The Unique Literary Legacy of Key West

From Tennessee Williams to Truman Capote, America’s southernmost point has long been a haven for creatives

Steffany Ritchie

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Hemingway’s house in Key West, a two story mansion painted pale green with green shutters set in a tropical garden
Hemingway House, Key West, photo author

Key West, the Florida island with the southernmost point in the U.S., has creative roots that run deep. The island became an escape haven for writers and artists beginning in the early 20th century.

Playwright Tennessee Williams said of the island:

“Key West had in those days a very authentic frontier atmosphere which was delightful”… “It’s the only place in this country where it’s warm enough for me to swim every day of the year. The sky is always so clear, and the water’s so blue.” *

Williams lived in a modest cottage, known as his “Tom Thumb cottage” for much of his life after his first visit at the age of thirty. With the construction of the Overseas Highway, the key became much more accessible to visitors in 1941.

There are still remnants of old Key West if you hunt for them. When you stroll its back streets, it’s possible to imagine Williams in a cottage like this one:

Old Key West, photo author
rubbish car window pic of Overseas Highway! photo author

Williams’ presence on the island is now memorialized with a museum, theatre, and annual literary festival:

Unlike Hemingway, Williams was not celebrated on the island until more recently. Now, every March, Williams’ birthday is celebrated with play productions, contests, and movie screenings at the Tropic Cinema.*

Tennessee Williams reputedly finished A Streetcar Named Desire in Key West and is known to have written The Rose Tattoo while on the island.

This poster was on the wall at the b&b we stayed at, which was adorable Old Key West style cottages (ours had a Tennessee Williams theme), along with a few others. Many of Williams’ plays were staged in Key West both during and after his heyday.

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Steffany Ritchie

Hi, I write memoir, humor, music, and pop culture. American in Scotland.