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.

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 in Key West before taking a position as logistics director for the RPM Nautical Foundation in 2006. This is Michael’s eleventh 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, a nonprofit, independent neighborhood bookstore. Come by and say hello!
Meg Cabot is the bestselling author of more than eighty books for children, teens, and adults, including The Princess Diaries series. A frequent Seminar attendee, she has lived in Key West with her husband, Benjamin Egnatz, former board chair of Key West's Tropic Cinema, since 2004. Meg volunteers as a mentor for Take Stock in Children, an organization that provides college scholarships to low-income, academically qualified students.
Leslie Concepcion, treasurer, is a twenty-five-year Key West resident, previously from Miami. She has worked in banking and finance for thirty years and is currently manager of the main branch at First State Bank of the Florida Keys. She is a member of the Key West Chamber of Commerce, Key West High School Advisory Council, and former board chair and volunteer at May Sands Montessori School. Leslie shares her love of books with her teenage son, and they have been attending the Sunday free session of the Key West Literary Seminar together for many years.
Peyton Evans
Peyton Evans was for many years a writer and editor in New York City at Condé Nast, Hearst, and Avon Books. She joined the KWLS board in 2001 and was the Seminar program chair for Wondrous Strange (2007) and Writers on Writers (2013). 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 for several local and regional news outlets, as well as the local college and public libraries.
David McConnell is the author of the novels The Firebrat and The Silver Hearted and a narrative account of hate crimes, American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage among Men, which won an American Library Association Stonewall Book Award in nonfiction. His short fiction and literary journalism have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies. He was co–chair of Lambda Literary from 2009 to 2011. With his partner, Darrell Crawford, he divides his time between Key West and New York City.
Michael Nelson
Michael Nelson has been a public librarian for more than fourteen years and is the current administrator for the Key West Public Library. 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.
Lori Reid has worked for nonprofits in Key West since moving there in 1999. She worked at the Tropic Cinema for twelve years, eight of those as theater manager, retiring in December 2017. She joined the staff at Books & Books @ the Studios of Key West in March 2018. Semiretirement has afforded her the opportunity to spend more time reading—a lifelong pleasure. She joined the KWLS board in 2018 and looks forward to being exposed to new genres and authors.
Diane Shelby, president, first attended the Seminar in 1995 during a 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 retired as a journalist in 2011. He was program chair of the 2017 Seminar, "Revealing Power: The Literature of Politics."
Carey Winfrey
Arlo Haskell, Executive Director, photo by Nick Doll
Arlo Haskell, executive director, is the author of The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar Makers, and Revolutionaries, which earned the Florida Book Award in 2018. He is also the author of the poetry collection Joker and publisher of Sand Paper Press, whose latest title is Harry Mathews's Collected Poems: 1946-2016. Arlo was named Poet Laureate of Key West in 2019 by Mayor Teri Johnston and the City Commission. He lives in old town with his wife, Ashley, and their daughters, Aviva and Zadie.
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, 11, and Dawson, 5.
Katie Leigh, Administrative Assistant
Ben Pegg, Technical Director
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.

Kate Peters is KWLS education coordinator and lead teacher for the Young Writers Studio and Voice on Paper, a personal essay workshop for high school students. She also develops curriculum to precede the annual visiting writer presentation at Key West High School during the January Seminar. Kate lives and works in Richmond, Virginia, where she teaches ninth-grade English and AP English 12 at St. Catherine’s School. She is the faculty sponsor of the school’s feminism club and honor council.
Kate Peters, Education Coordinator
Katrin Schumann, program coordinator, is the author of the forthcoming historical novel This Terrible Beauty and the Washington Post bestseller The Forgotten Hours. She teaches and consults at GrubStreet in Boston, the largest writing center in the United States, and has taught writing in Massachusetts state prisons. Born in Germany and raised in Brooklyn and London, Katrin lives in Boston and Key West.
Willie Alsedek Tech Team
Shayne Benowitz Social Media
Jolly Benson Lighting Design
Margit Bizstray Writer Liaison
Melody Cooper Audio Engineer
Jenni Franke Retail
Sarah Goodwin Literary Tours
Ryan Hackett Tech Team
Mark Hedden Photogrpaher
Michael Lee Tech Team
Steve Panariello Video
Marli Peress Tech Team
Nic Richards Spirits
Dan Simpson Audio Engineer
Cayman Smith-Martin Set Design
Sarah Thomas Literary Tours