Alumni Newsletter, Summer 2020 (vol. 5)

Photo courtesy Florida Keys Public Libraries: Betty Suarez's third grade class, Reynolds Elementary School, 1965-66. Gift Lisa Suarez.
Photo courtesy Florida Keys Public Libraries: Betty Suarez's third grade class, Reynolds Elementary School, 1965-66. Gift Lisa Suarez.

It’s a joy to share with you the many recent achievements of our alumni, especially now. We hope you have found ways to keep your own creative growth and literary conversations going, despite the unprecedented events of the past few months. Read on for more …

Support local & independent booksellers! Purchase any book highlighted here from Books & Books @ The Studios of Key West and get a 20% discount. Use code “KWLS21” at checkout.

featured achievements

Alexandra Lopez-Nadal

Alexandra Lopez-Nadal’s undergraduate honors thesis, “Greatest National Treasure: Elizabeth Bishop’s Influence on James Merrill” (May 2019) is now available through the Florida Atlantic University Digital Library. “The KWLS audio archives—specifically Merrill’s contributions to the 1993 seminar dedicated to Bishop—inspired and shaped my work,” Lopez-Nadal says. Her essay on the same topic was recently published in the FAU Undergraduate Research Journal. (KWLS Intern 2017/ Manuel Gonzales 2018)

Sandra Jackson-Opoku received the inaugural Esteemed Artist Award in Literary Arts from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events for her novel-in-progress, Black Rice. These special new $10,000 grants are awarded to highly-qualified artists for expenses associated with an artist’s practice.

Jackson-Opoku’s first work of crime fiction, “She Loved Trouble,” appears in Both Sides: Stories from the Border, an anthology of original and riveting stories that tackle controversial border issues. (Workshop Financial Aid 2020/ Fernanda Eberstadt 2020)

Sandra Jackson-Opoku
James Brennan

James Brennan is a 2020 recipient of an Excellence Award and a Suanne Davis Roueche Faculty Conference Scholarship from the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD), a consortium of community and technical colleges committed to promoting and celebrating excellence in teaching, learning, and leadership. (Teacher & Librarian Scholarship 2018)

From her experience at the 2020 Key West Literary Seminar, “Reading Between the Lines: Sports & Literature,” Clarissa West-White created a reader’s advisory “LibGuide” on the confluence of sports and literature to assist faculty in selecting works to pique the interest of students. “The beauty of such guides is that they do not require much upkeep and additions can be inserted at any time,” she says about the variety of LibGuides she has created as a reference librarian and instructor at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Teacher & Librarian Scholarship 2020)

Clarissa West-White


Glenn Frankel’s non-fiction book about New York at the dawn of gay liberation in the 1960s and the making of Midnight Cowboy has been accepted by Farrar, Straus and Giroux for publication in 2021 (working title: Shooting Midnight Cowboy: Art, Sex, Loneliness, Liberation, and the Making of a Dark Classic). Frankel researched the life of James Leo Herlihy, author of the novel Midnight Cowboy upon which the Academy Award-winning film was based, while he was a KWLS writer in residence in 2019.


Jeannette Brown’s novel The Illusion of Leaving was published in May by Texas Review Press. Set in West Texas, the book is a “coming of old-age” tale complete with betrayal, decades-old grudges, and inclement weather. (Fernanda Eberstadt 2020)

Daniel Fitzpatrick’s first novel, Only the Lover Sings, was released in March. It tells the story of a New Orleans family displaced by a hurricane and of the physical and spiritual harrowing they undergo in the storm’s wake. (Gregory Pardlo 2020)

Sharon Harrigan‘s novel Half (published this month by University of Wisconsin Press) grew out of the story by the same name that won the Cecilia Joyce Johnson Award in 2013. Publishers Weekly calls it “riveting and inventive, a cut above the average coming of age novel.” (Emerging Writer Award 2013/ Hilma Wolitzer 2013)

Diana Abu-Jaber‘s YA fantasy novel Silverworld was published in March by Crown/Random House. It’s the fantasy-adventure story of a Lebanese-American girl who finds the courage to save her grandmother. (Writer in Residence 2017 & 2018/ Faculty 2016/ Presenter 2011)

