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The Dark Side of Key West

01/09/2014  by Nancy Klingener  1 Comment
    Count Carl Tanzler von Cosel with Dr. DePoo and attorney Louis Harris. From the DeWolfe and Wood Collection in the Otto Hirzel Scrapbook, Monroe County Public Library.

Count Carl Tanzler von Cosel with Dr. DePoo and attorney Louis Harris. From the DeWolfe and Wood Collection in the Otto Hirzel Scrapbook, Monroe County Public Library.

Key West, which sells itself as a sunny resort, is taking a detour into the Dark Side. Over the next two weekends, the Key West Literary Seminar will examine mystery, crime, and the literary thriller with a line-up that includes Gillian Flynn, Lee Child, Carl Hiaasen, Scott Turow, Alexander McCall Smith and many more. Both sessions are sold out, but on the next two Sundays there are programs that are free and open to the public.

As the enthusiastic registration for this year’s Seminar shows, readers have a strong fascination and—odd as it is—fondness for stories about murder and violence and deception. Those topics are as old as human history and certainly of literature—according to the book of Genesis it only took two generations of humans before murder entered the picture and it was a fratricide at that. The myths of every culture are full of violence and drama, as full of those elements as our own history, the pages of our daily newspaper, and the popular entertainments that occupy our film and television screens. Not to mention, of course, our reading. These books are often described as mysteries, and that may mean a puzzle to be solved, a perpetrator to be caught. But a mystery can also be a much bigger question, almost a spiritual question about the search for motive and meaning in human life, as expressed through our actions and their occasionally catastrophic consequences. As much as we might wish otherwise in our more enlightened moments and insulate ourselves in our daily lives, this interest in the dark side seems to be in our DNA. We are, on a fundamental level, fascinated with transgression.

Key West seems like a particularly appropriate setting for this exploration. This small but legendary island has has been the setting for so many stories from Don Balasco of Key West in 1896 to Carl Hiaasen’s Bad Monkey, published last year. In between we had Hemingway and his tales of desperation and violence in To Have and Have Not, his only novel set in the U.S. We had Thomas McGuane creating homicidal fishing guides in 92 in the Shade. We even had some real-life episodes that would defy belief, even in a Hiaasen novel—like the German émigré radiologist in the 1930s who fell desperately in love with a tubercular young Cuban girl—so desperate that after she died he stole her body from the crypt and kept it in his homemade plane fuselage on the beach. He gave himself the title of Count Von Cosel and played organ music for his love, whom he was convinced awoke, spoke to him and would fly with him to the moon. When her semi-preserved body was discovered—SEVEN YEARS LATER—Key Westers were shocked—but made sure to put the waxy remains on display at the funeral home for a public wake that everyone in town attended. Including the kids. Von Cosel didn’t even face criminal charges—the statute of limitations on grave robbing had expired and they couldn’t figure out anything else to charge him with. This tale is an extreme example of the ethos that gives our island its refreshingly non-judgmental attitude—an attitude that lets things get far enough out of hand that historically the feds have had to descend once a decade or so to issue some indictments and restore some semblance of respect for outside authority. It can be disconcerting, certainly, but it’s also kind of fun to live in a place that elects the local strip-club owner to the city commission and celebrates one local guy’s elaborate Christmas display made entirely out of vodka bottles.   The most popular website in town has to be the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office arrest log, which features mugshots, charges, and an entertaining array of occupations. In the last month, that page received more than nine hundred and fifty thousand hits—and this is a county with fewer than eighty thousand residents. As one friend of mine told me about Key West, “we don’t care what you do. We just want to know about it.”

    Count von Cosel's laboratory near the end of Flagler Avenue C 1940. From the DeWolfe and Wood Collection in the Otto Hirzel Scrapbook, Monroe County Public Library.

Count von Cosel’s laboratory near the end of Flagler Avenue C 1940. From the DeWolfe and Wood Collection in the Otto Hirzel Scrapbook, Monroe County Public Library.

Nancy Klingener is secretary of the Key West Literary Seminar and works at the Monroe County Public Library in Key West. She reviews books for the Miami Herald, and contributes the “Letter From Key West” to WLRN, South Florida’s NPR station.

