Florida

The Literary Suburbs of Key West

This article originally appeared in Hayo Magazine

When my Lee suggested visiting Key West on our Florida holiday, I wasn’t all that excited. I mean, I hadn’t really heard of the place and didn’t know what was there.

It was only when I discovered its literary heritage, did I get excited. If you’re a book lover, I’d say this one of the most amazing places you can visit. Key West just oozes literary love affairs, starting with Hemingway. His house is in a prime location (and it’s massive!); the man had taste. It’s also fairly cheap to visit; a measly $13 entry and this includes an optional tour from one of the Hemingway house experts.

We walked into what was a blissfully cool building and were treated to the delights of posters, information placard and titbits about Hemingway’s life. There were tokens, quotes, and antique items everywhere, as well as hundreds of cats – maybe not hundreds, but at least twenty or more.

We walked through the different rooms and found a marvellous view of the gardens, the flowers, the cats (yes more cats) and the pool. It didn’t take long for us to make our way back outside amongst the tropical wildlife.

This complete circle finally brought us to Hemingway’s studio – the one place I was dying to visit. It was on the first floor of an outbuilding and didn’t disappoint.

The room was painted a simple white and had been frunished with a desk, a table and a few chairs, a couple of book cases and in the middle of it all was his typewriter.

We couldn’t go in the room, but instead gazed through the iron bars that protected these priceless artefacts from sticky fingers.

We finished touring the house, the studio, the gardens and made our way to the quaint little bookshop filled with Hemingway’s works. It took me ages to decide on which one to buy and in the end, I settled for To Have and To Have Not because something in the blurb mentioned Key West – I always like to buy a book set in the place I’m visiting.

The literary side of Key West doesn’t stop at Hemingway’s house and I believe there are in excess of twenty other literary icons that graced Key West with their presence over the years. If you’re a Hemingway lover then it may be worth a trip to Sloppy Joe’s on Duval Street, a favourite haunt of his.

For those of you wanting to pay homage to Hemingway and other great literature icons, you may be thrilled to discover that Tennessee Williams and Robert Frost both spent time on the island and you can see their homes too. Although, maybe you would prefer to take part in the Hemingway Day Celebration. The choice is yours.

For me, I had a very different mission. On a side street, not far from Duval Street is a little bookshop called Key West Island Bookstore. Going strong since 1973, I was keen to visit the little independent establishment and expand my collection for a second time that day.

From the outside, the store wasn’t anything special, in fact it was easy to miss. I asked for a recommendation for a local author and the woman behind the counter was only too happy to help.

For me, Key West was the most wonderful place I’ve ever visited. It had an amazing culture, beautiful scenery, stunning architecture and the best bit? It had enough literary titbits to keep me occupied for hours.

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