Posts Tagged ‘Key West Characters’


David A. Kaufelt, 1939-2014

05/11/2014  by Arlo Haskell  35 Comments
David Kaufelt

David A. Kaufelt, 1939-2014.

David A. Kaufelt, a novelist who founded the Key West Literary Seminar and did more to establish the island city as a fixture in the national literary consciousness than anyone since Ernest Hemingway, died this weekend at his Flagler Street home. He was 74.

He arrived in Key West from New York in 1974, fresh off the success of his debut novel, Six Months with an Older Woman, which was soon adapted into a made-for-TV movie starring John Ritter. Here, Kaufelt and his wife Lynn fell in with a community of distinguished writers that included poet James Merrill, journalist John Hersey, novelist Thomas McGuane, and playwright Tennessee Williams.

Kaufelt’s idea for the Key West Literary Seminar grew out of a disappointing meeting in New York, where he and literary agent Dick Duane had failed to persuade a group of publishers to send top writers south for a lecture series organized by the Council for Florida Libraries. New York publishers were convinced, said Kaufelt, that no one in Florida cared about books.

“I said we have so many writers of so many persuasions in Key West, we could have our own literary festival,” Kaufelt later recalled. And within a few years, that’s what he did, creating the event that, more than thirty years later, continues to present some of the most acclaimed writers in the English-speaking world to standing-room-only audiences.

While serving as president of the KWLS board of directors, Kaufelt continued to work as a novelist, producing books including American Tropic (1986), a historical-fiction account of Florida’s development, and the series of murder mysteries featuring lawyer-cum-detective Wyn Lewis, among them The Fat Boy Murders (1993).

Kaufelt also created and led a beloved literary walking tour, whose popularity owed as much to the intimate view it provided of the homes of Key West writers as it did to the dapper enthusiasm and infectious charm of its guide. “A lot of tourists come to Key West and they only see Duval Street or the Pier House,” Kaufelt said of his inspiration for the guided tour. “I wanted them to see what Key West really looks like.”

National Public Radio sent a reporter to Key West in 1990 to profile the walking tour. On the recording, which is available in its entirety in our audio archives, Kaufelt explains what attracted him and other writers to the island where he had made his home:

“I have a theory why we all live here—it’s called the Peter Pan theory. Freud said that we are at our most creative when we are in our very early youth, before we’re five years old. That’s where we are here. We wear shorts, we ride bicycles, we have the water, a great symbol of the unconscious, and we’re free to be children here and let our spirits go. There’s nobody in suits and ties telling us what we have to do.”

Kaufelt is survived by his wife, Lynn Kaufelt, and by their son, Jackson Kaufelt. A memorial service will be announced.

Listen: David A. Kaufelt’s Peter Pan Theory (excerpt)

Click here for full audio.

Of the Days and “Days” of Hemingway

07/16/2012  by Arlo Haskell  3 Comments

We’d like to welcome the stocky white-bearded men resembling Ernest Hemingway who are beginning to pour into town for the annual celebration that is Hemingway Days. May your drinking be done not only in emulation of the great writer’s worst habit, but in empathy with his suffering spirit. Surely his fears of fame never looked like this.

We kid. Enjoy yourselves. And enjoy these pics, all courtesy of the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. Quotes are from the Selected Letters, 1917-1961 edited by Carlos Baker.

Hemingway laughing with Pauline in Key West

Hemingway and his wife Pauline laughing at home in Key West, ca. 1928-32.

“This is really going to be the hell of a fine house; the lawn is coming well, figs on the fig tree, coconuts on the trees and plenty of limes. Will plant more limes and coconuts. Wish you could plant a gin tree.” (to Maxwell Perkins, December 1931)

“Am working hard. Cut a ton of crap a day out of the proofs and spread it around the alligator pear trees which are growing to be enormous. Second crop of limes. 3rd crop of Gilbeys.” (to John Dos Passos, April 1932)

Hemingway, Capt. Bra Saunders, Waldo Peirce with tarpon and kingfish

With Capt. Bra Saunders and Waldo Peirce with a catch of tarpon and kingfish, 1928

“Caught the biggest tarpon they’ve had down here so far this season. Sixty three pounds. The really big ones are just starting to come in… We sell the fish we get in the market and get enough to buy gas and bait. Have been living on fish too.” (to Perkins, April 1928)

“Tarpon are in and have caught two – lost a big one last night at the boat – we’re here until the middle of March – absolutely broke may not be able to ever leave, but lots of liquor off a wrecked booze boat. Waldo comes down next week. Come on down. Saw at least 100 tarpon last night out by the jack channel.” (to Dos Passos, February 1929)

With friends at La Floridita, Havana, ca. 1955. From left to right: Roberto Herrera, Byra "Puck" Whittlesey, Jack "Bumby" Hemingway, Spencer Tracy, Ernest and Mary Hemingway, and unidentified bartender.

