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.

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.


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.

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