life of letters

Key West’s life of letters is preserved in manuscripts, letters, journals, photographs, maps, and other documents, from collections in Key West and around the world. It comes alive in these posts through interviews, essays, image collections, and commentary featuring writers who work under the influence of the island city and its literary heritage.


Thomas Sanchez on Mile Zero: 1989
the George Murphy interview

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Sanchez’s Mile Zero. The epic novel unfolds in a Key West both richly imagined and uncannily accurate, where St. Cloud, Justo Tamarindo, Zobop, and El Finito are players in a late-twentieth century clash of generations, cultures, and beliefs. Hailed by The New York Times as "a comic masterpiece," it is, together with Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not and Thomas McGuane’s Panama, a landmark in the literature of our island city.

In 1989, as Knopf was preparing the book for press, Sanchez agreed to an interview with George Murphy, a former local mayoral candidate and editor of the excellent anthology, The Key West Reader: The Best of Key West’s Writers, 1830-1990. Over the course of several late nights at the now-legendary Full Moon Saloon, the following conversation took shape. In the interview, originally published in Island Life, Sanchez discusses the origins and development of Mile Zero, the parallels between Key West and Cannery Row, and the concept of contrabandista.


Writers Recommend

With more than 40 writers scheduled to speak during our Seminar this January, it can be difficult for a reader to know where to start. Sure, there are the classics and prize-winners, like William Kennedy’s Ironweed and David Levering Lewis’s two-volume biography of W.E.B. DuBois; and recent books like Joyce …Read More


John Malcolm Brinnin to Octavio Paz, 1991

Click the image below for a full-size reproduction of the letter John Malcolm Brinnin wrote to Octavio Paz on October 13, 1991. Brinnin recalls the first time he and Paz met, in 1972 in Elizabeth Bishop’s Cambridge apartment, and invites Paz to be the keynote speaker of the 1993 Key …Read More


Tony Hillerman

Tony Hillerman, bestselling author of detective novels set set among the Navajos of the Southwest, died last Sunday at 83. You can read his obituary in The New York Times here. It was written by Marilyn Stasio, who also wrote this piece for PaperCuts about meeting Hillerman at the 1988 Key West Literary Seminar, where they discussed Hemingway while leaning against the pink stuccoed wall of the La Concha.

Below is a reproduction of a letter Hillerman wrote on personal stationary to Les Standiford, the coordinator for our 1988 Seminar, Whodunit?, dedicated to the art and tradition of mystery literature.


Writers Recommend

With more than 40 writers scheduled to speak during our Seminar this January, it can be difficult for a reader to know where to start. Sure, there are the classics and prize-winners, like William Kennedy’s Ironweed and David Levering Lewis’s two-volume biography of W.E.B. DuBois; and recent books like Joyce …Read More


Remembering Rust Hills

Rust Hills in the lobby of the Tennessee Williams Fine Arts Center, 1988. Photo by Doyle Bush. We note with sadness the death, earlier this summer, of Rust Hills, our friend and collaborator for more than 20 years. He was 83. The importance of Rust Hills to the world of …Read More


John Malcolm Brinnin’s
Travel And The Sense Of Wonder

We are proud to issue John Malcolm Brinnin’s Travel And The Sense Of Wonder as the second in our series of digital reproductions of obscure, hard-to-find, or just plain interesting books which have particular relevance to Key West letters (Harry Mathews’s Epithalamium was the first). The text of this 24-page …Read More