Key West’s Literary Seminar: “Each day my mind expanded into the possibilities of what I could become if I continued to practice my craft.”

by Arida Wright…….

The 36th Annual Key West Literary Seminar was held here Jan. 11-14, 2018. I was blessed to attend the Writers’ Workshop held Jan. 15-19, 2018 through a scholarship a writer friend helped me apply for. The experience was totally transforming.

Their theme this year was Writers of the Caribbean and according to the President, Diane Shelby, “They paid tribute to the rich literary tradition of our Caribbean neighbors and kin.” This event sold out in twenty minutes last year.

Before I moved to Key West twenty years ago, I was very much aware of the Seminar and the famous writers who lived and wrote here. It was part of what drew me to want to live and write here.

I fell in love with the creative environment that thrives on this island among writers, musicians, artists and actors. But it was through the Seminar that I learned of the rich literary and cultural history of Key West.

The mission of the Key West Literary Seminar is to promote the understanding of important literary works and their authors, support new American voices and preserve Key West’s literary heritage while providing resources for readers and writers around the world.

Some of the prestigious writers that spoke from the Caribbean were Jamaica Kincaid, Andre’ Alexis, Robert Antoni, Madison Smartt Bell, Teju Cole and many others.

The executive director of the KWLS is Arlo Haskell who was born and raised in Key West and grew up with the Seminar. He recently published his first work of nonfiction, The Jews of Key West: Smugglers, Cigar Makers and Revolutionaries (1823-1969).

BP: How does KWLS let the people of Key West know about what is happening with the Seminar?

ARLO: We place press releases in all the local papers. A week before the Seminar I will go on US1 Radio and talk about what is happening but the most important thing we depend on is word of mouth from the local people.

BP: How does KWLS let the world know about the Seminar?

ARLO: We have a mailing list with 5,000 to 6,000 people on it that we send out to. We list in the NY Times, Poets and Writers and other mainstream publications but mostly again through word of mouth.

BP: How do you find the prestigious presenters that come to speak?

ARLO: We read books, we ask publishers and we ask other presenters who they would want to invite.

BP: How do you find the teachers for the Writers Workshop program?

ARLO: We look to see what books they have written and we ask for recommendations from former students.

BP: Is there anything you would like the readers of The Blue Paper to know?

ARLO: We hope that local people who live in Key West will apply for a workshop. We offer 20-25 scholarships to Teachers and Librarians. We are all about diversifying and building. We offer a free Sunday afternoon session at the San Carlos and the public is also invited to come listen to Craft Talks as part of the Seminar.

For the Writers’ Workshop program some of the teachers were Billy Collins, Manuel Gonzales, Naomi Jackson, Joy Williams, Kate Moses and others.

The classes covered the genres of writing novels, short stories, poetry, comic writing and autobiographies. “Writers of all levels meet in small groups with esteemed faculty to share their work and explore the craft of writing,” states KWLS literature.

I was assigned to Manuel Gonzales’ short story class and our focus was on beginnings and endings. There I met my tribe in my fellow classmates. Taking that class made me feel like all my days on the planet had never mattered and all that mattered was what was happening in the moment in that class.

Hour by hour, day by day I retrieved parts of myself that I had discarded along life’s journey. The feeling of meeting my true self, the self that I was destined to be was pertinent. A merging of two selves, one false, one true and there in that class, they met in the middle.

Each day my mind expanded into the possibilities of what I could become if I continued to practice my craft. What I seem to do so naturally actually has terminologies and literary descriptions. I could only get better from here.

Here is life without the training wheels and mom or dad has pushed you off to experience the ride for the first time. At first you don’t know if you are going to fall but slowly you learn to trust your balance even though there is no one there to catch you.

Soon you and the bike take flight and real life begins. A purpose driven life, a focused life, a reason for being surfaces. Reconciliation for all the years the false self has stood in your place and walked and talked for you. Now you no longer need it because you have learned to ride.

The true self emerges because the process of submitting your work to a group of strangers in an intimate setting makes you feel vulnerable, naked and exposed. This is possible because there is no judgement and much adoration for the effort that is put forth to create a story. Story telling runs in my family on my mom’s side and so I am carrying out a legacy that exists in my DNA

The feeling is like the phrase Bob Marley coined, “Catch A Fire” and that is exactly what happened to me in my class as my story was discussed and I began to cry and the peeling away of the false self was exorcised in front of my tribe.

At some unprecedented moment during the Seminar I crossed the threshold from “I write” to “I am a writer”. I was being carried over from my grave where I was buried by all my untruths. As the real truth unearthed through the dirt, there I was standing, finally allowed to take my first breath of air into my lungs as my being expanded again and again.

As I settle into my newfound self since the Seminar, it has been a rocky road. The joy of soaring with your true self vs. the sorrow of how long you have suffered under the tyranny of the false self becomes evident.

The false self does not want to give up the reign so easily so the true self expands again and attempts to lay itself down in the new soil but it comes up against rocks and weeds of uncertainty and disbelief.

Perhaps the two selves will play bumper cars in the days and weeks to come until finally the false self fades away and the gift of being at the Seminar emerges front and center.

General Registration for the 37th Annual Key West Literary Seminar entitled UNDER THE INFLUENCE Archetype and Adaptation from Homer to the Multiplex January 10-13, 2019 will open at 11:00 am on Tuesday, February 6, 2018. Tickets will be sold on a first come, first sold basis at KWLS.ORG/REGISTER. Their number is (305) 293-9291.

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