The Literary Figures of Key West
Beneath the touristy exterior of Key West’s bars, beaches, restaurants and sunset celebrations lies a subtler culture of literary residents and visitors. For decades, the island has enjoyed a long tradition of luring artists, poets, authors and playwrights to its bohemian setting. It has been home – or at least home away from home – to dozens of literary types who are drawn to some combination of its geographic remoteness, gentle pace, tropical atmosphere and lighthearted mood, not to mention its enduring reputation for a bawdy lifestyle and no shortage of characters existing on the fringes of society.
There is no shortage of Pulitzer Prizes, Tony Awards, Poet Laureates, Nobel Prizes for Literature and National Book Awards won by authors belonging to Key West’s impressive literary history. Robert Frost, Tennessee Williams, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Wilbur, Judy Blume and an array of other brilliant writers are counted amongst the luminaries who have spent time on the island. A number of characters who appear in novels, poems and even song lyrics have been plucked from Key West’s streets and from the cafes and bars.
To further cement the prominent literary relationship, the island is home to the Key West Literary Seminar, an annual public symposium established in 1983 that draws together a diverse troupe of writers speaking on a common theme. The Key West Writers Guild exists to promote, critique and provide workshops while the Key West Poetry Guild meets once a month with an open mic forum allowing for presentation of poet reading from new and established poets. Other annual literary events on the island include Hemingway Days, the Tennessee Williams Birthday Celebration and the Mystery Writers Fest.
This exhibit assembles several of the writers who have found the tranquil and accepting character of Key West a perfect place to pen their novels, tomes, plays and poems. While the exhibition is enlightening, it is by no means entirely comprehensive. Instead, the aim is to present a cross-section of authors that span many genres and time periods. The exhibit also serves as a springboard for discovering other authors and recognizing the island’s cultivation of inspired works.
(The writers included in this exhibition are but a few of the scores who have either lived in, visited or wrote about Key West. We acknowledge there are many more writers who are not featured in this exhibition)