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David Kaufelt, Founder Of Key West Literary Seminar, Dies At 74

(Note: Mark Hedden's wife is on the board of the Key West Literary Seminar.)

David Kaufelt died Saturday at home in Key West.

He and his wife Lynn arrived from New York four decades ago. David was a writer and wanted to be surrounded by more writers. Several others already made the island their home, but Kaufelt had an idea to make Key West into a true literary destination, not just for people interested in the legacies of Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, but for living, breathing writers too. 

They said, nobody in Florida even reads, and they certainly don't buy books.

So he tried to convince a group of New York publishers to send several A-list writers south to speak in the Council for Florida Libraries lecture series. 

"The publishers weren't interested. According to David, they said, 'Nobody in Florida even reads, and they certainly don't buy books,' " says Arlo Haskell, associate director of the Key West Literary Seminar. "David knew that wasn't the case, and he said, 'We've got enough writers in Key West to do it ourselves. We don't need you guys. We're just going to do it.' "

And so, 30 years ago the Key West Literary Seminar was born, and it has been drawing those A-list writers ever since, including Calvin Trillin, Amy Tan, Derek Walcott, Margaret Atwood and Judy Blume. When the seminar gets underway again in January, it'll be the first time Kaufelt's not there. 

Credit Courtesy of Littoral, the Key West Literary Seminar blog.
Courtesy of Littoral, the Key West Literary Seminar blog.
David Kaufelt on Sugarloaf Key, c. 1983. He was partial to linen suits and wild shoes.

Kaufelt reveled in Key West, not just its literary scene he did so much to build. He loved the way life is lived here.

In a 1990 Florida Public Radio piece, he explained it this way: "Freud said that we are at our most creative when we are in our very early youth, before we're 5 years old. That's where we are here. We wear shorts, we ride bicycles, and we're surrounded by pirates -- they're cocaine pirates, but they're still pirates. We have the water -- a great symbol of the unconscious. And we're free to be children here and let our spirits go. There's nobody in suits and ties telling us what we have to do or making us feel guilty."

The Key West Literary Seminar blog, Littoral, remembers David Kaufelt here

Listen to the complete 1990 Florida Public Radio profile of David Kaufelt, including his walking tour.

Alicia Zuckerman is Editorial Director at WLRN, where she edits narrative and investigative audio journalism. In 2020, she was named Editor of the Year by the Society of Professional Journalists Florida chapter.
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