Dan Ornstein‘s new book, Cain v. Abel: A Jewish Courtroom Drama (Jewish Publication Society), invites readers of all backgrounds to enter the courtroom and take their seats as jurors at the trial for the world’s first murder. (Billy Collins 2015/ Madeline Blais 2014/ Mary Morris 2013)

Theodore Wheeler‘s second novel, In Our Other Lives, was published March 3. It’s a provocative story about abandoned faith, heartbreaking loss, and inescapable government surveillance in the heartland of a post-9/11 nation. Kirkus Reviews calls it “a compelling portrait.” (Emerging Writer Award 2014/ Mary Morris 2014/ Robert Stone 2012)


Beth Aviv‘s poem “Summer Light” was published in the Fall 2019 issue of the Bellevue Literary Review (Madison Smartt Bell 2018)

Ross Belot‘s book, Moving to Climate Change Hours, forthcoming from Wolsak & Wynn, is “… a beautiful, intimate, ambitious, moving book written by a poet of great skill and deep feeling.” –Matthew Zapruder. From industrial accidents to frozen highways, Belot charts what faces a working man in stripped-down lyric poetry. The first poem in the collection was written at KWLS. (Jane Hirshfield 2015)

Lorraine Cregar‘s poem “O Winter! My Winter!” was published in issue 11 of the Writers Circle journal. It’s a play on Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” and an elegy to the promise of winter’s relief from menopausal hot flashes. (Luis Alberto Urrea 2020)

Allison Hutchcraft‘s first poetry collection, Swale, was named 2019 Editor’s Choice by New Issues Poetry & Prose and is forthcoming in October. Poems from Swale have appeared in Boulevard, the Gettysburg ReviewKenyon Review, the Missouri Review, and the Southern Review, among others. (Jane Hirshfield 2015)

Catherine West Johnson was selected as a finalist for the 48th New Millennium Writing Award for poetry for her poem “Even the Sparrow,” which will be published in issue 29 of New Millennium Writings later this year. (Rowan Ricardo Phillips 2018)

Leatha Kendrick’s fifth collection of poems, And Luckier (Accents Publishing 2020), is “an unflinching and holistic look at our world,” says poet Kathleen Driskell. “[Her] work is complex and masterfully figurative, always allowing for two things to be said at once, two things to be true at once.” (Campbell McGrath 2016)

Ellen Birkett Morris‘s poem “Abide” was featured on the radio show and podcast A Way with WordsListen here. (Billy Collins 2010)

Andrew Shaffer has published his first poetry chapbook, Let’s See Them Poems. His poems are playful, hilarious, and accessible—three adjectives he didn’t associate with poetry until reading Billy Collins. Several of the poems were written during his KWLS residency last fall. (Writer in Residence 2019/ Daniel Menaker 2019)

Scott Brennan‘s first book of poems, Raft Made of Seagull feathers, was published in January (Main Street Rag Publishing). “Brennan combines a straightforward tone with an agile knack for associative hopping,” says Billy Collins. “The result is a debut collection bursting with smart, genial poems laced with surprises.” (Emerging Writer Award 2013/ Billy Collins 2013)


Drew Larimore’s short play Text Angel appeared as part of Planet Connections Theatre Company’s Dark Planet: Not Your Mother’s Valentine’s Day at the 14th Street Y in New York City in February. (Writer in Residence 2018 & 2019)

Kristine Mietzner’s play Reservations–the Cat and Dog Comedy premiered at Winters Theatre Company’s 10-Minute Play Festival in January. The play received an honorable mention in the category of “Best Comedic 1 Act” by the Avalonia 7 Theater Festival. (Teacher & Librarian Scholarship 2017/ Daniel Menaker 2018)


Pamela Gay’s memoir I’m So Glad You’re Here was published on May 26 by She Writes Press. Kirkus Reviews calls Gay “a perceptive and compassionate narrator who manages to explore the gaps in everyone’s stories, including her own.” (Dani Shapiro 2017/ Antonya Nelson 2016/ Madeleine Blais 2014)

