young writers studio

The Young Writers Studio is an exciting five-day writing program for local high school students.

Open to any student in Monroe County who will be starting their sophomore, junior, or senior year in the fall of 2018, the Young Writers Studio is for young people who want to become better writers, learn about themselves, and see their island home with fresh eyes. If you are curious about the history of Key West and want to find your voice as a writer, this program is for you!

The Young Writers Studio is free for all accepted applicants and is open to writers or would-be writers of all levels. Students who are homeschooled or from unconventional educational backgrounds are also encouraged to apply.

Click here to download a flyer you can print and share.

“Island in the Works” | June 25-29, 2018

Students will spend five full days exploring Key West and learning about authors who have lived and worked here, including Ernest Hemingway, Elizabeth Bishop, José Martí, and others. The program emphasizes journaling, close observation, and site-specific writing exercises, together with constructive feedback and group critique.

Daily classroom exercises will be paired with visits to local historic sites such the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum; and investigations of rare archival material at the Monroe County Public Library. Site-specific writing exercises will take participants from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, and as far west as Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortugas National Park during a special daylong excursion.

Each afternoon will feature a writing workshop led by esteemed visiting writer Victor LaValle. A former Guggenheim fellow and member of the writing faculty at Columbia University, LaValle’s most recent novel is The Changeling, which was selected as one of the ten best books of 2017 by USA Today and Time magazine.

Together with LaValle, a skilled and caring group of KWLS educators will support young writers as they explore the relationship between identity and place and discover the joys and challenges of the writing process.

The theme of our first Young Writers Studio references James Merrill’s poem, “Island in the Works.” Written from his Elizabeth Street home in the 1980s, the poem is rooted in natural phenomena and vernacular language that are distinctive to Key West. Full of observed imagery, a relish for language, and a great sense of humor, the poem represents the ethos of the Young Writers Studio.

How to Apply
Click here to apply via Submittable.

Write a letter to the Key West Literary Seminar:

  • Introduce yourself. Explain why you want to be part of this program. What makes you a great candidate? What in the description of Young Writers Studio intrigues you?
  • Describe your relationship to reading and writing. Please tell us what has been your favorite thing (novel, poem, short story, graphic novel, children’s book, anything) you have ever read and why.
  • Tell us about your relationship to Key West. What do you love about this area and landscape the most? Do you have a favorite place or a favorite aspect of life here?


  • Feel free to address these questions in whatever order makes the most sense to you and creates a logical flow.
  • Be yourself. Your letter should be casual and relaxed. Don’t be afraid to give us a sense of your personality and be completely honest.
  • Remember that detail, description, and sharing quick anecdotes or examples can help make your writing fun and relatable. Also remember that editing for typos and small errors helps show that you care and are trying to make the best first impression.

Your letter should be no more than 650 words (minimum 500 words), which is the standard maximum length for a college application essay. It will be good practice!

Click here to apply via Submittable.

Questions? Please email or call us at 305-293-9291.

About our Team

Kate Peters

Lead Teacher

Kate Peters is KWLS Education Coordinator and lead teacher for the Young Writers Studio. She teaches English at Saint Catherine’s School in Richmond, Virginia.


Arlo Haskell

Resident Historian

Arlo Haskell, photo by Nick DollArlo Haskell is executive director of the Key West Literary Seminar and author of The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar Makers, and Revolutionaries (1823-1969), which received the 2017 Florida Book Award. He lectures on Key West’s literary and cultural history, and has appeared at venues including the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Key West Art & Historical Society, and the Ernest Hemingway Seminar in Ketchum, Idaho. His appearances on film and television include documentaries for PBS and C-SPAN. A native of the Florida Keys, he is a graduate of Key West High School and Bard College and lives in Key West with his family.

Victor LaValle

Visiting Writer
Victor LaValle is an assistant professor in the writing department at Columbia University and the author, most recently, of The Changeling, selected as one of the ten best books of the year by USA Today and Time magazine. LaValle is also author of four other novels, a collection of short stories, and a comic book, Destroyer. His awards include a Whiting Award, a Ford Foundation Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a British World Fantasy Award, among others. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

Nick Vagnoni


Nick Vagnoni teaches writing classes at Florida International University, where he earned an MFA degree in creative writing in 2009. He also teaches poetry classes in prisons in Miami-Dade County through a program called Exchange for Change. He is a Key West native who graduated from Key West High School in 1999 and New College of Florida in 2004. His poetry has appeared in Columbia JournalMid-American Review, Terrain, and elsewhere. He is the coauthor of Forager: A Subjective Guide to Miami’s Edible Plants (Jai-Alai Books).

Young Writers Studio

The Young Writers Studio is funded in part by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as part of the Knight Arts Challenge.

Knight Foundation