“Dear Max: Well here is your regular Sunday hangover letter. We won again at the pelota last night and stayed up til three a.m. So today will have to take Marty to the movies as a present for being drunk Saturday night I guess. Started out on absinthe, drank a bottle of good red wine with dinner, shifted to vodka in town before the pelota game and then battened it down with whiskys and sodas until 3 a.m. Feel good today. But not like working.” (to Perkins, February 1940)

—More from LITTORAL & the Key West Literary Seminar:
Hemingway Knocked Wallace Stevens into a Puddle and Bragged About It
Hemingway’s House Before the Wall
Hemingway’s Menu for the Muse

Susan P. Mesker, 1936-2012

06/18/2012  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
Susan Mesker

Susan P. Mesker, 1936-2012

We mourn the loss of Susan P. Mesker, an ardent supporter of the Key West Literary Seminar and other cultural nonprofits, who touched the lives of many. She died on Friday, June 8, at her William Street home. She was 75.

Susan was a longtime member of the board of directors of the Key West Literary Seminar, a founding board member of the Key West Film Society, and a strong supporter of the Tropic Cinema, where announcement of her passing hangs from the marquee this week. A major patron and board member of Sculpture Key West, she was also a driving force behind Save Our Pines, the advocacy group that fought successfully to preserve the shade canopy at Fort Zachary Taylor. Her support for these groups was a direct extension of her forty-year love affair with Key West, and her commitment to the living history that imbues our island.

Susan arrived in Key West for the first time in 1968. She stayed at the Pier House, where then-proprietor David Wolkowsky remembers her as a vivacious and beautiful young woman who quickly became popular among the circle of writers, politicos, and activists that formed the town’s nascent cultural center. Among this lively crowd were the playwright Tennessee Williams and Jessie Porter, who was at the forefront of Key West’s historical preservation movement. Jessie became the first of Susan’s many Key West friends.

“Susan was inspired by Jessie’s great love for Key West, its history and its architecture,” recalls Deems Webster, a carpenter and longtime friend, “and it was Jessie who showed Susan the first house she bought here.” Susan oversaw every detail of the restoration of this historic eyebrow house, built by John Roberts in the 1890s, and would do the same for a series of historic homes, some of which now appear on the National Register of Historic Places. “She always did a lot of research into the history of the houses she bought,” says Webster, whose friendship with Susan began during one such renovation, “and of the owners of the houses and the families who had lived there before. She liked to know what was underneath the surface, and she liked to share that history with others.”

US Navy Fleet Sonar School for Poets

06/23/2011  by Arlo Haskell  1 Comment
Frank O'Hara & James Schuyler, Fleet Sonar School for Poets, Key West

"It was in Key West that I realized I couldn't tell Haig & Haig from Cutty Sark, and believe me, even though both had been watered down in Miami, it was a blow."—Frank O'Hara

In an earlier post, we revealed that fellow poets James Schuyler and Elizabeth Bishop were joined in service for their country on the Key West Navy base in the summer of 1943. Schuyler, 19, was enrolled in Sonar School; Bishop, 32, volunteered in the optical shop until the chemicals made her sick. But this story of coincidence gets even better: Frank O’Hara was a Sonarman too.

O’Hara, who would become forever linked with Schuyler, John Ashbery, and Kenneth Koch under the banner of the “New York School” a decade later, arrived at Key West’s Fleet Sonar School in September of 1944, just 18 years old. A precociously talented pianist, O’Hara at first had hoped to fulfill his service commitment as a musician. When he learned that this would require a six-year commitment, however, O’Hara balked. “The training should improve my pitch,” he wrote wishfully to his parents of SONAR, a technology that emits pulses of sound to determine the location of an enemy target, “and teach me about the physics of sound and therefore music.”