Fraser Smith self-published his memoir, The Daily Miracle: A Memoir of Newspapering, a social and political history of the country and of the newspaper, in 2019. Smith credits Workshop Faculty Dan Menaker for suggesting the opening scene: in the Jersey Journal newsroom on the day of JFK’s assassination just weeks after Smith’s first day on the job. (Marie Myung-Ok Lee 2017/ Menaker 2016/ Paulette Alden 2015)

short stories & articles

Melissa Coleman’s article “The Book That Birthed the Back-to-the-Land Movement” in DownEast magazine was partially researched during her KWLS residency. Her book on the same topic is forthcoming. (Writer in Residence 2016 & 2018)

Faran Fagen has written several articles for the Palm Beach Post pertaining to COVID-19: a Delray Beach mom who makes masks for autism awarenessa YA author who’s promoting her fourth book online about a teen’s triumph over cerebral palsyteachers using plants to promote science online, and a local bookstore manager winning a literary award(Teacher & Librarian Scholarship 2020)

Leah Griesmann’s short story “Klondike” was published in issue 40 of the Worcester Review. Her essay “Helicopter Parenting, the College Admissions Scandal, and James M. Cain’s ‘Mildred Pierce’” was published in the Los Angeles Review of Books in January. (Jennine Capó Crucet 2017)

James Victor Jordan’s short story “Victims of Love” was published in the September 2019 issue of The Society of Misfit Stories(Madison Smartt Bell 2018)

Michael Adno’s work has appeared in the New York Timesthe Bitter SouthernerSurfer’s Journal, and Southern Living recently. (Writer in Residence 2018, 2019, & 2020)


Rebecca Dwight Bruff‘s historical novel, Trouble the Water (2019), was awarded first place in Adult Fiction and first place in Debut Author from the Feathered Quill Book Awards and was named winner in African American Fiction of the 2019 American Fiction Awards sponsored by American BookFest. (Workshop Financial Aid 2017/ Kate Moses 2017)

Esperanza Cintrón’s collection of short stories, Shades: Detroit Love Stories (Wayne State University Press), was chosen as a 2020 Michigan Notable Book and was a finalist in the short story category for the 2020 Midwest Book Awards. (Teacher & Librarian Scholarship 2018)

Kristine Simelda was voted “Dominican Literary Artist of the Year” in 2019. She was longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2020. Her third YA novel Back to the River was published in 2019. She has work forthcoming in the Caribbean Writer and WomanSpeak. She is currently working on a memoir. (Workshop Financial Aid 2018/ Naomi Jackson 2018/ Lee Smith 2015)


In March, Program Coordinator Katrin Schumann released her second novel, This Terrible Beauty, which explores the collision of art, love, and power in post war East Germany. Schumann managed to sneak in a Key West launch and an event at the Key West Public Library just days before everything shut down.

Executive Director Arlo Haskell edited Harry Mathews’s Collected Poems: 1946-2016, which was published by Sand Paper Press in February. Mathews (1930-2017) was an editor of the Paris Review and former board member of KWLS. Haskell continues to research Key West’s history of Black political activism and white violence; he recently presented a lecture, “Invisible Island: Key West and the K.K.K., 1921-1926,” at the College of the Florida Keys.


Scott Brennan‘s photo essay “Framed Sculptures” was published in the Winter 2020 issue of Contexts, a publication of the American Sociological Association; an interview and selections from his photo essay “Drive” were the Art Feature in issue 43.2 of the Journal; and his “The Sacred and the Profane” photo essay was published in Columbia Journal in May. (Emerging Writer Award 2013/ Billy Collins 2013)

Daniel Fitzpatrick‘s new translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy will be released in three parts leading up to Italy’s Dantedì celebration in March 2021, which marks 700 years since Dante’s death. Each canto will be illustrated by sculptor Timothy Schmalz. Subscribers may donate to receive two cantos in their inboxes weekly, with proceeds going to Italian hospitals beset by Covid19. (Gregory Pardlo 2020)

in memoriam

We are sad to report the death of Kimarlee Nguyen, 2017 Teacher & Librarian Scholarship winner. She died of the novel coronavirus on April 5 at age 33. Read about her accomplishments in the New York Times obituary.

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