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This humble blog was started to document our travels around the country during the summer of 2006, We have opted to continue updating it due to the requests from family & friends. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

“A short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.”- Stephen King

January 10, 2016

 photo 445_zps2uekdlmu.jpg Kevin Young 

 photo 627_zpsyo64qn0s.jpg Dan Menaker

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 photo 595_zpsitra8pzn.jpg Mia,Jamie, Ian, Junot and Arlo

“A short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.”- Stephen King

The thirty-fourth annual Key West Literary Seminar kicked in to high gear on Friday, with a full day of presentations at the historic San Carlos Institute. A collection of twenty of the finest writers in America working in the short format which includes short stories, poems, essays and articles had come to Key West at the invitation of the program committee of the 2015 seminar led this year by Cynthia Crossen and Judith Gaddis. They did a fabulous job in securing a wonderful line-up of writers that included this year Hilton Als, Molly Antopol, Ann Beattie, Billy Collins, Junot Diaz,Gish Gen,Victor LaVelle, Yiyun Li, Kelly Link, Harry Mathews, Thomas McGuane,Daniel Menaker,Antonya Nelson, Claudia Rankine, Ron Rash,Karen Russell, Jim Shepard, Brad Watson, Joy Williams and Kevin Young.

 photo 398_zps1ayazis1.jpg Dan Menaker and Ann Beattie

 photo 554_zpsldam7ue2.jpg Tom McGunae

 photo 532_zps0t8ri3o5.jpg Karen Russell

 photo 520_zpsedweufd3.jpg Cynthia Crossen

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The seminar features a number of different formats as far as what is heard from the stage, with readings, panel discussions, moderated and unmoderated conversations and presentations about the nature of the subject matter by individual writers. This keeps things fresh and interesting for those in attendance and allows the subject of the seminar to expand and grow as the event goes along.

 photo 442_zpsz8fzpokn.jpg Claudia Rankine

 photo 501_zps3yb7lcak.jpg Victor LaVelle

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Hopefully by the time the weekend concludes, attendees have been treated to an immersion in short stories that they would never get from the average literary event. The fact that the writers spend so much time mingling and interacting with the audience is rare as well and we feel that attendees get a special experience that goes somewhat beyond simply writers and their readers.

 photo 602_zpsqxmxrhqh.jpg KWHS student Hannah and Junot Diaz

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This year, for the first time in ages, we also sent one of the writers, Junot Diaz, over to Key West High School to give a presentation directly to AP English students. What an amazing opportunity for those students as Diaz is a great representative who can at once relate to and inspire the young students. In spite of his use of some salty language that made the principal and a few administrators nervous, Diaz really connected with many of the students. Some of whom even came to attend sessions on their own later in the weekend. It was so awesome to be able to connect directly with students in this way. Kudos to Mrs. Ford and everyone at KWHS, Junot Diaz for not just agreeing but suggesting this and the KWLS staff and Kate Peters especially for arranging this event.

 photo 419_zpsuicff2mw.jpg Ann Beattie

 photo 589_zpsxc6b0hew.jpg Junot Diaz and Gish Jen

 photo 575_zpsdhjmmjw3.jpg Junot, Alex and Jenni

 photo 540_zpsheztmepv.jpg Jim Shepard

Back at the seminar, Friday was a full day that began with Antonya Nelson discussing “Write What You Know” and featuring an incredible discussion with Karen Russell, Joy Williams and Tom McGuane and readings from Ron Rash, Jim Shepard and Molly Antopol and discussions with Gish Jen, Ann Beattie, Dan Menaker, Claudia Rankine and Kevin Young. There is something so powerful about hearing writers read their own work and the discussions are always so casual and interesting that it feels like the audience is sitting at a small table over coffee listening in to a private conversation between gifted artists.

 photo 426_zpsq3rn7khb.jpg Claudia Rankine & Kevin Young

 photo 379_zpsmpdizeuc.jpg Karen Russell

 photo 585_zpsfmqusihe.jpg Junot Diaz

During each break, the writers do book signings for the audience, who purchase books from the on-site temporary bookstore set up by Books and Books from Miami. Once again the wonderful founder of Book and Books, Mitchell Kaplan was on hand to see how things were going. I see Mitch each year at my other favorite literary event, The Miami Book Fair that he helped found as well, but here I get to spend a bit more time talking with him as he is slightly less busy. Mitch knows almost all of the writers personally and many are his good friends like Tom McGuane and his family so it makes for some fun reunions to witness.

 photo 617_zpseqqabxr0.jpg Tom McGuane and Mitch Kaplan

 photo 619_zps9jeibehe.jpg Mitch and the McGuane family.

 photo 492_zpsfh3om5ct.jpg Yiyun Li, Billy Collins and Victor LaVelle

 photo 510_zpsvbvgrvwx.jpg Jenni and Betty

For the first time that I can recall, we did not schedule any official function on Friday evening, giving the attendees the opportunity to enjoy an evening in Key West and perhaps a meal that is not catered. For the staff, speakers, board and other special guests, Friday night has been the time for one of the most secret, interesting and eclectic private parties in Key West each year as the iconic Key West figure David Wolkowsky hosts a party in his roof-top apartment overlooking Duval Street. Almost all of the writers attend as do many of Key West’s most interesting people including writers, artists and special guests. It is always to me one of the highlights of the weekend and just a special occasion due to the uniqueness of the host, the location and the guest list. I feel so fortunate that I have been able to attend all these years and want to thank Mr. Wolkowsky for being such a gracious host yet again.

 photo 637_zpslajbmqkm.jpg Dan Menaker

 photo 573_zpsyfayph9n.jpg John and Junot

It was a great start to the seminar and one that I really felt very proud to be a part of. Thanks so much to Arlo, Lindsay, Ian and the amazing team they assembled, my fellow Board Members, the writers in attendance,  Raquel, Mitch, Mia and everyone at Books & Books, the wonderful crew of volunteers that worked for me this year, to Jack Farley, Alex and the San Carlos Institute, Doug Mack and most of all my lovely wife Kathy. The KWLS is truly a team effort and it is no small feat to pull off such a fantastic event.

 photo 552_zpselz2xqnx.jpg Arlo and Tom McGuane

 photo 625_zpsmtzsnc79.jpg Jim Gleick and Dan Menaker

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 photo 616_zpsqxlphx8d.jpg Karen Russell, Doug and Jim Shepard

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