O’Hara was disappointed by Key West, and not just for the lack of melody among the blips and beeps echoing back into his headset. German submarines were operating with near impunity off the Florida coast, sinking dozens of ships with torpedo attacks each month. Away from home for the first time, O’Hara tried to drink his way to solace, but it didn’t work. “I … realized in Key West that if you went without lunch and dinner and drank fifteen bottles of beer the world seemed a great deal worse than it had,” O’Hara later wrote. “Except for the sky being so near, the dewy stars and the sea, I loathed Key West. It’s only excuse for being there is that Wallace Stevens wrote a poem about it.”

So much for the love affair between O’Hara and Key West. Two months later, O’Hara was transferred to Norfolk, VA, which was even worse: “For Norfolk is a cold, cold city, the ass-hole of the universe.”

Source: City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara (1993), Brad Gooch.

Immortal Bird / Delinquent Library Patron

06/14/2011  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

Another paper treasure from the Key West library: the last library card of great American playwright Tennessee Williams; paired with the “urgent request” to return an overdue biography of John Keats, whose “Ode to a Nightingale,” includes the line “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!”

Tennessee Williams's library card

Tennessee, nicknamed “Bird” by Gore Vidal, may have had good reason for missing this due date. His death came in a hotel room in New York just one month later. Keats seems pitch-perfect reading for that final winter of 1982-83:

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
    My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
    One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
    But being too happy in thine happiness, —
       That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
         In some melodious plot
    Of beechen green, and shadows numberless
       Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

from “Ode to a Nightingale,” John Keats

Uncovered: Hemingway, Williams, Frost pics

06/02/2011  by Arlo Haskell  4 Comments

We’ve just come across a remarkable set of photographs. Donated by the Campbell, Poirier, and Pound families to the Monroe County Public Library, the Heritage House Collection contains more than 400 images of Key West from the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. Of greatest interest to us is a handful of images illustrating Key West’s literary history. We believe these images–of Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, and the home of Ernest Hemingway–have not been widely seen or published until now.

The Hemingway House when it was still Ernest Hemingway's home, circa 1934. This is one of hundreds of photos that were collected by the WPA in Key West in the 1930s. The collection has perhaps a dozen shots of Hemingway's house, before it had a pool or a wall around the property; some were taken from the lighthouse across the street, providing a unique view of Hemingway's immediate neighborhood.

Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams, pre- or post-swim. This photo likely taken in January 1947, when Tennessee visited Key West with his 89-year-old grandfather Walter Edwin Dakin and stayed at the La Concha Hotel. Another photo from the collection shows Dakin in what appears to be a Key West backyard.

Robert Frost in Key West

Robert Frost with Jessie Porter, an unidentified woman, and dogs at Porter's Key West home. Undated.


Feeding the Muse: Elizabeth Bishop

10/26/2010  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

“May the Future’s Happy Hours Bring you Beans & Rice & Flowers.” 1955 watercolor by Elizabeth Bishop.

Excitement is building in Key West for THE HUNGRY MUSE, our 29th annual Seminar, coming up January 6 – 16, 2011. As we wait for today’s top food writers to arrive, we’ve been devouring the letters of the great writers of Key West’s past to learn what they ate in the island city and create a selection of historically plausible menus. Up this week: Elizabeth Bishop.

Elizabeth Bishop first arrived in Key West at 25 years of age, in early 1937, and made it her seasonal home for the next decade. In her letters from the time, especially those to her friend and mentor Marianne Moore, she writes in great detail about the local trees, flowers, people, and customs; about the fish she caught; and, to a unique degree, about all the new things there were to eat and drink.

Bishop became an avid gardener and fisherman in Key West. She tended fruit trees and vegetable and herb gardens, and she brought home offshore pelagics including wahoo and dolphin, as well as reef fish like red snapper. She shipped Moore many packages of her favorite local foods: mangoes, sugar apples, guava, sapodilla, and Spanish lime; Brazo Fuerte brand Cuban coffee; and odd packaged "cuban products" including “garlicky olives” and papaya concentrate. Bishop’s initiation into Key West cooking came with the hire of her housekeeper, Mrs. Almyda, or “Mrs. A.,” as Bishop called her. The poet adored Almyda’s local specialties, which included fresh green turtle consommé and conch chowder.

With Bishop fond of so much to eat and drink Key West, this will be an expansive menu. Fit for a large group, it will be suitable for the party welcoming a dear friend, who has finally come flying over the Brooklyn and Bahia Honda bridges to visit.

“I hate to think that the human race can’t get proper nourishment from all the beautiful things– meat, fish, fowl, and fruits– that there are to eat in the world."

