound file features Williams reading a selection of fifteen poems, including a never-published poem beginning “The wayward flesh has made me wise…” We’re thrilled the Key West Library chose to share this recording with KWLS and extend our thanks to everyone involved, especially Anne Layton-Rice, Nancy Klingener, Christine Dunn, and Tom Hambright.

Our physical audio archives contain hundreds of unique presentations by some of the world’s most influential writers. We began digitizing the oldest of these recordings in 2009 and continue to release the best of our collection for use by educators, students, and readers worldwide. The Williams file joins historic presentations by James Merrill, Joyce Carol Oates, Wendy Wasserstein, Junot Díaz, and Gore Vidal, among many others.

More recordings from the KWLS Audio Archives.

Workshops Explore Poetry, Fiction, Memoir

05/21/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
 

Faculty for the 2014 Writers’ Workshop Program, clockwise from top left: Paulette Alden, Madeleine Blais, Billy Collins, James W. Hall, E.J. Miller Laino, Bich Minh Nguyen, Porter Shreve, Susan Richards Shreve. Not shown: Dara Wier.

The 2014 Writers’ Workshop Program will feature nine unique offerings covering poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and memoir, with courses tailored for writers of all levels. All workshops take place January 12-16, 2014, at various locations in Key West. Workshops are scheduled in the days between the first and second sessions of “The Dark Side”—the 32nd annual Literary Seminar—so that it is possible to attend both a workshop and the Seminar.

Former United States Poet Laureate Billy Collins once again leads the KWLS poetry faculty with a workshop titled “Imaginative Travel.” Admission into the Collins workshop will be based on a required submission of three poems, while E.J. Miller Laino’s workshop is open to poets of all levels with no entrance requirements. Writers interested in Dara Wier’s “Counterintuitive Poetry Workshop” are urged to bring “courage, energetic recklessness, and exquisitely necessary sincerity” to a workshop that will explore and explode preconceived notions of how poetry “should” be written.

Fiction workshops include the “Advanced Fiction Workshop” led by Susan Richards Shreve, the author of fourteen novels and Co-Chairman of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation; and an all-levels workshop with Porter Shreve which will focus on character-building in short stories and novels. James W. Hall’s “Writing a Killer Opening” will focus on particular strategies for beginning a story—whether a crime novel, a thriller, or a literary work of fiction.

Madeleine Blais, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of the acclaimed memoir Uphill Walkers, will lead a workshop focused on memoir-writing titled “Personal Narrative in an Impersonal World.” “At the heart of memoir is a conundrum,” Blaise remarks. “While writing about the most subjective of experiences, your own life, you have to find the most objective of frameworks.” Paulette Alden’s “Writers’ Boost: Taking Your Writing to the Next Level” is a hybrid workshop suitable for writers working on either memoir or fiction. Bich Minh Nguyen’s “Exploring Creative Nonfiction” is similarly innovative, promising a careful exploration of what Nguyen calls “an ‘equal opportunity’ genre suited to poets and fiction writers alike.”

Each workshop takes place over the course of four days, with classes in the morning and optional activities, such as open readings and social gatherings, in the evening. An orientation dinner will be provided on January 12. Admission fee for each workshop is $450; scholarships are available to teachers, librarians, students, and writers who can demonstrate financial need. Advance registration is required.

No Mystery Why: ‘The Dark Side’ Filling Up

04/22/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
 

Chapter One of our forthcoming 32nd annual Seminar, The Dark Side, is now fully subscribed and closed to new registrants. A waitlist has begun.

There is still time to register for the Final Chapter, which will take place January 16-19. Speakers at the four-day event, dedicated to the mystery, crime, and thriller genres, will include some of the most prolific and widely-read authors in the world. Among them are Lee Child, creator of the Jack Reacher novels recently brought to the screen by Tom Cruise; Michael Connelly, whose works include the popular Lincoln Lawyer series and have been translated into over 36 languages; and Sue Grafton, whose “A” is for Alibi inaugurated one of the world’s best-known mystery series, (now up to “V” is for Vengeance). In order to explore and contextualize the enduring popularity of genre writing, The Dark Side will also feature acclaimed “literary” figures like John Banville, the Booker Prize-winning Irish author who pens crime-novel page-turners under the psuedonym Benjamin Black; former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins; and Percival Everett, whose novel Assumption turns the crime procedural on its head.

The Final Chapter is also expected to sell out well in advance of January, and we urge all who are interested to register as soon as possible. Registration fee is $575. This includes entry to all talks and panels, beginning Thursday evening and concluding Sunday around noon. Evening receptions and meals are also included. A $100 deposit is required, with the remainder due in the fall.

Another Look at “Writers on Writers”

01/31/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
 

As we leave January for the month ahead, here’s a look at some of the highlights from Session Two of “Writers on Writers.” All photos by Nick Doll unless noted.

Blake Bailey discusses the troubled lives of his subjects, John Cheever, Charles Jackson, and Richard Yates.

Taking notes…

The students of Kerri McLean’s Advanced Placement English class, Key West High School.

Geoff Dyer and Blake Bailey at a book signing.


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Behind the Scenes of “Writers on Writers”

01/30/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
 

A look backstage at some of the wonderful board members, staff, and volunteers who help make the Key West Literary Seminar happen. Photos by Nick Doll, unless noted. Thank you, all!

Audio Engineer Melody Cooper of Private Ear and Stage Manager Ian Q. Rowan.

Photographer Nick Doll. Photo by Ian Rowan.

Associate Director Arlo Haskell and “Writers on Writers” Program Chair Peyton Evans.


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