Darkness rushing in …

01/07/2014  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
Artwork by Jonathan Santlofer adorns this year's poster and program book. This one, "Out of the Past," is from a series of drawings of scenes from classic film noir.

This year’s poster and program book features the artwork of Jonathan Santlofer. This image, “Out of the Past,” comes from a series of drawings of scenes from classic film noir. Click for full-size version.

Last-minute preparations are underway for Chapter One of The Dark Side: Mystery, Crime, and the Literary Thriller. It all kicks off at the historic San Carlos Institute on Thursday night with Sara Paretsky’s keynote address, “My Quest for Heroes: Voice and Voicelessness.”

The full schedule of events is here. All ticketed sessions this weekend and next are completely sold out, but admission is available on a first-come, first-seated basis to the free public sessions this Sunday, January 12, and next Sunday, January 19.  Click here for the schedule of free events.

We’ll be posting photos and commentary throughout the weekend right here on Littoral, with guest posts from Cara Cannella and Nick Vagnoni and photographs by Nick Doll. And we’ll be abuzz and up-to-the-minute on Twitter @KeyWestLiterary as well as on Facebook. Please follow along and chime in, whether you’re here, near, or far.


When Faced with Impossible Options:
a conversation with Lyndsay Faye

01/06/2014  by Nancy Klingener  Comment on this Post
Lyndsay Faye. Photo by Gabriel Lehner.

Lyndsay Faye. Photo by Gabriel Lehner.

Lyndsay Faye is the author of three inventive, intriguing, and carefully researched novels that interweave fiction, the historical record, and popular culture. Her debut novel Dust and Shadow: an Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H Watson is a tribute to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s archetypal detective hero, Sherlock Holmes, and follows his attempt to solve the real-life killings of Jack the Ripper. In The Gods of Gotham and its sequel Seven for a Secret, Faye tracks the development of the New York City Police Department in the 1840s through the eyes of bartender-turned-lawman Timothy Wilde.

This interview with KWLS board member Nancy Klingener took place over email during the past few months. In it, Faye and Klingener discuss the parallels between acting and writing, the joys and sufferings of historical research, and the appeal of characters both fictional and real. Along the way they rank love over crime, adventure over mystery, and we learn a few secrets of Faye’s forthcoming novel, the third and—spoiler alert—final installment of the Timothy Wilde series. (Editor)


Nancy Klingener: I guess I’ll start out by asking how you came to writing, generally, and writing crime fiction specifically. You started out as an actress, right? There are obvious similarities in the work—you’re dealing with words and portraying characters, many of them fictional. Do you find them to be similar jobs? How do they differ?

Lyndsay Faye: Interesting question. Well, as is the case universally, I came to reading before anything else. It’s impossible to come to writing without owning a deep admiration for some story or other, and I was bullying my little brother into staged plays I’d written when we were quite young—dressing him in khakis and gluing cotton balls to his chest and declaring him Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, that sort of thing. My parents were big into reading to us, big into storytelling. I’m very lucky I grew up in that environment. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t around tales of high adventure.
    Being trained as an actress was extremely useful to me as a novelist, and on a macroscopic level they’re exceedingly similar while on the microscopic level they’re as different as creatively possible. In the broad scope, skills I learned—mimicry, attention to detail, a feel for dialogue, sense of dramatic tension, importance of mood, the value of making specific and detailed choices, how crucial it is to create the strongest emotional dilemmas possible for your characters, I could go on all day really, all that’s quite similar. Conversely, on a small scale, theater is a collaborative process. It’s all about interaction. When I’m sitting at my laptop, it’s just me and the nutters in my head. Not to de-emphasize the roles of my agent or editor at all, but the manuscript, that’s all on me, baby. It’s extremely solitary, especially by comparison.

NK: How did you move from acting to writing? Had you been writing all along or did you make a decision to focus on writing instead of performance?

What I want to explore are the choices people make when faced with impossible options. Their hearts are going in one direction, their responsibilities in quite another, the odds against them extreme. So now what do they do? How do they mess everything up, how do they take the high road, how do they stand in their own way?


