by Barb Ross, who’s back in New England but is offering one last Key West post
On Saint Patrick’s Day, Bill and I went on a Key West literary walking tour, along with author Lucy Burdette and several friends. Key West is rich in literary luminaries, the only city other than New York and LA to have seven Pulitzer prize winners living there simultaneously. The best known Key West authors are Ernest Hemingway, who lived there from 1931 to 1940 and whose house at 907 Whitehead Street is a museum, and Tennesse Williams who who started visiting Key West in 1941 and purchased a home there in 1950, which he owned until his death in 1983. There is a permanent exhibit in his honor.
But the point of this tour was to find some lesser known author homes, first apartments in the city, private homes, and so on. The tour guide, Sarah Thomas, did a great job marching her twelve charges around the streets full of Saint Patrick’s Day revelers.
Shel Sliverstein,was an artist, songwriter, and author of the children’s classics, A Light in the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and The Giving Tree, (a particular favorite of my children). He later bought a home on William Street, but his first apartment was on Caroline Street. Jimmy Buffet wrote the song, “Woman Gone Crazy on Caroline St,” about Silverstein’s landlady.
Author Tom McGuane came to Key West in the crazy 1970s. Best known at that point for the novel, Ninety-Two in the Shade, he also directed the movie starring starring Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Margot Kidder and Harry Dean Stanton. I’ll let the Tampa Bay Times explain what happened next, since I can’t keep it straight.
He divorced his wife, Becky, and she ran off with both lead actors in Ninety-Two, Warren Oates and Peter Fonda. (She was married to Fonda for 35 years.) McGuane had a wild and public affair with actor Elizabeth Ashley, who made their romance even more public when she documented nearly every act of coitus in a memoir. While that affair continued, he fell in love with the film’s young starlet, Margot Kidder, whom he eventually married. That marriage ended quickly, and McGuane fell in love with his best friend’s, [Jimmy Buffett’s] sister. Decades of sobriety and artistic maturity followed. [He and Laurie Buffett McGuane are still married.]
Author Judy Blume is a current resident of Key West. She and her husband were instrumental in creating the Books and Books store in the Studios of Key West and they often volunteer there. Our tour guide said that recently when she was in the store a customer approached Judy Blume for a recommendation of a book for a thirteen year-old girl, having no idea…
Before they bought their house in Key West, Ernest Hemingway and his wife Pauline stayed in this apartment over the Ford Dealership while they waited for their new car to be delivered to Key West. Hemingway finished A Farewell to Arms there in 1928.
Robert Frost spent part of sixteen winters in this cottage on the grounds of the home of Jessie Porter, a native Key Wester, hostess and preservationist who often entertained literary figures including Wallace Stevens, Archibald MacLeish, and Thornton Wilder. Frost wrote his famous poem, “The Gift Outright,” which he read that the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in the cottage. If you need the inspiration, you can rent it from AirBnB.
I’ve given you only a taste of the tour, which, of necessity, can barely touch the surface of Key West authors. I’ve left out Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Wilbur, John Ciardi, John Hersey, and Ralph Ellison, among so many others.
But by that time on Saint Patrick’s Day evening, the crowd was looking like this:
And it was time to move on.
[All photos in this post are by Bill Carito. If you like them and want to see more, you can friend him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bcarito and follow him on Instagram at @billcarito and @bill.carito.colorphotos.]