After reading Jack L. Roberts’ The Writers Compound, a book about four Key West writers, I became curious how many National Register Literary Landmarks were in Florida and I discovered that 33% of Florida’s sites are found in one town – key West.
The island city is still Florida’s best place to visit if you are a writer or a lover of books.
I do suggest that there are places which you should visit elsewhere, such as: Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Cross Creek country house surrounded by the living pages of her books The Yearling and Cross Creek; Zora Neale Hurston’s Eatonville; and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’ cottage in South Coconut Grove in Miami.
The Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Cottage
But Key West became the winter refuge for writers and poets and dramatists after Ernest Hemingway set up shop in 1931. Back then in the Depression the rundown Conch City was a funky, inexpensive, social community that tended to accept the unusual and the non-conformist.
Heck – when Florida seceded from the Union, Key West seceded from the Confederacy!
The Hemingway House Captures The Writer
Ernest Hemingway’s Home and Museum at 907 Whitehead House attracts thousands of writers and readers every year. The town even has an annual Ernest Hemingway lookalike contest. Hemingway did not write any of his best novels here, but the beauty of this place is you see his workplace, his pool, his bathroom, his kitchen.
His bed always has a sleeping cat or two. In fact, visitors spend a lot of time looking for cats with deformed toes. This is one tourist spot where stray animals find a welcomed home.
The Tennessee Williams Cottage
Hemingway attracted many to Key West but none but important than Tennessee Williams who finished Streetcar and other plays here. His cottage is at 1431 Duncan Street and there is a Tennessee Williams museum at 513 Truman Avenue. Fanatics claim you can stay at his hotel room at the La Concha Hotel at 430 Duval Street.
It is not a shock that the local theater named after him often has a Tennessee Williams play. It may be more of a surprise Williams was baptized as a Catholic at St. Marys Church.
The Windsor Lane Compound has 11 cottages
There are actually many cottages and shanties that have recruited writers and artists over the years, but the Windsor Lane Compound, a complex of some eleven little cottages is the most famous. John Hersey’s cottage is here as are places where Ralph Ellison (The Invisible Man), poet John Wilbur, and writer John Ciardi were neighbors.
Poetry lovers will want to see Robert Frost’s winter cottage at 410 Caroline Street. It’s behind what was once the Heritage House museum. Now private property – I heard you could possibly rent the Frost place for your own literary vacation.
I found this on Tripadvisor
624 White Street was the home of poet Elizabeth Bishop when she wasn’t roaming the globe. While people will track down all of Hemingway’s drinking spots, you might want to visit the Key West Public Library where some modern writers hang out.
I would be amiss if I didn’t tell you to visit the 1890 San Carlos Institute at 516 Duval Street. It is here at the center of Key West’s Cuban Revolution against Spain that poet and revolutionary leader Jose Marti made many visits. Inside there is a wonderful Marti statue by Manuel Carbonell.
Jimmy Buffett may have left the scene to build huge resorts but don’t be surprised to see a writer like Judy Blume going to the local grocery.
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