Key West, a Haven for Writers

Ernest Hemingway and Key West are practically synonyms terms. But, he was not the only author to call the island home. While he may be the most celebrated of residents, you may be surprised at how many others that make their living by the pen flock to Key West. The island has been home to many successful writers. John Hersey, John Malcolm Brinnin, Robert Stone, Jim Harrison, Philip Burton, Nancy Friday, Harry Mathews, Marie Chaix, Wilfrid Sheed, David Kaufelt, and Ann Beattie are just a few.

Once does wonder what draws so many creative minds to Key West. Is it the weather, the fishing, the people, or the whole shebang? I bet the answer varies for each. But one thing is certain; Key West has character and is a wonderful place to visit.

Below details several writers that once lived or stayed in Key West for prolonged periods of time. Now, you can create your own literary walking tour of Key West!

Gorgeous evening view of the water from the Reach Resort in Key West, Florida.

Ernest Hemingway

There is a lot to say about Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author Ernest Hemingway and Key West. Today, tourists can visit his former home located at 907 Whitehead Street. He lived with his second wife, Pauline, from 1931 until 1940. Yet, there are many other places in Key West that Papa frequented and you can too when you come to visit!

Thomas Edison

While not know as an author, the notes and diary of the Wizard of Menlo Park have been published. Edison was stationed in Key West for six months in 1917 during WWI, working on depth charge experiments for the Navy. In his down time, he liked to go to the movies each night at the theater which is now the Wyland Gallery at 623 Duval Street.

Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein, author of famed children’s poetry books such as The Giving Tree, lived in Key West for decades. In May of 1999, he was found dead in his bedroom by maids there to clean his home. His former home which was located at 618 William Street suffered irreparable damage in 2017 during Hurricane Irma; a large banyan tree fell directly on the 1901 wooden two-story house.

Mr. Silverstein enjoyed walking around the island and people watching. On the tiny island of Key West, he got to live a relatively simple life writing. BO’s Fish Wagon was a favorite hangout of his where he would often write, play drums, and sign the occasion autograph for fans. Today, you can go here and get a tasty fish sandwich and perhaps sit in the same seat that Shel once occupied.

Tennessee Williams

Famed playwright Tennessee Williams lived in a modest house at 1431 Duncan Street from 1949 until his death in 1983. He also purchased a house on Von Phister Street for his sister, Rose. Today, the Tennessee Williams Museum holds a vast array of notebooks, illustrations, and more from his home.

Robert Frost

My favorite poet and US Poet Laureate Robert Frost first visited Key West in 1934, and wrote “The Gift Outright” while staying on the island. From 1945 to 1960, Frost wintered in a small cottage behind the Jessie Porter home, located at 410 Caroline Street.

Philip Caputo

This author of “A Rumor of War” lived in a historic pink stucco house at 1101 Casa Marina Court as well as a house on 621 Caroline Street.

Elizabeth Bishop

Pulitzer prize winning poet Elizabeth Bishop lived in Key West from 1938 until 1946. In “Florida Deserta,” Bishop compares the island houses with tin roofs to the scales of a tarpon. She purchased her 1890s-era eyebrow house at 624 White Street in 1938 for $2,000. In 2019, the Key West Literary Seminar purchased this house, a registered Literary Landmark, with the goal to restore the house to the way it was when Bishop lived there.

James Leo Herlihy

The author of “Midnight Cowboy” owned a cottage at 709 Bakers Lane where he worked on “Season of the Witch.”

Thomas McGuane

Known for “92 in the Shade,” McGuane resided at 123-125 Ann Street, 1011 Von Phister St. and 416 Elizabeth St.

Alison Lurie

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist known as the American “Jane Austin” stayed at a house on 1313 Reynolds Street.

James Merrill

This Pulitzer prize winning poet lived at 702 Elizabeth Street in a house that was built in the Bahamas and later moved to Key West via barge.

Richard Wilbur

Another US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winning poet. Richard Wilbur wintered in the Windsor Lane Compound which was also home to many other writers including John Hersey and John Ciardi.

Jimmy Buffet

Famous singer Jimmy Buffett does not live in Key West anymore, but he has lived in numerous homes including what is now part of the Coconut Beach Resort. His recording studio stands in the Historic Seaport. And of course Margaritaville Restaurant on Duval Street and now Margaritaville Resort on Smather’s Beach are other properties associated with the singer songwriter.

Judy Blume

Judy Blume lived at a gorgeous compound at 1100 Flagler Avenue until 2016. She now resides at the Key West Beach Club when she is in town working at her store, Books and Books and the Studios of Key West.

Wallace Stevens

The Casa Marina Resort, located at 1500 Reynolds St., was a favorite haunt of Stevens.

More About Key West

For more information about other fun things to do in Key West, go to our Key West Web Site. And, remember to check out our restaurant reviews as you surely must eat while down here! 

Would you like to reserve some activities while you are visiting? I can help you pick the right options for you! FishingSnorkelingSunset SailsDry Tortugas tripsSandbar excursions, and more! 

Island Genn – Key West Concierge

About the author: Island Genn

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