LF: None of this was planned. My career is perennially a surprise when I wake up in the morning. I hadn’t been writing at all—auditioning in New York City is simply very, very difficult. I wasn’t smart enough to create my own work, to do showcases or write cabaret acts for myself. I just kept marching into hallways where there were dozens of me. After a while, I felt as if I lacked autonomy over my career entirely. Of course, I’m still proud of how far I made it, still pay my Actor’s Equity dues every six months. But I didn’t have the drive—I can still be happy without being on stage, telling tales in another way, and some folks can’t.
    There wasn’t any conscious decision to focus on writing either, certainly never ever ever as a career. My first novel is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and it was an unabashedly dark rip-roaring fanfiction pitting him against Jack the Ripper with scads of the true-crime elements incorporated. I thought maybe a Sherlockian small press might pick it up, or lacking that avenue I could publish it as an e-book for my own gratification. No one was more shocked than myself when I found a talented agent and was published by Simon and Schuster. And I mean no one.

NK: I want to get back to Sherlock and Dust & Shadow but first I’d like to ask about your own creation, Timothy Wilde, the protagonist in your most recent two books The Gods of Gotham and Seven For A Secret—and I hope many more in the future. Where did Timothy come from, and did you start with him, or the setting, or perhaps with George Washington Matsell, who really was New York’s first police commissioner and who appears as a character in those two novels?

LF: Thank you! Timothy came from an abstract concept, which was day one, cop one of the New York Police Department. It’s such an infamous law enforcement body, known the world over, and I simply wanted to see what this group of ragtag men looked like who were meant to defend the populace, but before they had any notion of what they were doing. I wanted the first day of school, not Civil War-Era or Roosevelt reform. Michael Chabon says we write fiction to fill in the gaps in the map a la Heart of Darkness, and I think that’s entirely true—I’d read fantastic books about the NYPD during other time periods, but never about their mythical beginnings. Beginnings are powerful stuff. So research into the world of 1845 New York all began with my wanting to know the NYPD’s origins. If the force had been founded in 1826 or in 1852, The Gods of Gotham would have had a different plot line, and it would have taken place in 1826 or 1852.
    The rest of Tim came out of a combination of research and personal experience, as I think any historical character does. I write fairly unabashed hero stories, so I needed Timothy to be his own moral compass—that meant he wasn’t a Tammany insider, and thus needed an older sibling to get him on the copper-star force, who were entirely complicit with the Democratic Party’s agenda. That also meant he resembled some of the contemporary radical abolitionists I researched. Every investigator is indebted to Sherlock Holmes, so to draw a strong line between them, Tim wears his heart on his sleeve and finds his own police work much less competent than it actually is. He’s sympathetic and self-deprecating. I needed him to be observant, and I worked in restaurants for years, so he’s a former bartender. I borrowed his face from a musical theatre friend. He hates city fountains that don’t work because I hate fountains that don’t work. He’s passionately verbose because he’s a 19th-century diarist and I’ll never be able to get away with this sort of language again, so I’m wallowing in it.
    You mention Matsell, whom I adore, and who really was a fascinating human. During his time, he was thought everything from a Tammany bully to a liberal reformer. He was both, of course, but he did the unthinkable—he actually created a competent standing police force. It was unprecedented. Every other effort had failed miserably.

I have a hard-and-fast historical fiction rule: if your protagonist doesn’t care, leave the fact out. I don’t care how nifty the fact is. That comes of being an actor, actually. It’s about character specificity. Tim Wilde does not go on and on about architecture, popular music, advances in the sciences (unless they’re directly relevant), how much silverware is set for a proper tea, who his favorite actors are, what the Astors are up to. A fact needs to make it into your narrator’s consciousness before it makes it onto your page


NK: When you researched that time period, was that when you learned about the stresses that Irish immigration was placing on America in general and New York City in particular? How did that issue come to drive the plot of The Gods of Gotham? Also, how did you conduct the research—was it going to the library and looking at microfilms of old newspapers? Reading books? Digging up other kinds of primary sources? Did you read novels and plays of that period? Or listen to music? And how did you resist going down the research rabbit hole? It can be so seductive, to just follow one more thread, check on one more connection or look for one more account of a person, event, place, or time.

