Between the Literary Seminar, a sailing boat race and with the winter influx of snowbirds the tiny city of Key West is currently stuffed to its eyeballs. Even my reliable parking spot behind the courthouse has been discovered, and I’m forced to putter on
searching for a free space, like a tourist.
I was lucky enough to have been made a gift of a pass to the Literary Seminar which was a thorough delight. Held in the old Cuban meeting hall on Duval Street the stage was decorated with scrims of Trompe-l'œil bookshelves and every seat in the house was occupied. This was the 31st annual Seminar with a theme of biographers and their subjects. The events were well attended with types come to soak up the bon mots of the participating luminaries, many in the crowd scribbling feverishly into notebooks on their laps.
I made a point of arriving as late as feasible and entering the darkened auditorium and stopping immediately just inside the heavy door. And from here, leaning against the back wall which was oddly padded and thus comfortable, I watched. It was decidedly impressive to listen and absorb the intelligence of these productive and prolific and earnest authors. Yet there was a coliseum feeling of observing terrified victims, even those who managed to appear poised but spoke too quickly or too low, telltale signs of nerves. I was so grateful it was not me up on that stage. Public engagements make me so nervous I miss most of everything. Here I could drink up every l
I listened more than I watched because shaggy heads of hair obscured my line of vision and I could not always see the
stage. My attention drifted when the whisperings of a group of women nearby invaded my mind. I shot them an evil look and they gasped and quietened, momentarily.
It kills me to admit this but a lot of the learned utterances were over my head, mentions of writers I’ve never heard of, let alone read. I felt woefully ignorant and vowed to study a lot more very soon.
My favorite moment was watching Edmund White, a luminary amongst luminaries. He was part of a quartet of writers there to discuss The Quest for the Ecstatic. They sat in high back chairs each with a microphone on a stand before them. The moderator introduced Ed White as the bishop of the proceedings whereupon Ed blessed the audience making everyone laugh. He was clearly not nervous at all and easily held us in sway with his every word. When for a second he couldn’t retrieve a thought fast enough he called it Ecstatic Senility, causing a ripple of mirth through the crowd. He wrapped it all up saying Genet was the Proust of the working classes. The applause was ecstatic.
And then the authors shuffled off the stage and the audience stayed motionless, possibly, like myself, they just didn’t want for the magical goings-on to end.