David A. Kaufelt, 1939-2014

David Kaufelt
David A. Kaufelt, 1939-2014.

David A. Kaufelt, a novelist who founded the Key West Literary Seminar and did more to establish the island city as a fixture in the national literary consciousness than anyone since Ernest Hemingway, died this weekend at his Flagler Street home. He was 74.

He arrived in Key West from New York in 1974, fresh off the success of his debut novel, Six Months with an Older Woman, which was soon adapted into a made-for-TV movie starring John Ritter. Here, Kaufelt and his wife Lynn fell in with a community of distinguished writers that included poet James Merrill, journalist John Hersey, novelist Thomas McGuane, and playwright Tennessee Williams.

Kaufelt’s idea for the Key West Literary Seminar grew out of a disappointing meeting in New York, where he and literary agent Dick Duane had failed to persuade a group of publishers to send top writers south for a lecture series organized by the Council for Florida Libraries. New York publishers were convinced, said Kaufelt, that no one in Florida cared about books.

“I said we have so many writers of so many persuasions in Key West, we could have our own literary festival,” Kaufelt later recalled. And within a few years, that’s what he did, creating the event that, more than thirty years later, continues to present some of the most acclaimed writers in the English-speaking world to standing-room-only audiences.

While serving as president of the KWLS board of directors, Kaufelt continued to work as a novelist, producing books including American Tropic (1986), a historical-fiction account of Florida’s development, and the series of murder mysteries featuring lawyer-cum-detective Wyn Lewis, among them The Fat Boy Murders (1993).

Kaufelt also created and led a beloved literary walking tour, whose popularity owed as much to the intimate view it provided of the homes of Key West writers as it did to the dapper enthusiasm and infectious charm of its guide. “A lot of tourists come to Key West and they only see Duval Street or the Pier House,” Kaufelt said of his inspiration for the guided tour. “I wanted them to see what Key West really looks like.”

National Public Radio sent a reporter to Key West in 1990 to profile the walking tour. On the recording, which is available in its entirety in our audio archives, Kaufelt explains what attracted him and other writers to the island where he had made his home:

“I have a theory why we all live here—it’s called the Peter Pan theory. Freud said that we are at our most creative when we are in our very early youth, before we’re five years old. That’s where we are here. We wear shorts, we ride bicycles, we have the water, a great symbol of the unconscious, and we’re free to be children here and let our spirits go. There’s nobody in suits and ties telling us what we have to do.”

Kaufelt is survived by his wife, Lynn Kaufelt, and by their son, Jackson Kaufelt. A memorial service will be announced.

Listen: David A. Kaufelt’s Peter Pan Theory (excerpt)

Click here for full audio.

37 thoughts on “David A. Kaufelt, 1939-2014

  1. Linda O'Brien says:

    Lynn, I am so sorry for your loss. The two of you have made a huge difference in Key West. David’s contributions will be here forever. I hope you can feel the love being sent your way.

  2. Kerstin and Griff says:

    An unforgettable man. I still smile
    when I recall his short stories in, Solares
    Hill. So deeply sorry for your and Jackson’s
    With sympathy,
    Kerstin and Griff

  3. Sabrina Acevedo says:

    Thinking of you and your family during this difficult time. We should all live our life with the Peter Pan theory.

  4. BeBe Clark says:

    Lynn and Jackson, so sad to hear of David’s passing. David definitely left his mark on Key West with his kindness and talents. We will all miss him.

  5. Greer Nolan says:

    Dear Lynn,
    I am so sorry for your loss. Even when a long illness is involved, the end is always a shock.
    I hope that one of these days happy memories will brighten your sadness and you will be glad for all the time you were with him.
    I always loved David’s sense of humor!
    Thinking of you and Jackson

  6. Carol Shaughnessy says:

    So very sorry for your loss. David was a true gentleman and a shining light in Key West’s creative community.
    Carol Shaughnessy

  7. Mare Contrare says:

    David Kaufelt will always be remembered as part of the Key West literary vortex and will live on forever. Lynn your loss is our loss. Please accept my sincere condolence.
    Kind regards to both you and Jackson,

  8. Elizabeth Shewan says:

    I have many wonderful memories of David during my early years in Key West. My most sincere condolences to Lynn and Jackson.

  9. Holly & Brice Barr says:

    Dear Lynn,
    We are saddened to hear of your loss. David was a remarkable man and we pray that the loving and playful ‘Peter Pan’ memories of him live on forever and ever!

