During the first session of the 31st Annual Key West Literary Seminar, we had a little fun online with portrait photographer Curt Richter. Each morning, we tweeted out a new picture and asked you to write a 140-character invented biography inspired by the photograph. Here’s two entries we enjoyed.
@NSUShark: Professional storyteller, artist Antonio LaFitte noted for carribbean travels. Resides with wife, daugher, parrot in New Orleans.
@KeyWestAuthor: Emily was born shy. As she grew, she continued to withdraw into herself. Then into the wallpaper. Finally she disappeared.
Join us during the second session of the Literary Seminar January 17-21 as we continue with the invented biography fun using hashtag #WoWbio. We’ll tweet a new photo by Curt Richter on Friday at 10:00 a.m. Stay tuned for updates.
Here’s Geoff Dyer’s first line based on this photo. Let’s fill in the rest starting at 5:00 p.m. EST!
Imagine if you looked in the mirror and saw someone who bore no relation to the person who’d greeted you each time you’d done this before.
The first session of the Key West Literary Seminar’s “Writers on Writers” has concluded, and now we’re preparing for the second session, January 17-20, 2013. In the meantime, we’ve partnered with South Florida’s NPR station WLRN for a creative, interactive project on Twitter, and we hope you’ll join us. Following their success with “Tweet Us A Story” and the Miami International Book Fair with Junot Diaz, we thought we’d get in on the fun.
Join us on Twitter this evening at 5:00 p.m. as author Geoff Dyer tweets us the first line of a story inspired by the above photograph by Curt Richter. With the seminar’s focus on biography, the idea is that we will create an invented biography inspired by the subject of the photograph.
Here’s How it Works:
Paul Hendrickson read Sunday morning from the prologue of his book Hemingway’s Boat. The biography focuses on a 27-year period of the author’s life from April 1934 when he bought Pilar from a Brooklyn shipyard until the end in July 1961 when he took his own life in Ketchum, Idaho.
A Washington Post journalist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Hendrickson explained the approach to his book as “averted vision,” a sailor’s term whereby looking at a subject off to the side—and not head on—enables one to see the subject more clearly. Pilar was significant, Hendrickson notes, because she endured three marriages, and was perhaps the thing Hemingway loved most as he spent his days in Key West, Bimini, and Cuba sport-fishing on the Gulf Stream in search of marlin, sailfish, and tuna.
Brenda Wineapple reminded us that Emily Dickinson was a woman “eminently capable of saying no”; she considered it a radical act. “No is the wildest word in the language.” So what about when she didn’t say no?
Dickinson chose Thomas Wentworth Higginson “from an ample nation” to be her reader, and she initiated the relationship with a letter, the seductive description of which begins Wineapple’s book White Heat. Dickinson wanted him to say if her poems were “alive.” The language and format of the letter were as original as the poems enclosed, but most remarkable, in Wineapple’s description, is the fact that Dickinson enclosed her name on a tiny card in its own tiny envelope, separated from both the poems and the letter. In the context of our seminar, the eccentric gesture becomes a potent symbolic representation of the complex relationship between the author, the person, and the work.
Reading Pico Iyer’s The Man Within My Head is one way to get under the influence of Graham Greene. Another is by sampling the cocktails at this year’s seminar.
Sean Hoard (bartender, Teardrop Lounge, Portland Oregon) and Jason Rowan (mixologist, Men’s Journal contributor) read deep into Greene’s work for inspiration, “which was a fun break from the cocktail books and food magazines I usually read,” said Hoard. The two then devised liquid tributes to characters, moments, and “vibes” drawn from the literature.
Last Thursday night’s menu, for example, offered the Aunt Augusta, inspired by Travels With My Aunt. A blend of local calamondin marmalade, Beefeater 24 gin, lemon juice, honey, and Champagne, the concoction embodied the free-spirited, worldly, classy character in the novel. It even resembled her: an orange-y redhead.
For those thinking that life as a literary biographer is a cakewalk, James Atlas is here to school you.
In his delightfully humorous address, “The Shadow in the Garden: A Biographer’s Tale,” at the seminar on Saturday January 12, Atlas recounted the sometimes difficult, often bumbling and always confusing relationship between a biographer and his subject.
On Saturday morning, Judith Thurman gave a talk entitled “Translating a Life: Who are you? Who am I?” As Thurman explained, the act of translation is complicated, whether it be the translation of a text from one language to another, or the translation of life events into a biography. To get at that complexity, Thurman used a series of metaphors that, by the end of the talk, had created a sort of mosaic, with each little chip offering a glimpse into the process of translation.
The translator is an artisan, she said, referring to Walter Benjamin’s “The Storyteller,” and reminding us that the translated text could be a pot that still bears the potter’s fingerprints. She also reminded us of the religious connotations of the term “translation,” which refer to the movement of sacred objects, such as the remains of saints, from one location to another, possibly heavenly, locale.
From the moment Colm Tóibín took the stage yesterday to discuss Henry James, the subject of his 2004 historical novel The Master, the crowd that filled the San Carlos Institute auditorium was electrified.
In a voice inflected by Enniscorthy in Ireland’s County Wexford, where he was born and raised, with the fast pace of the international cities where he has lived, Tóibín launched his talk by rattling off a litany of books by and about the James family that preceded the publication of his: among them, Leon Edel’s five-volume biography of Henry, Jean Strouse’s biography of Henry’s sister Alice, along with F. O. Matthiessen’s collective biography of the peripatetic clan of philosophers and writers. “What the world needs now more than anything is a novel about Henry James,” he said dryly, recalling his original conception of the book and evoking one of the many belly laughs that filled the room during his talk.
The first full day of the 31st annual Key West Literary Seminar ended Friday night with The John Malcolm Brinnin Memorial Reading by Jay Parini, Mark Doty, and Billy Collins. True to this year’s theme of “Writers on Writers,” Parini began the evening with several poems inspired by his encounters with other writers, one of the earliest being Jorge Luis Borges. As a young poet studying in Scotland, Parini was charged with entertaining the aging, nearly-blind Argentine for a couple of days. Parini’s poem told of how, as the two walked through a rookery in the countryside, Borges heard the crows overhead and, his expression shifting and becoming distant, he essentially became the cawing birds.