I’ve lived in Key West for 2 and a half years but this weekend attended my third Key West Literary Seminar. I somehow managed to secure the coveted position of volunteer immediately upon landing here, a stroke of luck, for sure, as this position gives me free entry into the event. (The Seminar is ridiculously expensive with registration selling out in minutes, yes, minutes—a problem having to do with patronage that has no clear or immediate solution). I was not completely onboard with this year’s theme, Under the Influence: Archetype and Adaptation, primarily because I know little regarding the classics, the Greeks, Shakespeare, the Bible, nor have I paid particular attention to their influence. My literary knowledge is sub-par. But within the marvelous broad stroke of author/panelists (diverse but heavily female), assembled with extreme expertise and consideration by the KW literary team, was a treasure trove of imagination that went far beyond adaptation, that reshaped archetypes as far as genius and respect for original works allowed. It was awesome—even though I sadly missed chunks of this awesomeness. The elite tourists that come to the seminar are the customers at my place of work and it’s all hands on deck. Although my volunteer status could get me into just about any event, my financial status prohibits total immersion.
I can’t touch on every panelist nor every topic (visit kwls.org), but visiting royalty included Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Geraldine Brooks, Emily Wilson, Michael Mewshaw, Victor LaValle. Atwood possessed an unexpected and snarky humor, Emily Wilson possessed the voice and presence of a rock star, Oates’ reading was gruesome, Mewshaw on Pat Conroy was revealing and tender. Unknown to me (although I’m now a big fan of both) was cartoonist, novelist and Marvel Comic writer, Eric Shanower and Key West resident, Meg Cabot, author of Princess Diaries (and slutty novels under a pen name that she did not immediately reveal—who knew?). Topics or works touched on included The Odyssey, The Wizard of Oz, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Aquaman (Atwood’s spin on Aquaman was fabulous), Cinderella, slavery, women as minor characters, as major characters, along with influential references from the New Testament to Jane Eyre to DC Comics and fan fiction. My take away from this breadth of talent—there are new stories to be told, stories that burn within the stories we already know or think we know, there are a thousand voices yet to be heard—all for the writer to grab and wring out every single word that he or she can imagine.
But beyond the spoken word, beyond the brilliance, is the combined influence of these contemporary, master authors and the theater effect—the act of sitting and listening to purposeful voices in a dark and quiet space that is mesmerizing, an actual high, a journey that one was not prepared for. It’s like going to the movies on a summer afternoon and you step outside after the show and get smacked by the sun. You’re disoriented, confused perhaps about what you just witnessed, heard or felt. That disorientation times 10 is the Literary Seminar—it’s holding your breath, it’s an enormous ah-ha, crying, laughter, it’s an event that makes you think about things you have never thought about, an event that leads you to ask, “What was that? What just happened in there?” Genius at work.
While the Key West Literary Seminar is cost prohibitive for many, they offer a variety of scholarship and program opportunities for students, teachers and young writers, workshops that follow the Seminar for advanced and beginning writers, and lectures that are free and open to the public.