LF: Yes, when I discovered that the Great Irish Famine landed the same year the NYPD was founded, my mind was blown. Here was a cataclysm begging to be novelized, and one I’d not seen approached from the police department’s perspective before. The Gods of Gotham quickly became a book that encompassed Catholic persecution, civil unrest and economic disparity, fighting for religious freedom in the land of the free. Unfortunately, the topic is still quite relevant—most of the truly hostile arguments against Mexican and Muslim Americans are couched in perfectly interchangeable phrases to those lobbed at the Papists. Modern day scrapping and partisan politics lend my books some immediacy, I hope, because we have a lot to learn from past mistakes.
    My research period lasts for six months and is altogether omnivorous, though I vastly prefer primary sources once I have a grasp of the general situation. Old police documents, diaries, plays, travel guides, menus, housekeeping tomes, obviously Matsell’s slang dictionary Vocabulum, Or the Rogue’s Lexicon. I read the Herald newspaper on microfilm pretty much back to front for whatever year I’m covering, which gives me current events, editorials, economics, anecdotes, politics, satire, and advertisements all at once. I probably wouldn’t be writing about New York if I didn’t live here, but the richness of resources I have at my disposal between the Bryant Park Research Library, the New York Historical Society, the smaller museums—I’m like Scrooge McDuck in a swimming pool full of gold.
    That being said, falling down the research rabbit hole isn’t an issue for me at all. I have plenty of other issues, but after six months in a microfilm department, I’m desperately tired of it and my fingers are itchy to tell stories. Besides that, I have a hard-and-fast historical fiction rule: if your protagonist doesn’t care, leave the fact out. I don’t care how nifty the fact is. That comes of being an actor, actually. It’s about character specificity. Tim Wilde does not go on and on about architecture, popular music, advances in the sciences (unless they’re directly relevant), how much silverware is set for a proper tea, who his favorite actors are, what the Astors are up to. A fact needs to make it into your narrator’s consciousness before it makes it onto your page. He’s interested in the street life of New Yorkers and how they treat each other and manage to survive. So that’s what he sees.

NK: When I read “The Gods of Gotham,” I was so struck by the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter—quotations from various publications of Protestants deploring the Irish Catholic immigration in shockingly blunt language. I suspected they were authentic but they sounded almost too emblematic to be real. How did you decide to start using those and did you collect them along the way or go back and hunt them down when you were writing the novel?

LF: Yes, those are all absolutely word-for-word real. I actually recorded them as I discovered them because I couldn’t believe the contents myself. I don’t want to convey the impression that I write social justice novels, I don’t even really write crime novels exactly, I write novels about love and heroism and revenge and self-sacrifice, but certainly politics and prejudice play major roles, and those quotes under each chapter title seemed essential to me.
    See, I can easily do the research and write a semi-fictional character who says, for example, “All the persecutions which the true church has suffered from Pagans, Jews, and all the world beside are nothing compared with what it has endured from that unrelenting murderer of men, the Pope.” And people will read that and say, all right, that’s certainly a narrow view, but the author is surely exaggerating for dramatic effect. But if I quote that passage from a speech made by the Orange Country Reformation Society in 1843, and they actually did say that—which they did—the reader automatically understands that these opinions, while grotesquely extreme, did exist. And what’s nuts is I have buckets of these quotes in reserve. Narrowing down the pithiest is much harder than finding them.

NK: What do you mean you don’t write crime novels? Or social justice novels, since issues of social justice figure so largely in the plots of the Timothy Wilde stories? Do you see yourself as fitting within a tradition/genre, or blending such, or doing your own thing entirely?

I would ask anyone who thinks of crime fiction as a guilty pleasure to identify another genre that cracks open the human condition so thoroughly, read Crime and Punishment, and fly your crime-reader flag high. Fantasy novels get thrown in the same basket, but point at another novel that explores loyalty and self-sacrifice more thoroughly than The Lord of the Rings trilogy. We’re not meant to limit ourselves when it comes to the human imagination.


