young writers studio

We are delighted to introduce the Young Writers Studio, an exciting five-day writing program for local high school students.

The program is open to any student in Monroe County who will be starting their sophomore, junior, or senior year in the fall of 2018. We are looking for young people who want to become better writers, learn about themselves, and see their hometown with fresh eyes. If you are curious about the history of Key West and want to find your voice as a writer, this program is designed for you.

The Young Writers Studio is free for all accepted applicants and is open to experienced as well as new young writers. Anyone who is interested is encouraged to apply.

“Island in the Works” | June 25-29, 2018

Students will spend five full days exploring Key West and learning about the authors who have lived and worked and visited here, past and present. We will approach writing with a sense of experimentation and fun through a variety of inspiring writing prompts. The program emphasizes journaling, experimenting, and the joys and challenges of the writing process.

Site-specific writing exercises will take us from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, and as far west as Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortugas National Park during a special daylong excursion. Classroom exercises will be paired with visits to local historic sites including the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum; and investigations of archival collections at the Monroe County Public Library.

Each afternoon will feature a writing workshop led by esteemed visiting writer, Victor LaValle. A former Guggenheim fellow and a member of the writing faculty at Columbia University, LaValle’s most recent novel is The Changeling, which was selected as one of the ten best books of 2017 by USA Today and Time magazine.

The theme of our first Young Writers Studio references James Merrill’s poem, “Island in the Works.” Inspired by the natural world of Key West, the poem playfully explores the changes of an island landscape, replete with creation, destruction, and the creative process. The poem ends, amusingly, with the image of the poem itself being lifted by the wind and dropped into a swimming pool. Full of observed natural imagery and regional detail, a relish for language, and a great sense of humor, the poem represents the ethos of the Young Writers Studio.

How to Apply

Write a letter to the Key West Literary Seminar:

  • Introduce yourself. Explain why you want to be a part of this program. What makes you a great candidate? What in the description of Young Writers Studio sounds intriguing to you?
  • Describe your relationship to reading and writing. Please tell us what has been your favorite thing (novel, poem, short story, graphic novel, children’s book, anything) you have ever read and why.
  • Also, tell us about your relationship to Key West. What do you love about this area and landscape the most? Do you have a favorite place you can tell us about, or a favorite aspect of life here?


  • Feel free to address these questions in whatever order makes the most sense to you, and creates a logical and good flow.
  • Be yourself. Your letter should be casual and relaxed. Don’t be afraid to give us a sense of your personality and be completely honest.
  • Remember that detail, description, and sharing quick anecdotes or examples can help make your writing fun and relatable. Also remember that editing for typos and small errors helps show that you care and are trying to make the best first impression.

Your letter should be no more than 650 words (minimum 500 words). 650 words is the standard maximum length for a college application essay, so it will be good practice!

Applications are due by Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at 11:59 pm. Applicants will be notified of their acceptance by April 15, 2018.

Watch this space for a link to upload your application letter.

About our Team

Kate Peters
Curriculum Development & Lead Teacher

Kate PetersKate Peters is an innovative teacher of literature and writing who has taught in schools in Marseille, France; at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, FL; and Tandem Friends School in Charlottesville, VA. Her professional focus includes curriculum development, interdisciplinary study, and the Harkness method, as well as event-based and experiential learning. She has observed residential writing programs for teens including Young Writers Workshops at Bard College at Simon’s Rock and the University of Virginia at Sweet Briar, and has pursued her interests in education through Smithsonian American Museum of Art Institutes and the Boston University Poetry Institute, among others. She currently teaches English at Saint Catherine’s School in Richmond, VA. Kate holds a bachelor’s degree in Literature from Bard College and a master’s degree in English from University of Richmond.

Arlo Haskell
Curriculum Development & Resident Historian

Arlo Haskell, photo by Nick DollArlo Haskell is executive director of the Key West Literary Seminar and a graduate of Key West High School and Bard College. He is the author of The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar Makers, and Revolutionaries (1823-1969), which has been praised as a groundbreaking addition to the history of this island city. In 2015, C-SPAN’s Book-TV featured Haskell and his research for this book during their American Cities Tour. His other television credits include appearances in the short documentary Key West: Bohemia in the Tropics (Timothy Long, 2010), which continues to air on PBS stations nationwide. He has lectured on Key West’s literary and cultural history at national venues including the 92nd Street Y in New York City and the Ernest Hemingway Seminar in Ketchum, Idaho; and locally to groups including Key West Art & Historical Society, the Friends of the Key West Library, the Studios of Key West, and Leadership Monroe County.

Victor LaValle
Visiting Writer

Victor LaValle is an assistant professor in the writing department at Columbia University and the author, most recently, of The Changeling, a captivating retelling of a classic fairy tale that imaginatively explores obsession and the secrets that make strangers out of the people we love the most. It was selected as one of the ten best books of the year by USA Today and Time magazine. LaValle is also the author of four previous novels, a collection of short stories, and a comic book, Destroyer. His awards include the Whiting Writers Award, a USA Ford Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a British World Fantasy Award among others. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

Nick Vagnoni

Nick Vagnoni teaches writing classes at Florida International University, where he earned an MFA in Creative Writing in 2009. Aside from teaching writing at FIU, Nick also teaches poetry classes in prisons in Miami-Dade County through a program called Exchange for Change. He is a Key West native who graduated from Key West High School in 1999 and New College of Florida in 2004. His poetry has appeared in Columbia JournalMid-American Review, Terrain, and elsewhere, and he is the co-author of Forager: A Subjective Guide to Miami’s Edible Plants (Jai-Alai Books).

The Young Writers Studio is funded in part by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as part of the Knight Arts Challenge.

Knight Foundation