DRINKS: First, a selection of "cool-drinks," including tamarind water, papaya soda, and Mrs. Almyda’s dream limeade. Second, Daiquiris from fresh-picked lime juice and Cuban rum. Have also on hand: sherry, Coca-Cola, Scotch.

STARTER: Flatbread with homemade sea grape jelly and fresh avocado salad.

SOUP: Green turtle* soup

SALAD: Composed of garden-fresh lettuce, radishes, carrots, mint, parsley, tomatoes, zucchini, endive, and herbs

FISH: Fresh-caught whole Red Snapper; grilled Wahoo and Dolphin.

FRUIT: Tree-ripened banana, mango, sour-sop, oranges, sugar-apples, guava, sapodilla, and Spanish lime.
In her first package of mangos, Bishop wrote Moore with instructions for how to eat one: "In Cuba or Mexico they have special two-pronged forks for mangoes, but you can use a kitchen fork. You stick it in the stem end and if you do it right the fork will go into the soft end of the seed and hold the mango firm. Then you peel it down from the top and eat it off the fork like a lollipop, being very careful not to get the juice on your clothes because it stains badly."

COFFEE, TEA: Brazo Fuerte Cuban coffee; Mr. Morgan’s Private Brand tea.

MORNING AFTER: Abbott’s Elixir, a vitamin medicine; salt pills. Bishop believed in the restorative qualities of each.

*Note: This recipe will be exceedingly difficult to replicate. At one time a staple in Key West, green turtle is now protected under the Endangered Species Act, rendering it a federal offense to capture or kill an individual turtle.

Feeding the Muse: Wallace Stevens

08/25/2010  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

"Slice the mango, Naaman, and dress it / With white wine, sugar and lime juice. Then bring it, / After we've drunk the Moselle, to the thickest shade / Of the garden." —from "Certain Phenomena of Sound"

As we prepared for “The Hungry Muse,” our 29th annual Seminar, in January of 2011, we consulted the letters of the great writers of Key West’s past to learn what they ate in the island city and create a selection of historically plausible menus. Up this week: Wallace Stevens.

Had Wallace Stevens never visited Key West, his early poetry almost certainly would have lacked its distinctive feel of exotic experience. At home in Hartford, Connecticut, he was a strict New England businessman, ungiven to personal excess or displays of passion. In Key West, on the other hand, Stevens allowed himself eccentricities normally relegated to the page. He mailed unusual tropical fruits home to his wife, Elsie, and wrote of drinking Scotch in his pajamas in the moonlight beneath the palm trees. He enjoyed green coconut ice cream, mangoes, and cocktails. Over-enthusiasm for the latter spoiled one dinner with Robert Frost, and led to an ill-planned assault on Ernest Hemingway, a notoriously talented fighter. Home again in Hartford, Stevens could find his balance: “Of course I don’t drink, you know; I have been on the wagon ever since I came back from Key West, very largely because I did not have sense enough to go on before I went.”

Like Stevens’s personality, this menu may at first seem unforgiving. But give the Montrachet a chance to open up, and by dessert you will find yourself overwhelmed, enriched, and nourished.

“If there be something more to love, amen.”

COCKTAILS: Gin-based. Have one too many. “There are no ladies here, so one can do as one pleases.”

SOUP: Conch Chowder, “a thing in which Robert Frost is interested.”

FIRST COURSE: Wild doves on toast. “I can’t say they exceed anything else I ever tasted.”

WINE: Montrachet.

MAIN COURSE: Judge Arthur Powell’s catch of the day: Grilled snapper, whole. “Tomorrow several of the crowd are going out in boats for the big fish but I do not intend to go along. One day is enough.”

DESSERT: For the author of “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” this is obviously the main course. “Let be be finale of seem.”

1. Sapodillas, spooned from the shell.

2. Fresh mangoes, sliced and dressed with white wine, sugar, and lime juice.

3. Green coconut milk ice cream


COFFEE: Cuban coffee, black.

NIGHT CAP: Havana cigarettes and Scotch. To be taken in the moonlight under the palm trees in pyjamas.

MORNING AFTER: To soothe the jangled nerves of last night’s revolutionist: fresh sparkling orangeade.

Feeding the Muse: Ernest Hemingway

08/11/2010  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post
Hemingway with Sailfish

Hemingway's Catch of the Day - Sailfish. Ernest and son Jack in Key West, 1929.

As we prepared for “The Hungry Muse,” our 29th annual Seminar, in January of 2011, we consulted the letters of the great writers of Key West’s past to learn what they ate in the island city and create a selection of historically plausible menus. First up: Ernest Hemingway.

