event coverage

L I T T O R A L : the journal of the Key West Literary Seminar

On Sunday afternoon at the public session of this year’s Key West Literary Seminar, two-time U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, connecting to this year’s theme of Desire, was quick to point out that he is not a sexy writer, nor does he focus on romance. Yet with his trademark understatement, the poems he read aloud exuded a steamy sensuality. Passion, his poems suggested, is best expressed through evasion, leveraging images and textures to dance around desire, rather than stating it explicitly.

On a breezy Saturday afternoon, Narrative 4 cofounders Lisa Consiglio and Colum McCann introduced the “global, non-profit organization using stories and storytelling to effect change … to inculcate the idea of radical empathy … where young people tell each other stories, and tell them back to each other in first-person.”

The 2022 Key West Literary Seminar was a success and there are too many who deserve kudos to name. One unusual session was about Narrative 4 (N4), an unusual nonprofit that started in one Colorado public school and rapidly grew to a global organization promoting what’s called “story exchange.”

Deesha Philyaw, a self-proclaimed daughter of Florida, grew up in Jacksonville as a member of Generation X. On Sunday morning, she took to the stage in Key West to read from her debut story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies. Its nine stories follow four generations of Black women bound by double standards, and the church’s expectations of what makes for a “good woman.”

The question of firsts has reverberated among authors this weekend. The importance of firsts comes up often in stories about sexual desire: first kiss, loss of virginity, coming out, sexual awakening. During her conversation with Jami Attenberg, Judy Blume brought up a question she had previously been asked: “Who was your first lover?” To which she recalls responding, “Me.”

The sky was a soft gray, with a gentle breeze teasing of a pending rain shower as authors Colum McCann, Tom Perrotta, and Lisa Taddeo took the stage. Personally unknown to one another, the authors dove into the opportunity to introduce themselves, their craft, and most intimately, their failures to one another and the audience.

In Friday afternoon’s session “Inside the Milfateria,” writers Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and Tom Perrotta discussed his most recent novel, Mrs. Fletcher. With an unflinching view, it illuminates the role of Internet pornography in in sparking, shaping, and fulfilling our deepest, darkest desires. Tan is no stranger to the topic of desire in her own writing, and her anthology Anonymous Sex, co-edited with Hillary Jordan, is a collection of erotic stories.

In yesterday’s delightfully candid conversation, “What Women Want: A Conversation about Real Characters and Their Fictional Counterparts,” writers Joyce Maynard, Jamie Quatro, and Lisa Taddeo expanded on themes of desire in their work, exploring feminine appetites for sex, and the freedom a writer feels when able to express the deepest of desires on the page.