A Seminar Named Desire

Coverage of the 2022 Seminar: "A Seminar Named Desire"

John Hersey Memorial Address: Lauren Groff
Presenters: Jami Attenberg, Judy Blume, Jericho Brown, Michael Carroll, Billy Collins, Lauren Groff, Joyce Maynard, Colum McCann, Eileen Myles, Tom Perrotta, Deesha Philyaw, Jamie Quatro, Zak Salih, Lisa Taddeo, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Edmund White
Writers’ Workshop Faculty: Lynne Reeves Griffin, Ishion Hutchinson, Joyce Maynard, Liz Moore, Beth Nguyen, Porter Shreve, David Treuer, Laura van den Berg

Understated Love with Billy Collins

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.


Art as Action: Changing the World with Stories

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.”


Everyone Has a Story

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 on The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

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.”


First Times

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.”


Fail Better: Three Writers on Rising Again and Again

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.


MILF as Literature: Tom Perrotta with Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

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.


What Women Want, in Life and in Fiction 

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.


Heaven and Earth: Writing from the Carnal to the Spiritual 

In a conversation spanning ritual, desire, mysticism, and ghosts, fiction writers Lauren Groff and Jamie Quatro invited us yesterday into an intimate exchange on the body and the spirit–the continuum between the two and their inevitable intersection.


Sex Rules: Real Talk with Jami Attenberg and Judy Blume

So many of us were taught that a lady would certainly never discuss sex openly in public. In no way would a woman confess to her sexual interests, or even admit to having sexual desires. That is why the serious yet lighthearted, humorous approach that Judy Blume and Jami Attenberg took today in discussing sex—and sex in writing—is so profoundly important.


Jericho Brown: Love Poems No Matter What

To open this morning’s reading—“Love Poems no Matter What”—Pulitzer-winning poet Jericho Brown shares the poem “Prayer of the Backhanded,” his words wrapping around the humid air of  Key West. As the roosters crow, and the sun peaks from behind the clouds, his language possesses an element of freedom, tangled with power, vulnerability, violence and tension.


Lauren Groff Launches the Banquet of A Seminar Named Desire

Desire, says National Book Award finalist Lauren Groff, is not the act, but the anticipation of the act. It is the “intensity of potential pleasure,” a prelude born of the heart and nourished by the imagination. This interim between seeing and embracing, the prolonged pull toward a pleasure we wish to possess, requires diligence and patience.