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L I T T O R A L

1986: A Mix of Very Fine Quality

03/27/2008  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
 

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For our fourth annual event, in 1986, we honored playwright and Key West habitué, Tennessee Williams. The graphic design of the program and poster, as in 1985, is simple and direct. The Martha Swopes photograph shows a dapper, not-quite-at-ease Williams, seated in a wicker rocking chair on the telltale terrazo floors of a Key West home. The font is a straight-ahead serif, printed on glossy stock. We were the Key West Literary Seminar and Festival, it seems, and we were administrated by the Friends of the Monroe County Public Library. Then-President of the Friends, Petronella Collins, pens a delightful early statement of our intents: “The correct mix of intellectuality and frivolity has, over the centuries, proved extraordinarily successful. As our Literary Seminar evolved, the keen judgement and clairvoyance of the Council for Florida Libraries was combined with the magic of Key West to produce a mix of very fine quality.”

Yes, intellectuality and frivolity. A fine mix indeed, one whose perfect proportions ever eluded Tennessee:

Frankie and I (let’s face it!) have fallen into a virtual social oblivion here. A great old Queen Bee named Erna Shtoll or Shmole or something like that has arrived on the scene and become the center of gay society. Bedecked with yellow diamonds like 1000 watt light bulbs on the marquee of a skating rink, she holds continual court on the beach and at the bars, the boys flock to her like gnats. …


But Erna and I took an instant aversion, one to the other. When I was introduced to her at the Bamboo Room (one evening during the holidays when I was quite drunk) she said loftily that she had met me twice before, both times in Tony’s. The fact that I had no recollection of being in Tony’s more than once in my life did not improve matters any. She is a buxom widow of sixty and possibly regards me as a contender in the same weight class although I hope she acknowledges some disparity of years. I once had some modicum of social finesse in queen groups, and with queen Bees, but Frank has none whatsoever, he just looks blank and fiddles with his key-ring: so we are quite out of it. But there are still some compensating attractions. We hope that you will pay us a visit during the season. I was thinking of coming up to New York but only got as far as Miami and it seemed like far enough and came home the next day…

quoted from a letter to Paul Bigelow, January 13, 1950, collected in Tennessee Williams: Selected Letters 1945-1957, ed. Albert J. Devlin

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