I made it to Florida! And, Key West was even better than I remembered it being when I was last there for the Key West Literary Seminar in 2017. First of all, the weather was perfect! It didn’t rain for more than 20 minutes the entire time we were there. Skies were a mixture of sun and clouds, and the temperatures hovered between 75-80 degrees each day. If it sounds like paradise to those of you in the single-digit Northern states, it was. And yes, I came back with a tan and a smile!
Hidden Beach (Vrbo) was awesome! We were on the second floor which meant a long flight of stairs to carry our luggage up but that was a small price to pay for two decks overlooking the ocean, a cathedral ceiling bedroom with a full bath (can you say ‘Calgon, take me away?’), a Keurig, a washer and dryer, and a well-equipped kitchen/dining area. Everything as travel blogger needed, and more.
The first thing I did after unpacking the essentials-groceries, wine, and bathing suits-was call Eaton Bikes to arrange for two Beach Cruisers to be delivered to our doorstep. Though we’d splurged on a red Mustang convertible at the Miami airport-ostensibly to blow all the air travel germs off us, but really because it made us feel extra sporty-take it from me, you do not want to drive in Key West unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Business first! Here’s how both writers and nonwriters can take advantage of the town’s literary scene in January. Bright and early Sunday morning, we rode our bikes over to the Key West Public Library on Fleming Street for the Old Town Key West Literary Walking Tour. For $30/person, a guided small group tour, inspired by David A. Kaufelt, the founder of the Key West Literary Seminar, is the perfect way to orient yourself while absorbing some juicy tidbits about the famous, and not-so-famous, writers that have called the island home throughout the years. Much more interactive than riding the Conch Train or focusing solely Hemingway’s house and the six-toed cats!
Our guide, Scott Burau, introduced himself by explaining he was a reader, not a writer but he certainly knew his stuff. He had stories to share about authors as diverse as Ralph Ellison, Wallace Stevens, and Judy Blume and poets such as Elizabeth Bishop, Shel Silverstein, and Jimmy Merrill. Even songwriters like Jimmy Buffet, with a recording studio in Key West got a mention!
According to our guide, to truly experience Key West you need to use all your senses while rambling up and down the picturesque streets. Here’s the link to an Ann Beattie piece he shared with us, an essay that captures at least a fraction of what you can expect to hear when you land in “Paradise” https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/03/05/welcome-to-paradise/
Later we stumbled (literally!) onto a sidewalk poem by Fran Decker about the colors of Key West.
Something I hadn’t heard about before was the “Florida Room” in the Key West Library. We were able to stop there briefly before heading home but there’s so many interesting documents, photos, and books about Key West stacked all over the numerous bookshelves and tables that you could easily spend days reading and talking to the staff.
The ultimate tribute to our guide was how much my husband (a nonreader) enjoyed the tour, something I made sure to share with Scott when we said our goodbyes.
Next up was the final program of the Key West Literary Seminar which is free and open to the public. This year, due to Covid, it was held outside in the Coffee Butler Amphitheater at the Truman Waterfront Park. I attended this solo and had a marvelous time listening to conversations between Eileen Myles and Colum McCann, followed by one with Edmund White with David McConnell. The event also featured an extremely entertaining reading of Victoria’s Secret, verse composed by one of the most popular American poets, Billy Collins. A fitting finale to a seminar entitled A Seminar Named Desire!
Key West truly is a paradise for those who love anything related to literature!