The Key West Literary Pantheon

Books and Books Key West

Celebrate the Key West Literary Pantheon

Books & Books @ The Studios of Key West honors Key West’s extraordinary literary legacy with the Key West Literary Pantheon, a frieze wrapping around the store above its bookshelves. The frieze celebrates the names of forty-four distinguished and nationally recognized authors, all of whom have lived and/or worked in our island paradise.

This amazing group includes eleven Pulitzer Prize winners (some multiple times), six National Book Award winners, and three winners of the prestigious Bollingen Poetry Prize.  These literary artists have drawn sustenance from the Key West muse which in some subtle way drew out creativity in a manner that an intellectual hot-bed like New York could not.

As James Leo Herlihy, author of Midnight Cowboy put it “The town excited …. I spent all my time exploring, walking the streets. The place was mysterious, funky, indescribably exotic. It had much of the charm of a foreign country, but you had the post office and the A&P and the phone worked, so life was easy.” John Dewey, perhaps the leading philosopher of the last century, confirmed “the mañana mood develops very easily here,” but it made words flow. William Gaddis heard it was a lazy retreat popular with artists and writers. Looking for a quiet place to finish the novel he was working on, he found the perfect shady porch to set up his rickety Olympia typewriter, completing the novel J R, a winner of the National Book Award for Fiction.

Perhaps the best explanation comes from David Kaufelt, founder of the Key West Literary Seminar: “I have a theory why we all live here.  It’s called the Peter Pan theory. Freud said that we are at our most creative when we are in our very early youth, before we’re five years old. That’s where we are here. We wear shorts, we ride bicycles, we have the water, a great symbol of the unconscious, and we’re free to be children here and let our spirits go. There’s nobody in suits and ties telling us what we have to do.”

Although our Pantheon is limited to deceased writers, there is no doubt that the Key West magic continues to this day. Among our current residents are many of equal stature: Pulitzer Prize
winners including Annie Dillard and Alison Lurie, National Book Award nominee Phyllis Rose, many members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters — including Anne Beattie, Joy Williams and Edmund White, the inestimable Laurent de Brunhoff, and Library of Congress Living Legend Judy Blume.

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