Thursday, March 20, 2014

Key West literary tour

Key West may be known more for its bars, Jimmy Buffett and Fantasy Fest, but it is actually something of a literary center, despite the fact the island has but one bookstore. Apparently people go to Key West to write books, not to read them.

This week I've been staying at the La Concha Hotel, where Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire. Down the street a few blocks I visited the house where Ernest Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms and To Have and Have Not, the latter a story set in Key West.

Other writers who have lived in Key West (or still do) include Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, John Dos Passos, Elizabeth Bishop, Annie Dillard, Gore Vidal, Judy Blume, Shel Silverstein, Robert Stone, Alison Lurie, Truman Capote, Ann Beattie, Philip Caputo, Richard Wilbur, John Hershey, Ralph Ellison, Thomas McGuane and many others. Even Jimmy Buffett has written a few books here.

I really don't know how anyone could concentrate long enough to write a book in Key West, with all the tourists, temptations and crowing roosters that run loose everywhere, including the restaurants.

This may be more a writer's paradise than a reader's paradise, but probably the best-read American president loved Key West. Harry S. Truman visited 11 times during his presidency and several more times afterward. I visited the Little White House this afternoon and saw many of the books he read during his Key West retreats. He read just about everything, but Bess preferred Agatha Christie.

Truman once said, "not all readers will be leaders, but all leaders must be readers." If only that we're true we might have more leaders like Truman.

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