Coverage of the 2007 Seminar: "Wondrous Strange: Mystery, Intrigue & Psychological Drama"

John Hersey Memorial Address: Michael Wood
Presenters: Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, Aimee Bender, Michael Cunningham, Tananarive Due, Jeffrey Eugenides, Siri Hustvedt, Wally Lamb, Ian McEwan, Joyce Carol Oates, Steve Stern, Amy Tan, James Tate, and Mary Kay Zuravleff. Writers’ Workshop Faculty: Paulette Bates Alden, Billy Collins, Mary Morris, Bich Minh Nguyen, Timothy Seldes, Porter Shreve, and Susan Shreve.

Novelist Amy Tan during her panel. Photo by Petri Krook.

Novelist Joyce Carol Oates at her book signing. Photo by Petri Krook.

KWLS Executive Director Miles Frieden. Photo by Petri Krook.

Author Joyce Carol Oates among the crowd at the 25th Annual KWLS. Photo by Petri Krook.

Novelist Paul Auster takes a smoke break. Photo by Petri Krook.

Author Margaret Atwood. Photo by Petri Krook.

Novelist Amy Tan. Photo by Petri Krook.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Jeffrey Eugenides. Photo by Petri Krook.

Authors Ian McEwan and Joyce Carol Oates. Photo by Petri Krook.

Novelist Wally Lamb. Photo by Petri Krook.


Wondrous Strange Photos

One of the Finnish contignency at the 2007 Seminar, photographer Petri Krook captured some remarkable images of guests, authors and Key West itself. Thanks to the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat for allowing our use of these photos.


For me, the humorous high point of the 2007 Seminar occurred during Saturday night’s group poetry reading. Billy Collins read a poem he said had been inspired by an axiom about never using the word ‘suddenly’ in your writing, that it was a cheap, weak way to create action and …Read More

The Long, Long Line

The line for the public session at the KWLS is always pretty cool to see. I love how the mostly local crowd queues up hours in advance to see authors speak, like kids at a rock concert.

selected out of context quotes from Sunday

A quote from “The Bowl is Already Broken” by Mary Kay Zuravleff: “She’d never make it as a mystic. She had too many errands.” Michael Cunningham: “I think of Walt Whitman as the last unstupid optimist, the last undeluded optimist … He was our Rumi, our whirling dervish.” Margaret Atwood …Read More

Whatever you got

“Feel free to leave your cell phones on. Icemakers, whatever you got . . .” Steve Stern at the start of his Sunday morning reading. “My grandmother and my aunt both died on the operating table several times. . . They were very competitive.” Steve Stern again

Steve Stern is a very funny man.

Steve Stern is a very funny man. Steve Stern is a very funny man. Steve Stern is a very funny man. Steve Stern is a very funny man.

Sudden verse

“I’m not as funny as Billy I’m not as funny as Billy My undies more frilly, More vitamin-pilly, I’m not as funny as Billy” Margaret Atwood reciting a poem written while awaiting the daunting task of following Billy Collins on stage Saturday night, possibly proving herself wrong.

Two to three senses

“It’s very important for a translator to see, hear, and possibly touch, the authors.” Kristiina Rikman, ringleader for a trio of Finnish translators who translate the works or Margaret Atwood, Siri Hustvedt and Michael Cunningham and are in Key West for the seminar.

founding text

Yesterday, between a full day of events on the stage of the San Carlos and going to drink and nosh amongst Seward Johnson’s life-size 3-D recreations of Impressionist paintings at the Custom House, I stopped at home to walk the dog. I couldn’t resist pulling out my copy of Joyce …Read More

press coverage

The Miami Herald and The South Florida Sun-Sentinel both have stories about the seminar. Both should be available free for about a week, though you may have to register at the newspapers’ sites if you haven’t done so before. Chauncey Mabe’s Sun-Sentinel story Amy Driscoll’s Miami Herald story Also, until …Read More

favorite things, take 1

“I love the set. It started out so nondescript that you could take it for granted at first. It keeps growing and changing in a rather strange and mysterious way.” — Lori Kelly, librarian a-go-go and volunteer extraordinaire “The level of writers is just astounding. They’re all so accomplished.” — …Read More

Wally Lamb is a nice man.

Wally Lamb is a nice man. Wally Lamb is a nice man. Wally Lamb is a nice man. Wally Lamb is a nice man.

Where are we going?

Joyce Carol Oates and Ian McEwan had an interesting exchange about whether a novelist needs to know how a book will end right from the beginning of writing it. Immediately before their discussion, Wally Lamb had done a presentation and reading. He said he doesn’t know where his books are …Read More

overheard at the lit seminar

"They have the best bathroom lines here. Yesterday I was waiting in the unisex bathroom line in front of Wally Lamb. He was so nice, such a great conversationalist. I was really dissapointed when my turn came and we had to stop talking."

Some things that were said

An out-of-context quote from Aimee Bender: “A story is an illusion on the page, and to think that that illusion has to be governed by reality doesn’t sit right with me.” Several out-of-context quotes from Joyce Carol Oates: “Writers and artists are haunted by memories — sometimes not even by …Read More

selected thoughts

Quite a first day. A couple things I’ll be thinking about for awhile: As always, the Literary Seminar makes me want to quit my job and spend the rest of my life reading. Though that would make it difficult to support my book habit. It also reminds me, in the …Read More

Michael Woods Key Note Address

Many thanks to Dr. Wood for generously allowing us to post the full text of his keynote address. All rights reserved by Michael Wood. [Key West, January 11, 2007] The Liberation of Macondo Strangeness We are often told that truth is stranger than fiction, and the phrase provides the title …Read More

Jeffrey Eugenides

For anyone who’s ever been scared of what it takes to actually write a novel, Jeffrey Eugenides had more reason to be scared — he said it took him two to three years “to understand how to write ‘Middlesex.’” A lot of that was finding the right voice for a …Read More


The second speaker of the morning was Tananarive Due who, if she’s not a hometown girl, is one from right up the road, having grown up in Miami. She opened by explaining how she steered herself from the who, what, when, where and why of journalism to a stint as the Miami Herald’s dating columnist to writing supernatural fiction. (She decided it was best to give up the dating column once she became engaged.)

Keynote Gets Us Going

Princeton professor and contemporary fiction expert Michael Wood gave the John Hersey Memorial Lecture at the San Carlos Institute and it was illuminating. Wood even managed to work Hersey himself, a beloved writer who spent many winters in Key West, into the talk, when he read the opening lines of three works: “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka and “Hiroshima” by Hersey. In those opening lines, he said, “all the signals of strangeness are lacking” even though exceedingly strange things are happening — a man is facing a firing squad, a man believes he has turned into an insect, an entire city has been obliterated in an instant.


Most American literary events don’t start out with a rendition of the Cuban National Anthem, but the Key West Literary Seminar is held in the historic San Carlos Institute, which was founded in 1871 and is most famous for being a venue for the Cuban political hero and martyr José Martí — so beloved that in modern times he is claimed by the communists, the anti-communists, and those in between.

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