Like Hemingway’s prose style, his diet in Key West was composed of basic elements and depended upon an active sporting life. He spent weeks fishing and hunting shorebirds in the Marquesas and Tortugas, clusters of islands 30-60 miles west of Key West, and the quarry from these trips seems to have been his culinary staple. He was also an attentive gardener, planting fig, coconut, lime, and avocado trees on the grounds of his house on Whitehead Street, and joking to John Dos Passos that they were fertilized with the “ton of crap” he’d cut out from each day’s first drafts. “I wish you could plant a gin tree,” he joked to Maxwell Perkins, and in fact he hunted for booze too, once robbing the cargo from a reef-wrecked ship that had been carrying a shipment of liquor and wine.

A locavore before his time, Hemingway’s menu makes certain demands on the home chef. Consider it an invitation to adventure.

“We’ve been living on shorebirds, snipe and plover, and doves… Started out on absinthe, drank a bottle of good red wine with dinner, shifted to vodka … and then battened it down with whiskys and sodas until 3 am. Feel good today. But not like working.”

DRINKS: Absinthe

FOOD & DRINK: Fresh figs, Archibald MacLeish’s special ham, and Champagne. “I never ate anything better than the ham… Truly not only best ham but one of the very finest, rarest fine thing we ever ate.” (sic)

DRINKS: Gin & tonic, with a twist of lime from Hemingway’s trees.

SALAD: Fresh avocado, dressed with lime.

WINE: Chateau Margaux*.

FOWL: Roast snipe, terns, plover, and doves. “They are very good with the Bordeaux.”

SMOKED FISH & DRINKING: Buttonwood-smoked kingfish, Spanish mackerel, and amberjack. Vodka, then Whiskys & Sodas.

* Not only because it is so expensive to purchase, but because it will taste much better, we recommend salvaging the Chateau Margaux from a shipwreck where possible. As for the now-endangered species of fowl Hemingway shot in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge, you may wish to find an alternative. The fish, though high in mercury, remain plentiful. Bon Appetit!

The Midnight Cowboy in Key West

04/29/2010  by Arlo Haskell  24 Comments


James Leo Herlihy in Key West. Photo by Bud Lee.

James Leo Herlihy in his backyard with friends, Key West, 1960s. All photos by Bud Lee. © Bud Lee / The Serge Group

James Leo Herlihy was born in Detroit in 1927 and raised there and in Chillicothe, Ohio. He lived in New York City, Los Angeles, and, off and on from 1957 to 1973, in Key West, where he became “captivated,” finding it “a wonderful place to work and write.”

“The town excited me too much,” Herlihy told Key West Literary Seminar co-founder Lynn Kaufelt. “I spent all my time exploring, walking the streets. The place was mysterious, funky, indescribably exotic. It had much of the charm of a foreign country, but you had the post office and the A&P and the phone worked, so life was easy.” Key West was still “a pretty well-kept secret,” neither a tourist favorite nor a literary and cultural hotspot: “Nightlife was delightful, totally unsophisticated, nonliterary.”

Herlihy’s work brought him celebrity in his own time. Like his close friend and mentor Tennessee Williams, Herlihy was a gay author whose works delved into taboo subjects and broke new ground for what was acceptable to major publishers. His 1958 play Blue Denim confronted teenage sexuality and abortion and was praised in a newspaper column by Eleanor Roosevelt. His novels were acclaimed by writers like William S. Burroughs, Paul Bowles, Nelson Algren, and Williams, who praised Herlihy’s writing as “luminous,” “true,” and “perfect,” hailing him as the most significant new writer since Carson McCullers. His novel Midnight Cowboy was made into a film starring Dustin Hoffman, and won an Academy Award for Best Picture despite being given an “X” rating.

James Leo Herlihy & Tennessee Williams. Photo by Bud Lee.

Herlihy (seated) with Tennessee Williams, a friend and mentor, in front of the travelers' palms at Williams's Duncan Street home.

Key West’s influence on Herlihy is plain from the settings of his fiction. In All Fall Down (1960), the adolescent protagonist Clinton Williams follows his idolized but ne’er-do-well older brother Berry-Berry all the way down to “Key Bonita,” a stand-in for Key West. His 1967 short story “A Story that Ends with a Scream” is set in Key West, as is “Ceremony for the Midget,” in which the midget is an apparition or hallucination symbolizing the spirit of a beloved bar that is closing. “The Day of the Seventh Fire” captures the mood of Key West in the 1930s. And at the end of Midnight Cowboy, Joe Buck and Ratso are riding a Greyhound to the sunny Florida of Ratso’s dreams when tragedy strikes.