  10. Holly Merrill says:

    David created an amazing legacy for all of us, in his idea and the formation of the Key West Literary Seminar. The seed that he planted has now become a highly regarded institution of the best literary talent converging together to share with all of those who love the written word.
    It is in this legacy, that David Kaufelt will live in our heart’s forever!
    Love and Many Blessings for David, Lynn and Jackson.

  11. Rudy Molinet says:

    Thinking of you during this difficult time Lynn. May David fill the heavens with his talent and love of life!

  12. Melanie & Michael Wilson says:

    Our thoughts are with you during this difficult time. David left an amazing legacy and we will always remember him with great fondness.

  13. Julia Rust Woods says:

    Lynn and Jackson,
    So sorry for your loss. David will be missed.

    Deepest Sympathy and lots of love,
    Julia Rust Woods

  14. There will always be a special place in our hearts for David “Peter Pan” Kaufelt, the quintessential Key West writer. A special person, a great writer, a funny friend. Happy trails, David!
    With sympathy and love to Jackson and Lynn,
    June and Michael Keith

  15. Karen Bertocci says:

    My sympathy to you and your family, Lynn. Peace be with you. David will be missed by many, and the community as a whole will feel the loss.

  16. Bonnie And Jeff Levin says:

    Our thouhts are with you at this time. David will truly be remembered fondly. Peter Pans of the island are saddened today..
    Bonnie and Jeff..

  17. Shirley and Frank Piku says:

    We send our sincere condolences to Lynn and family for the loss of a “fine gentleman”. Will miss his smiling face. He has left a literary legacy that will remain in our hearts forever. Fond Regards

  18. Lynn, Jackson,

    I was devastated to learn of David’s passing. I met David in the 60’s and will always remember his wit, intelligence, humor and our family friendship. David, you will truly be missed by me for the rest of my life. Love you “purple shoes”. God Bless!!

  19. My memory of first seeing David was on Green St and Duval, he was on his bike and Jackson was just a baby, perched behind him…I was renting a wall to display my earliest designs in leather from Sonya Robinson in the tiny shop just next to Bahama Mama’s….the year was 1982 I believe…We later met, sharing the same friends, we came to share many an event and dinners together and I had remember spirited conversations with David…reading this reminded me what I so loved about our Island City that I called home for 25 years…and the part I miss, especially the thought of David no longer riding those well worn streets…xo Victoria Lesser

  20. David’s witty skepticism above his romantic heart, so much part of our lives all these twenty some years, and Lynn’s charm, generosity and bravery, all of it and more will be present with us forever. Lynn, big abrazos, Elena Castedo and Denny Ellerman

  21. Suzette Gibson says:

    We are sad to hear the news about David. You’re in our thoughts and prayers, Lynn and Jackson.
    Suzette and Ben Gibson

  22. I loved my Saturday mornings leading walking tours, and I scheduled my vacations around the KWLS. Thanks to the creative and visionary David Kaufelt. And love to the many who loved him.

  23. Phil Marcus says:

    You and David created so many unforgettable memories for us in Key West….I keep him in my heart along with you. Love always, Phil

  24. Bobby Ciulla & Jennifer Newman says:

    My daughter Jennifer and I are so sorry for your loss. We send our sincere condolences to you and your family.

  25. Rene Halpern says:

    Dear Lynne,

    I was sorry to read of David’s passing. He and I were cousins. My grandmother, Fanny
    Kaufelt Kosofsky Rosenzeig was his father, Jack’s sister.

    I have photos of my great Uncle Jack and Great Aunt Irene.

    I speak to cousin
    Beatty Kaufelt Rosenhack in New Jersey once in awhile. My husband and I visited the Kaufelt gravesite in New Jersey a few years ago.
    I believe that Beatty is the last of that generation.

    There is a cousin Rob Kaufelt who owns a famous cheese shop in Manhattan, I hear.

    I am still working on a Kaufelt family tree. If you or Jackson are interested, I’d be glad to make a copy for you. Or you can view it on ancestry.com. Let me know, and (with your or his
    email address-) I can write you in as a guest to view the Kaufelt Family Tree).

    I was pleased to talk with you on the phone a number of years ago. David could not speak well at that time. I regret not trying to call again.

    I still live in northern California, near S.F.

    With sincere condolences.

    Rene Kosofsky Halpern

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