LF: What I mean is that there are some crime novels—brilliant ones, ones I devour like Thai spiced potato chips—in which the crime is the star of the show. These books, I can’t help but surmise, are written by people who are far cleverer than I am. Take for example Agatha Christie’s tour-de-force The. A. B. C. Murders. Now, when I picked that book up as a teen, it mesmerized me. I could never have written it myself. A serial killer by all appearances is offing people whose first and last names each begin with the same letter as the name of the town they live in, as I recall. Simple enough premise, but my god. The points of view shift enough to keep T. S. Eliot happy, the writing is sublime, the characterization pinpoint-exact. When I reached the solution after practically snapping the book’s spine, I was blown away by the ingenuity of the clues and of the plotting. (more…)

2014 Seminar now full; Announcing 2015

12/17/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

The 33rd annual Key West Literary Seminar will take place January 8-11, 2015.

Less than one month before the opening of the 32nd annual Seminar, both sessions of “The Dark Side: Mystery, Crime, and the Literary Thriller” are now completely sold out. The response to this year’s lineup has been overwhelming; we are thrilled by the support. If you’ve waited until now to register, you can still sign up for the waitlist.

As one door closes, another opens, and we are excited to announce the theme for our 33rd annual seminar, to take place January 8-11, 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.”

Confirmed speakers for 2015 include A. Manette Ansay, Coleman Barks, Billy Collins, Mark Doty, Patricia Hampl, Ron Hansen, Jane Hirshfield, Marie Howe, Pico Iyer, Barry Lopez, Marilyn Nelson, Robert Richardson, Marilynne Robinson, and Steve Stern.

Register now for “How the Light Gets In: Literature of the Spirit.”

KWLS @ the Miami Book Fair

11/21/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

Cargo sloop, Key West, 1900. Monroe County Public Library Collection.

We’re loading the boat and setting sail for the metropolis to the north, where the 30th annual Miami Book Fair International takes place this weekend.

Visit us in Section B of the street fair (NE 2nd Ave. between 3rd and 4th) to learn more about this year’s seminar and get our tips for navigating the amazing embarrassment-of-riches MBFI schedule of events. We’re looking forward to reuniting with some of our favorite KWLS veterans, including Junot Díaz, Sharon Olds, Dave Barry, Patricia Engel, Geoff Dyer, Robert Pinsky, Brenda Wineapple, Amy Tan, and Paul Auster, as well as Key West friend and neighbor Meg Cabot and “The Dark Side” panelist James W. Hall.

On Sunday at 2:30, be sure to catch our own Arlo Haskell as he interviews Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo in the Auditorium (Bldg. 1, 2nd Floor).

See you in Miami!

Literary Awards to Hou, Gordon, & Wheeler

11/15/2013  by Arlo Haskell  3 Comments
Christine Shan Shan Hou, Liz Gordon, Theodore Wheeler

Winners of the 2014 Key West Literary Seminar Awards for Emerging Writers. Clockwise from top left: Christine Shan Shan Hou, Liz Gordon, and Theodore Wheeler.

We are thrilled to announce the winners of this year’s awards for emerging writers:

Scotti Merrill Award
selected by Billy Collins

Cecelia Joyce Horton Johnson Fiction Award

Marianne Russo Award

Merrill Award winner Christine Shan Shan Hou is a poet, artist, and critic living in Brooklyn. A 2007 graduate of Bard College, Hou’s forthcoming publication Food Cuts Short Cuts (The New Megaphone, 2014) stems from an investigation into her Chinese-American heritage and Chinese-Hakka identity from a contemporary and queer perspective. Her poems have appeared in Weekday, Bone Bouquet, Belladonna*, Gwarlingo, and ILK; her artwork has been featured in LIT, The Atlas Review, and tender; and she writes about performance art for Hyperallergic Weekend and The Performance Club. Previous honors include The Flow Chart Foundation/The Academy for American Poets Award and the Zora Neale Hurston Scholarship for Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program. Visit

