KEI MILLER, MARLON JAMES, NICOLE DENNIS-BENN at the Key West Literary Seminar, January 13, 2018. INTRODUCTION BY JOSHUA JELLY-SCHAPIRO
Key West is a small island in the Straits of Florida with historic ties to nearby Havana, and an economy based in tourism. It’s famous for being the southernmost place in the continental United States, but thanks to the sundry Hemingways and Williamses and Judy Blumes who’ve lived here, it’s also known as a literary hub whose bookish heritage is fed, these days, by the Key West Literary Seminar—an annual gathering of writers brought here by the festival’s gracious patrons, each January, to enjoin a weekend of public conversations around a common theme. Usually that theme is something like “humor” or “historical fiction,” but in 2018 the seminar was for the first time organized around a geographic region—one whose kinship with Key West was plain. Under the heading “Writers of the Caribbean,” the Seminar convened a remarkable slew of bold-face names from Jamaica Kincaid and Edwidge Danticat to Marlon James, Leonardo Padura, and Tiphanie Yanique (plus a few interlopers, like myself and Teju Cole, whose ties to the region derive only from affinity), to discuss what in recent years has been hailed, as a growing number of Caribbean writers have won major prizes and an international readership, as a Caribbean literary renaissance.