One of the most exciting things about Key West for Herlihy was the presence of Tennessee Williams. He told Kaufelt, “Before Tennessee had a pool installed, he and I went swimming off the Monroe County pier nearly every summer day at twilight . . . it was inexpressibly comforting to have the daily company of a kindred spirit; just knowing we were involved in the same sort of lunatic pursuit provided some essential ground that meant everything to me.” Williams told Kaufelt of their regular ritual of meeting at County Beach, trading lines from their favorite Wallace Stevens poem, “The Idea of Order at Key West,” before diving in. As late as 1976, when Herlihy’s mother died of cancer, Williams was there for him. Herlihy wrote Paul Bowles that year that he spent three months in Key West with his dying mother: “Tennessee was in Key West during much of that time, and he was enormously considerate. Sent flowers, messages. Cooked for me. Even showed up at the funeral mass, volunteering to act as pallbearer. I was impressed and moved by it all.”

James Leo Herlihy beneath a mango tree.

Herlihy beneath a young mango tree in his backyard.

Along with Williams, Herlihy became part of a circle of friends and lovers in Key West– mostly gay writers and “theater people”– that included James “Jimmy” Kirkwood Jr., co-writer of A Chorus Line and author of cult novels and plays including There Must Be a Pony!; Evan Rhodes, the author of The Prince of Central Park; one-time singer and agent Dick Duane, to whom Herlihy dedicated two of his finest novels, All Fall Down and Midnight Cowboy; and to a lesser extent, visiting writers like Truman Capote and Gore Vidal. Author Christopher Isherwood paints the scene in an entry from his diary in August 1959: “(Broadway producer Walter) Starcke came by, en route for Japan and round the world . . . ‘Now I live by grace,’ says Starcke. ‘I live every hour of every day to its fullest.’ Actually he is in Key West, dealing in real estate and having parties with Herlihy and his friend which sometimes go on until morning. Lots of sex.”

From the Archives

03/30/2010  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

John Malcolm Brinnin and Rita Dove aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1995. Photo by Fred Viebahn.

John Malcolm Brinnin helped establish New York City’s 92nd St. Y as a national focal point for poetry in the 1950s and was a crucial influence on the Key West Literary Seminar in our early years. The author of Grand Luxe: The Transatlantic Style, he was also a great fan of travel aboard luxury ocean liners, the now-extinct class of which the QE2 was the highest iteration. Rita Dove, at the time, was the nation’s poet laureate.

KWLS Founder David A. Kaufelt turns 70

09/08/2009  by Arlo Haskell  1 Comment

David A. Kaufelt on Sugarloaf Key, ca. 1983.

Kaufelt’s Literary Walking Tour, ca. 1986.
Photo by Jeffrey Cardenas.

Kaufelt at the Seminar in 1990

David A. Kaufelt, who capitalized on a successful career in New York as a novelist and executive to found the Key West Literary Seminar nearly 30 years ago, celebrates his 70th birthday today. His books include Six Months with an Older Woman (1973), later adapted for a made-for-tv movie starring John Ritter, American Tropic (1986), a historical-fiction account of the development of Florida, and the series of murder mysteries featuring lawyer-cum-detective Wyn Lewis, among them The Fat Boy Murders (1993).

Kaufelt arrived in Key West in the 1970s with his wife, the former Lynn Mitsuko Higashi, and launched the Seminar in 1983 from an office in the Kaufelts’ Sugarloaf Key home. His guided literary walking tour of the island was a key component of the early Seminars, as popular for the intimate, street-level view it offered of the homes of Key West writers, as it was for Kaufelt’s dapper enthusiasm and infectious charm. In a profile of the tour on National Public Radio, Kaufelt explained Key West’s popularity among writers:

"I have a theory why we all live here- I call it the Peter Pan theory. Freud said that we are at our most creative when we are in our very early youth, before we’re five years old. That’s where we are here. We wear shorts, we ride bicycles, and we’re surrounded by pirates- they’re cocaine pirates, but they’re still pirates- we have the water, a great symbol of the unconscious, and we’re free to be children here and let our spirits go. There’s nobody in suits and ties telling us what we have to do or making us feel guilty."

In shorts, and on bicycles, we say thank you, David, and Happy Birthday!

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