Johnson Award winner Liz Gordon grew up in Boston in the midst of a large working-class family, with four siblings and sixteen aunts and uncles. She enrolled in nursing school at Massachusetts General Hospital and went on to work as a nurse, marry, and have a family. Gordon later enrolled at the University of Connecticut and Connecticut College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree, and Brown University, where she earned a master’s in playwriting and poetry. Her short plays have been performed at the Rhode Island Playwrights’ Festival and a novel excerpt, “Blood Dimmed Tide,” was awarded second prize in the 2010 Soul-Making Contest sponsored by the San Francisco Pen Women. She is currently at work on a novel.

Russo Award winner Theodore Wheeler is a thirty-two-year-old fiction writer and novelist from Omaha. He holds a master’s degree in literature and creative writing from Creighton University and works as a legal reporter covering the civil court systems of Nebraska and Western Iowa. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New American Voices, The Kenyon Review, Boulevard, Confrontation, Five Chapters, and The Cincinnati Review, among other venues, and he was recently awarded a fellowship from Akademie Schloss Solitude to spend the summer of 2014 writing in Stuttgart, Germany. He lives with his wife and two daughters, and is currently at work on a novel based on the events of the Omaha Race Riot of 1919.

Congratulations to Christine, Liz, and Ted! We’re excited to meet you in Key West this January.

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. Each year, our Scotti Merrill Memorial Award, Cecelia Joyce Horton Johnson Fiction Award, and Marianne Russo Award recognize emerging writers of exceptional merit. We believe this year’s winners are dynamic writers with the voice, skill, and poise to succeed at the national level.

We are grateful to Cecelia Joyce Johnson, Peyton Evans and the Rodel Charitable Foundation-Florida, and the Dogwood Foundation for providing the funds which will support our scholarship program for years to come.

Merrill Award Receives Major Funding Boost

11/15/2013  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

As we prepare to announce the winners of our 2013-14 Awards for Emerging Writers, we are honored to acknowledge a major contribution that immediately places our scholarship program on more secure financial footings. Thanks to an extraordinary gift from the Dogwood Foundation, the Scotti Merrill Award is now the beneficiary of an endowment designed to support it in perpetuity. Conceived of by local Dogwood trustee Holly Merrill, the endowment virtually guarantees our ability to continue to administer a prize that has become her mother’s lasting legacy to arts and education.

Since its establishment by Dogwood several years ago, the Scotti Merrill Award has recognized poets including Brynn Saito, Diana Khoi Nguyen, and Scott Brennan, and has become a linchpin of our efforts to  promote the work of new voices in American literature. As a fully endowed award, it will have strengthen our ability to attract the best up-and-coming writers in the country and to reward the most deserving among them with an opportunity that can enliven and enrich literary culture for all of us.

Stay tuned for today’s announcement of the winners of this year’s awards for emerging writers.

Schedules Announced for The Dark Side

11/14/2013  by Arlo Haskell  2 Comments
Out of the Past by Jonathan Santlofer

“Out of the Past,” by Jonathan Santlofer

The complete schedule of events for the 32nd annual Key West Literary Seminar is now available: click here for Chapter One; and here for the Final Chapter.

“The Dark Side: Mystery, Crime, and the Literary Thriller” will unfold over the course of two independent sessions. Highlights of Chapter One (January 9-12, 2014) include the opening-night keynote address by V.I. Warshawski creator Sara Paretsky, entitled “My Quest for Heroes: Voice and Voicelessness.” Day Two features such powerhouse writers as Gone Girl author and #1 bestseller Gillian Flynn, National Book Award winner Joyce Carol Oates, and sci-fi icon William Gibson, concluding with a marquee evening performance by the best-selling novelist and journalist Carl Hiaasen entitled “The Florida Freak Show.” Day Three presents readings by international bestsellers Val McDermid and Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency); panel discussions with South Florida crime-fiction pioneers James W. Hall and Les Standiford; a conversation with attorney-novelists Scott Turow and Stephen L. Carter; and National Book Award winner Robert Stone reading from his brand-new novel, Death of the Black-Haired Girl. The final day features rising stars of crime fiction Attica Locke and Megan Abbott, as well as a free-and-open-to-the-public session with former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who returns to the stage with Alexander McCall Smith, William Gibson, and Gillian Flynn.

