about

The mission of the Key West Literary Seminar is to promote the understanding and discussion of important literary works and their authors; to recognize and support new voices in American literature; and to preserve and promote Key West’s literary heritage while providing resources that strengthen literary culture.

Established in 1983, the annual Seminar explores a different literary theme each January. The best writers of our time join readers from all over the world for four days of readings, conversations, lectures, panel discussions, and parties that add up to one of today’s smartest and most high-spirited literary gatherings. Our Writers’ Workshop Program is led by esteemed faculty and provides writers at all stages of development with opportunities to explore the craft of writing in a focused and nurturing environment. As part of our commitment to emerging writers, we present three annual awards; provide financial assistance to teachers, librarians, students, and writers; and provide writers’ residencies to support the production of new and compelling work. Our Audio Archives Project makes unique presentations from the Seminar available online for use by educators, students, and readers worldwide; and our blog, LITTORAL, explores Key West’s unique literary heritage in essays, interviews, and images.

All of our programs are relatively small and intimate: this is our delight, our charm, and the secret of our success. Attendance at the Seminar is limited to about 375 people: this is a full house in the theater of our home at the San Carlos Institute, one of Florida’s most beautiful and historic landmarks. Each writers’ workshop is limited to 12 participants in order to ensure individual attention; they take place at various locations throughout Key West’s “old town” neighborhood, never far from the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean, the library, and good places to eat, drink, or catch a movie. Writers’ residencies serve a handful of writers each year, providing an opportunity to engage with Key West and the work of writing in a private and focused setting.

An island of only five square miles, nearer to Havana than Miami, Key West has one of the most intriguing literary heritages of any place in America. Whether drawn by the climate or its famed anything-goes atmosphere, many of the greatest writers of the modern era have called Key West home. Ernest Hemingway wrote To Have and Have Not from his house here on Whitehead Street. Elizabeth Bishop worked on North and South from her place near the corner of White and Southard; she later rented the home to Charles Olson, who wrote his first published poems here. Many of Wallace Stevens’s poems were influenced by his stays at the Casa Marina hotel in Key West, where he walked on the beach with Robert Frost and brawled with Hemingway. Tennessee Williams lived on Duncan Street and partied with Truman Capote, James Leo Herlihy, and Thomas McGuane. Richard Wilbur and James Merrill lived in old town just a few blocks from one another, and played a regular game of anagrams with John Hersey. And the list goes on: Ann Beattie, Judy Blume, and Annie Dillard are just a handful of the writers who continue to make a home in Key West. It is a special place. We hope you will join us here soon.

Michael Blades
Michael Blades, vice president, was a fifteen-year attendee of the seminar prior to joining the board in 2009. He worked for many years for the coral reef conservation organization Reef Relief before taking a position as logistics director for the RPM Nautical Foundation in 2006. This is Michael’s tenth year as volunteer coordinator for the Seminar.
Judy Blume is the author of twenty-nine books. She has written for children, teens, and adults. Her latest novel, In the Unlikely Event, set in New Jersey in the 1950s, was inspired by a speaker at the 2009 Seminar. She is the founder, with her husband, George Cooper, of Books & Books @ the Studios of Key West, Key West's newest full-service, independent, nonprofit bookstore. Come by and say hello!
Peyton Evans
Peyton Evans was for many years a writer and editor in New York City (Conde Nast, Hearst, Avon Books). She joined the KWLS board in 2001 and was program chair for Wondrous Strange (‘07) and Writers on Writers (‘13). With the exception of a two-year hiatus in California, Peyton has lived in Key West since 1998.
Lynn Kaufelt is past board president and was the Seminar’s first director in 1983. She is an active real estate agent, the author of Key West Writers and Their Houses, and serves on the advisory boards of the Studios of Key West and Take Stock in Children. Lynn was the 2009 Florence Spottswood Humanitarian of the Year.
Nancy Klingener
Nancy Klingener, secretary, is the Keys reporter for WLRN, South Florida's public radio station. She has lived in Key West since 1991 and has worked as a staff writer for the Miami Herald, editor of Solares Hill, (a news and culture weekly), and news editor of the Key West Citizen, the Florida Keys' only daily newspaper. For five years she worked at the Monroe County Public Library in Key West.
Michael Nelson has been a public librarian for more than thirteen years, and he joined the staff of the Key West Public Library in 2015. He has master’s degrees in both library science and creative writing from the University of South Florida in Tampa. He joined the KWLS board in 2017.
Michael Nelson
Hilary Parmentier
Hilary Parmentier is currently an English faculty member and chair of the English, Humanities, Social Sciences, and Art Department at Florida Keys Community College. She has worked to connect FKCC students, staff, and faculty to the community in many ways, including through the Key West Literary Seminar. Hilary was a five-year volunteer for the Seminar before joining the board in 2017.
Diane Shelby, president, first attended the Seminar in 1995 during the free and open-to-the-public Sunday afternoon session. She then became a Seminar volunteer and eventually joined the board of directors in 2005. Professionally, she works as a consultant to businesses and nonprofits in matters relating to accounting and financial analysis.
Carey Winfrey worked as a journalist for newspapers, television, and magazines before embracing self-unemployment in 2011. He is the co-author, with John Leslie, of Hail to the Chief, a political thriller published in 2016; was program chair of the 2017 Seminar; and recently completed Writers on Bicycles, a documentary film about literary Key West.
Arlo Haskell, Executive Director, photo by Nick Doll
Arlo Haskell, executive director, has championed the expansion of the Seminar's scholarship program and created new initiatives such as the Young Writers Studio. He is also a historian and the author of The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar Makers, and Revolutionaries, which received this year's Florida Book Award. He lives in old town with his wife, Ashley, and their daughters, Aviva and Zadie.

Freya Hendrickson is the program coordinator for KWLS. In previous roles, she taught English in Japan, administered the Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology at Boston University, and researched blue crabs at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. She recently relocated to Oregon, but has happily stayed on to see the 2019 Seminar and Writers' Workshop Program to completion.
Freya Hendrickson, Program Coordinator
Katie Leigh, Administrative Assistant
Katie Leigh began working for the Seminar as administrative assistant in 2016. Her previous careers include public relations account executive, ESL teacher, volunteer coordinator, writer, waitress, ice cream vendor at Wrigley Field, and kayak tour guide. She moved to Key West from Chicago in 2004, and in her free time she enjoys running 5Ks and running after her two boys, Owen, 10, and Dawson, 4.
Ben Pegg, technical director, is a Florida Keys based producer and songwriter. He is the resident sound designer at the historic Waterfront Playhouse and was the apprentice of Brenton Evans in New Haven, Connecticut, where he studied to become a piano technician. Ben was recently credited as the assistant producer on the award-winning science documentary film, Monster in the Mind, for his production work.

Ben Pegg, Technical Director
Kate Peters, Education Coordinator
Kate Peters is KWLS education coordinator and lead teacher for the Young Writers Studio, our summer program for local high school students. She teaches English at Saint Catherine’s School in Richmond, Virginia.
Willie Alsedek Tech Team
Shayne Benowitz Social Media
Jolly Benson Lighting Design
Margit Bizstray Writer Liaison
Melody Cooper Audio Engineer
Derek DeBoer Tech Team
Nick Doll Photographer
Natalia Duke Tech Team
Nic Richards Spirits
Dan Simpson Audio Engineer
Cayman Smith-Martin Set Design
Sarah Thomas Literary Tours