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

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!

Open to any student in Monroe County who will be starting their sophomore, junior, or senior year in the fall of 2020, 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 equally encouraged to apply.

2020 Program Dates

June 22–26, 2020

Application Process

Applications will open in Spring of 2020 and will be reviewed on a rolling basis until the class is full.


Free for all accepted applicants.


Please email [email protected] or call us at 305-293-9291.

“Island in the Works” | June 22-26, 2020


Students will spend five full days exploring Key West and learning about great American authors who have lived and worked here, including Ernest Hemingway, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, and James Merrill. 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. Students will picnic and write beneath the pines at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, and investigate 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 into the dynamic natural landscape that has inspired countless writers.

Each afternoon will feature a writing workshop led by a distinguished visiting writer. Throughout the sessions, a skilled and caring group of KWLS faculty and special guests will support young writers as they explore the relationship between identity and place, and discover the joys and challenges of the writing process. Past visiting writers have included Victor LaValle and Nicole Dennis-Benn. More information about our core faculty can be found below.

The theme of the 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 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:

The application period will open in Spring of 2020. The following application guidelines are from the 2019 program and are provided for reference.

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!

You might also be interested in:

Our free personal-essay-writing workshop for young writers thinking about college: “Voice on Paper: The Art of the Personal Essay,” taking place June 29–July 3, 10:00–12:00 pm each day.

If you are also applying for the Young Writers Studio, you may use the same application letter for this program.


Past Visiting Writers

Arlo Haskell, Executive Director, photo by Nick Doll

Arlo Haskell


Arlo 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 gold medal for nonfiction. 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. In 2019, he was appointed Poet Laureate by the City of Key West.

Kate Peters, Education Coordinator

Kate Peters

Lead Teacher

Kate Peters is KWLS Education Coordinator and lead teacher for the Young Writers Studio. She has a bachelor’s degree from Bard College and a master’s degree from the University of Richmond. She teaches English at Saint Catherine’s School in Richmond, Virginia.

Nick Vagnoni


Nick Vagnoni teaches writing at Florida International University, where he earned an MFA 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).

Nicole Dennis Benn

Nicole Dennis-Benn

Distinguished Visiting Writer 2019

Nicole Dennis-Benn’s debut novel Here Comes the Sun (2016) was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and an NPR Best Book for 2016. Her second novel, Patsy (2019) was an Oprah Magazine Best Book of 2019 and a Time Magazine 100 Must-Read Books of 2019. Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Dennis-Benn she is a graduate of Cornell University and holds a master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan, as well as an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Dennis-Benn has taught at the University of Pennsylvania and NYU and in the Creative Writing Program at Princeton University.

Victor LaValle

Distinguished Visiting Writer 2018

Victor LaValle is an assistant professor in the writing department at Columbia University and the author, most recently, of The Changeling (2017), 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.

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

Lodging support is generously provided by the Marquesa Hotel.