The Final Chapter kicks off on Thursday, January 16, 2014, and runs through Sunday, January 19. Keynote honors go to Elizabeth George, the acclaimed author of the Inspector Lynley series. Perennial #1 bestsellers Lee Child and Michael Connelly headline Friday’s events along with Mysterious Press publisher, bookseller, and Edgar Allan Poe Award winner Otto Penzler. They’re joined by law professor and If You Were Here author Alafair Burke, poet and genre-jumper Percival Everett, and Lisa Unger, whose bestselling novels have been translated into twenty-six languages and sold more than 1.5 million copies around the globe. Friday concludes as Booker Prize-winning Irish novelist John Banville appears for a special evening event “in conversation” with his crime-writing alter ego, Benjamin Black. Saturday’s lineup features Lyndsay Faye, whose historical crime-fiction novels include The Gods of Gotham; #1 bestseller Michael Koryta (The Prophet); and Sara Gran, creator of the internationally acclaimed series featuring Claire DeWitt. Sunday morning’s program presents Australian novelist Malla Nunn (Blessed Are the Dead, Let the Dead Lie) and international bestseller Tess Gerritsen, while the free afternoon program includes back-to-back Anthony Award winner William Kent Krueger along with Lee Child, John Banville, and Billy Collins.

There are still a few spaces available to register for the Final Chapter. Chapter One is full. The general public is invited to attend free sessions at the San Carlos Institute, 516 Duval Street, on Sunday January 9, from 2:00-4:00 and again on the following Sunday, January 16, from 2:00-4:15. Seating is first-come first-served.

Major Archive Donated to Key West Library

10/10/2013  by Arlo Haskell  3 Comments

A General Order to raise the American flag over the island of Key West, issued by Commodore David Porter on April 6, 1823. From the Scott De Wolfe Collection, Monroe County Public Library, Key West. Click for original document.

The Monroe County Public Library in Key West is the new owner of a major historical collection following a ceremony this morning in the Florida Keys History Room. Local dignitaries including City of Key West Mayor Craig Cates and Monroe County Mayor Pro-Tem Heather Carruthers attended along with representatives of cultural organizations and members of the media as the Key West Maritime Historical Society officially presented the Scott De Wolfe Collection—amassed by the obsessive Maine collector during the past fifteen years and recently purchased by an anonymous donor—as an outright gift to the library for the benefit of the public.

Key West 1865

Photo of Wall Street from above, showing the W.H. Wall and Company Building and, in the background, Front Street’s Louvre Hotel. Circa 1865.

The De Wolfe Collection—seven boxes containing thousands of documents dating to Key West’s earliest history—is considered by local historians to hold some of the island city’s most important historical records. Among them are the 1823 letter (reproduced at top) from Commodore David Porter of the United States Navy. Called “Key West’s Magna Carta” by local librarian Nancy Klingener, the letter orders a seventeen-gun salute and the raising of the American flag over “Allenton,” which was Porter’s preferred name for what had previously been known as Thompson’s Island, and which is now much better and more suitably known as Key West.

The collection includes historically significant items ranging from nineteenth-century street scenes and stereoscopes to early color postcards and cigar-box labels to court transcripts from the trial of legendary Key West Fire-Chief-crook Joseph “Bum” Farto.  Announcement was also made this morning that Monroe County will fund the creation of a new Archivist position at the library to ensure for the correct care and cataloging of this and other important library resources.

Scroll down for selected images from the collection and click to link to full-size versions or go to flickr to browse the Scott De Wolfe Collection at the Monroe County Public Library, Key West.

R. M. Roberts of 1606 Pierce Street with two unknown persons. Photo by Burgert Brothers, circa 1900.

A street scuffle in front of the El Polaco restaurant, circa 1900. “El Polaco” was the nickname for Carlos Roloff Mialofsky, the popular Polish-Jewish hero of the Cuban Ten Years War and War for Cuban Independence.


