A Q and A with “Voices, Places, Inspirations” Event Co-Creator Carol Shaughnessy
The annual Hemingway Days Festival celebrates the legend known for fishing, carousing, and an innovative writing style that shook the world and continues to reverberate today. “Voices, Places, Inspirations” spotlights that remarkable literary legacy with its annual free-admission evening of readings, presentations, and storytelling of local, national, and international contemporary writers on Wednesday, July 18 from 7:30-9:00pm, presented by Key West Art & Historical Society at Key West Lighthouse and Keepers Quarters, 938 Whitehead Street.
The Society caught up with Hemingway Days Festival volunteer organizer and “Voices, Places, Inspirations” event co-creator Carol Shaughnessy (who is also the right-hand woman to Newman PR, the public relations agency for the Monroe County Tourist Development Council) to find out just what keeps this 38-year-old festival and the voices, places, inspiration (and audience!) within it going strong.
KWAHS: What made Key West an inspirational place for Hemingway and helped support and encourage his own voice?
CS: Key West really fed his exuberance for life. He was fascinated by the kind of gritty, hard-scrabbled lifestyle that he found here, and the people that lived it, and many of them turned up as inspiration for characters in “To Have and To Have Not,” his only novel set in the United States. I think that says something about how highly he regarded the community. He made lifelong friends here. He engaged in a deep passion for sportfishing that continued long after he left, and scholars say that it was the most prolific period of his career. What he found here really played a role in shaping his life, and many, many writers have come here hoping some of the magic would rub off on them.
KWAHS: How do you find authors for “Voices, Places, Inspiration?” What is the criteria?
CS:“Voices, Places, Inspiration” has always sought authors with unique, distinctive, meaningful voices. That’s been as important as what they are saying. The freshness, the intensity, the literary voice that’s unforgettable. We’ve had some amazing authors: Mark Childress who wrote “Crazy in Alabama,” Tom Corcoran, Randy Wayne Wright have read many times. Randy meets all the criteria, it was always right to have him. Mandy Miles, who chronicles today’s Key West in a light-hearted yet wry way. She is absolutely an audience favorite. Jeffrey Cardenas read lyrical descriptions of the Keys’ natural world. This year’s fantastic lineup features Hemingway’s great-granddaughter Cristen Hemingway Jaynes, Brewster Chamberlin, Kirk Curnutt, Brian Gordon Sinclair, and Chuck Ball.
KWAHS: How do you feel about this event being at the Lighthouse this year and the second year of Hemingway Days Festival collaborations with The Society?
CS: The lighthouse is the perfect location because it is directly across the street from the Hemingway house and was a beacon for him when returning home late at night. In terms of The Society, I’m beyond delighted that they are increasingly behind the Hemingway Days’ literary and cultural events. It’s a perfect fit because of The Society’s huge collection of Hemingway memorabilia and scholarship that it does. The Society is deeply enmeshed in the cultural community of Key West, and Hemingway Days is about supporting and continuing that community, so it couldn’t be a better fit. And they are enlarging the festival’s cultural content increasingly each year they’re involved. This is great.
KWAHS: In addition to spearheading efforts with the festival, are there other ways that you are connected to Hemingway?
CS: To be rather mystical, I think every writer who loves Key West is connected to Hemingway. And, I, too, am a cat lover.
KWAHS: You’ve been volunteering with the festival for 20 years. What keeps the momentum going for you?
CS: I love the fact that they encourage emerging writers, that the Hemingway lookalikes have set up a scholarship fund, giving away over $100k to Florida Keys students. It’s a very little-known aspect of Hemingway Days. These guys are dedicated to supporting students that Hemingway would have had an interest in. There’s a lot of incredible good that the festival does— in benefitting nonprofits, providing validation for writers who perhaps have not had a touchstone to say, “my work matters,” the scholarships— all of that really resonates with me. Key West has given me an incredible, rich life, perhaps in the ways it gave to Hemingway. And when you get, you give back. That’s how it works. Being involved in something that supports Key West heritage and supports writers and Key West students…to me, that matters.
“Voices, Places, Inspiration,” hosted by Shaughnessy and husband and former film producer David Koontz, includes a “meet-the-authors” reception and book signing. For more information and to register for any of The Society’s Hemingway Days events visit kwahs.org and click “tickets.” Advance registration is suggested. Your Museums. Your Community. It takes an Island.