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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.


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.


The Light and Dark of David Foster Wallace

01/20/2013  by Cara Cannella  2 Comments
D.T. Max, author of <em>Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace</em>, delivered the John Malcolm Brinnin Memorial Adddress on Friday night.

D.T. Max delivered the John Malcolm Brinnin Memorial Address on the evening of Friday, January 18.

D.T. Max, New Yorker staff writer and author of Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, peppered his talk about the communal grieving of the gifted and troubled writer with plenty of levity. An anecdote about DFW’s mother Sally elicited much laughter from the crowd. She was such a grammarian, Max said, that if she saw a grocery checkout sign that said “10 Items or Less,” she would go to the manager and say, “No, no, it’s 10 Items or Fewer.”

Max balanced the lightness of his talk by recalling the big questions that haunted him as he worked on the biography, published within five years of its subject’s suicide. “Can you do proper work in this timeframe? What are you losing?” he wondered.

“I think it’s odd to talk about a grieving biographer, but it’s true. It happens. I loved David, and I missed him in this world. In writing the book, I was reanimating him. I wanted him for a friend. His death was so new, it still seemed possible for me.”

Kate Moses on Empathy and Responsibility

01/20/2013  by Nick Vagnoni  Comment on this Post
Kate Moses on imagining the lives of Sylvia Plath and her children.

Kate Moses on imagining the lives of Sylvia Plath and her children.

On Saturday morning, Kate Moses began her talk, titled I write as if an eye were upon me: On Empathy and Responsibility, by describing a dream in which she found herself consoling a distraught and weeping Sylvia Plath. The two sat together, surrounded, Moses said, by “all the books”—those written by Plath and her husband Ted Hughes, as well as Moses’s fictionalized account of the last months of Plath’s life, Wintering.

The First Word Was Love; The Last, Spring

01/19/2013  by Cara Cannella  Comment on this Post

Photos by Nick Doll from the afternoon of Friday January 18, during the second session of the 2013 Key West Literary Seminar.

"We all as writers want to arrive at universal truth, of course," Geoff Dyer said in conversation with Christopher Lydon. "The chances of arriving at that universal truth will be greatly increased if you remain absolute faithful to the vagaries of your own nature, the peculiarities and contingencies of one's own experience."

“We all as writers want to arrive at universal truth, of course,” Geoff Dyer said in conversation with Christopher Lydon. “The chances of arriving at that universal truth will be greatly increased if you remain absolutely faithful to the vagaries of your own nature, the peculiarities and contingencies of one’s own experience.”

"Romance for her was a touch on the shoulder or a nice conversation on the porch," Brad Gooch said of Flannery O'Connor in his conversation with Ann Napolitano.

“Romance for her was a touch on the shoulder or a nice conversation on the porch,” Brad Gooch said of Flannery O’Connor in his conversation with Ann Napolitano.


Kate Moses and Paul Alexander discussed Sylvia Plath, noting that next month marks the fiftieth anniversary of her death. In Plath’s arrangement of her final collection of poems, which Ted Hughes altered for publication, the first word was love, and the last, spring. “When I realized that the story of Ariel had not been told, I felt it would be irresponsible not to tell it,” Moses said.

Alexandra Styron and Joyce Johnson on <em>Writing About Those We Have Loved</em>.   Johnson on writing about Jack jack Kerouac: "There's no greater mystery than the people we are closest to. Writers are impelled to address mysteries."   "Most people are lucky to have a shoebox of letters after their parents die. I had 25,000 documents at Duke University," Styron said of the archives she accessed in writing her memoir <em>Reading My Father</em>.

Alexandra Styron and Joyce Johnson on Writing About Those We Have Loved. Johnson on Jack Kerouac: “There’s no greater mystery than the people we are closest to. Writers are impelled to address mysteries.” Styron on the archives she accessed in writing her memoir Reading My Father: “Most people are lucky to have a shoebox of letters after their parents die. I had 25,000 documents at Duke University.”

KWLS staff member Margit Bisztray hard at work behind the scenes.

Staff member Margit Bisztray hard at work behind the scenes of KWLS.

A Small Chef’s Large Contribution

01/19/2013  by Margit Bisztray  Comment on this Post
Jennifer Cornell of Small Chef at Large sustains the KWLS crowd again this year.

Jennifer Cornell of Small Chef at Large sustains the KWLS crowd again this year.

How to feed hundreds of voracious readers? Ask Jennifer Cornell, chef-owner of Small Chef at Large, now in her fourth year of catering the Key West Literary Seminar. If you missed the food before she took charge, you’re lucky. The plucky and petite Cornell has brought the sustenance up to par with the seminar itself. And she knows it.

With a menu as nourishing and interesting as the ideas shared on stage, over breakfast, and at all the cocktail receptions and parties, Jennifer has become a key character in the story of KWLS.

Brenda Wineapple: Why Biography Matters

01/19/2013  by Laurel Tuohy  Comment on this Post
Brenda Wineapple on "Why Biography Matters."

Brenda Wineapple at KWLS on Friday afternoon.

Brenda Wineapple took the stage yesterday with a cup of Throat Coat tea and the beginning of what sounded like a nasty cold. She apologized to the audience and joked that they would not get to hear her normal voice, which is “quite beautiful.”

Attendees of the Key West Literary Seminar were treated to her insights on the importance of biography. Her stories and references came furiously, from her introduction to the form at her grandmothers’ bedside table (“It was a genre I didn’t understand or much care for”) to her former professors’ naysaying about writing others’ stories. She quoted Emily Dickinson and Geoff Dyer. She defamed biography as an invasion of privacy.

And yet it matters to those who read it and write it. Biography is more than the sum of its parts; more than an “unbearable sequence of happenings” or “dreary resuscitation.” It allows us to perceive the private sides of those in the public eye, and to empathize with them.

In closing, she said, “It’s as hard to write a good life as to live one.”

A Writer’s Life is a Special Life

01/18/2013  by Arlo Haskell  2 Comments

Photos by Nick Doll from the morning of Friday January 18, during the second session of the 2013 Key West Literary Seminar.

Alexandra Styron discussed her father, William Styron, and recounted the awkward experience of reading the sex scenes at the beginning of his great novel Sophie’s Choice as an elementary school student.

Blake Bailey recounted the troubled lives of writers John Cheever, Richard Yates, and Charles Jackson. On why he has focused on writers with shared histories of alcoholic self-destruction, Bailey acknowledged being driven by the example of his own brother, who hanged himself in jail. “He’s the person I’m most like. I want to get to the bottom of it.” 

Among the morning’s audience were Key West High School English teacher Kerri McLean and 16 seniors enrolled in her Advanced Placement English class.

KWLS board member, famed author, and anti-censorship advocate Judy Blume in the audience at the San Carlos Institute.

Poet and biographer Paul Mariani read a selection from his work.

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