Revolutionary Letters on Love Lane

09/16/2013  by Arlo Haskell  1 Comment
1892 Map of Key West's Love Lane

The Spanish-language publishing house of La Propaganda can be seen on this 1892 map of Key West’s Love Lane neighborhood. Click for full-size view.

Key West’s Love Lane begins in the shadow of the public library on Fleming Street and runs south for a single block to Southard Street. Not quite a right-of-way, the crooked alley doglegs through private property near its middle, where you’ll find the offices of the Key West Literary Seminar and Sand Paper Press. The lane’s literary character goes back much further, to the heady days of the Cuban Revolution nearly 125 years ago, when the Spanish-language press known as La Propaganda operated out of a single-story frame house located at 730 Love Lane.

La Propaganda was closely allied with the 19th-century Cuban Revolutionary Party led by José Martí, a charismatic orator, influential poet, and brilliant politician. More than a generation before Fidel Castro, Martí sought to free Cuba from Spanish rule and establish a democratic state founded on humanist ideals, where people of all races and creeds would live as equals. The populist movement’s heart and soul lay in Key West, where roughly half of the island’s population was born in Cuba or had at least one Cuban parent.

Shortly after the armed phase of the Cuban War for Independence began in 1895, the Love Lane press issued a twenty-five-page tract entitled The Cuban Revolution and the Colored Race. Released under the anonymous byline “a Cuban without hatred,” the book offers an overview of race relations in Cuba under Spanish rule and promises that blacks and whites will have an equal say in the governance of an independent Cuba. Today we know the book to have been the work of Manuel de la Cruz, a poet, essayist, and biographer who was active in Key West during the period.

Revolucion y la Raza, Imprenta la Propaganda, Key West

Title page for “The Cuban Revolution and the Colored Race,” published by Love Lane’s La Propaganda Press in 1895. Harvard University Library.

Typographical similarities suggest that La Propaganda may also have published the text of an important speech delivered by General Carlos Roloff Mialofsky. Roloff was a Polish-born refugee from the Russian Empire and embodied the democratic mien of the party, which also counted Afro-Cuban, Dominican, Mexican, French, and American generals among its leadership. Roloff’s 1892 address “To the Honorable Council of the Revolutionary Party and its Allies,” included a visceral appeal to Key West’s growing population of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who, like Roloff, had fled the tyranny of Tsarist Russia and who came to provide financial and military support for the Cuban cause.

In 1896, La Propaganda issued The Cuban War (Its First Year), a meticulous, often day-by-day narrative account of the progress of the war from February 1895 to February of 1896. Author Lorenzo G. Del Portillo summarizes the war’s notable battles, including the tragic death of Martí at Dos Ríos on May 19, and provides a financial accounting of the war to-date.

After nearly four years of fighting and the last-minute involvement of the United States, Cuba was officially granted its independence in December of 1898, leading thousands of Cubans to leave Key West and resettle in their newly free homeland. The Love Lane printing press of La Propaganda probably relocated around this same time to Havana, where a publishing house of the same name continued to operate in the years following Cuba’s independence.

Deadline Near for Emerging Writer Awards

09/16/2013  by Arlo Haskell  2 Comments
Harris School Key West

Emerging writers? Too young to tell… Photo of Mae Kaplan’s first-grade class at Key West’s Harris School, 1962-63, courtesy Monroe County Public Library.

Only two weeks remain to apply for our awards for emerging writers.

Presented annually, the Joyce Horton Johnson Fiction Award, Scotti Merrill Memorial Award, and Marianne Russo Award recognize emerging writers of exceptional merit. Past winners include fiction writers Patricia Engel, Nami Mun, and Kristen-Paige Madonia; and poets George Green and Brynn Saito.

This year’s award winners will receive full tuition to our January seminar and workshop program, round-trip airfare to and from Key West, seven nights’ lodging, financial support for living expenses while in Key West, and the opportunity to appear on stage during the Seminar.

The deadline is September 30. Complete details are here.

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.

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