The 2019 Key West Literary Seminar has come and gone. It was a good one. A great one, in my highly subjective opinion. I was the program chair and the theme was my proposal - born from the plethora of reboots and adaptations like the Hogarth Shakespeare and Austen Project series. Though it changed a lot from my initial conception to its reality on stage - because of the input of committee members, and more. And made it better. I expected more Shakespeare - and was surprised at so much Tempest and so little Lear - and at least some Austen. And all that Homer/classical/Greek mythology stuff! Did not really see that coming, but was so incredibly glad it did.
Highlights? Hard to name any specific sessions because I enjoyed every single one (though if you forced me, I’d name the one pictured above, with Valerie Martin, Emily Wilson and Margaret Atwood, moderated expertly by Kate Tuttle).
Instead I’ll just brag on, I mean celebrate a couple things I REALLY ENJOYED about the Seminar:
It wound up feeling very woman-centric - and this was NOT by design and, indeed, partially due to the unplanned absence of four men who had been invited and accepted but later dropped out (John Banville, Colm Toibîn, Daniel Mendelsohn and Marlon James). I guess we replaced them with women but that wasn’t an intentional course. Margaret Atwood set the tone with her brilliant, bespoke keynote - not an off-the-shelf speech like we’ve seen occasionally delivered in that space. And I’m especially glad that this wasn’t a Seminar organized around WOMEN and archetypes and influence - it was just archetype and influence, with a bunch of really smart women to talk about it. And a couple of smart men, too.
The Seminar audience got its first exposure in this space to graphic novels and fan fiction. Graphic novels was intentional and Eric Shanower knocked it out of the park with a really detailed, fascinating talk about his work process in putting together his epic, ongoing Age of Bronze series about the Trojan War. Coolest aspect of that, in some ways? No gods! It’s all humans, doing horrible things to each other, but without supernatural meddling. We’ve talked for a long time about including graphic novels, and even doing a whole Seminar on the subject. I have always advocated for incorporating them into the theme as another form or genre in literature, and I hope we will continue to do so. As far as fan fiction - Naomi Novik started out writing Star Trek: The Next Generation fan fiction. I asked her about it in a panel and it just took off - since most of the audience members had never heard of such a thing and their minds seemed to be blown by the concept. I am NOT advocating for a Seminar on fan fiction, and I don’t think you should feel compelled to seek it out if it’s not your thing. But it is a huge avenue of writing and reading for a LOT of people and I’m glad we acknowledged its existence.
For the most part, the Seminar was a politics-free zone. Again, not intentional but what a blessed relief. Our current political state did come up, tangentially, on Sunday morning after Joyce Carol Oates’ short story reading and Kevin Young’s talk about Bunk. But it wasn’t a focus and it didn’t get brought into every conversation and it was just SO NICE to hear and think and talk about literature and books and not have every single thing come around again to THAT. Kind of like that period after Hurricane Irma when we were off the grid - but less traumatic. And much more comfortable, temperature- and running-water-availability-wise.
Not-so-humblebrag: Of all the books that got name-checked a lot during this Seminar, D’Aulaires’ books of Greek and Norse myths probably topped the list. And I was the first to get there (in my intro Friday morning). They really are great, and obviously influential in the lives of a lot of people. I bought a copy of the Norse myths a few years ago when they reissued it with a new introduction by Michael Chabon. I may have to seek out a copy of the Greek myths for myself, too. Maybe after I finish Mythos by Stephen Fry, a book I highly recommend though I don’t think it’s available in the U.S. - I stumbled across it in the Stockholm airport during a layover on our way home last fall.