The mission of 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.
A strong literary culture depends upon all voices having access to the discussion. We are dedicated to fostering a culture of equity, diversity, and inclusion in our workplace and among the communities we serve.
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. In 2019, we acquired the former home of celebrated poet Elizabeth Bishop, at 624 White Street. Our goal is to restore this national treasure and preserve it as it was when Bishop lived here in the 1930s and 1940s.
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.