November 14, 2019
Elizabeth Bishop’s Key West house purchased to be preserved
by Ryan Harrington
Key West has long been a haven for America’s favorite writers. Tennessee Williams, Anne Beattie, Joy Williams, and Judy Blume have all spent time there. Hemingway, of course, got the museum treatment in Key West (and as we know, he enjoyed climes even farther south).
Now, the former 624 White Street home of the great Elizabeth Bishop will be gaining similar monument status. That’s because the Key West Literary Seminar has bought the property with plans to restore and preserve it. The $1.2 million investment will become the program’s home base for its yearly workshops and seminars, as well as its year-round tours of literary Key West.
As Concepción de León writes for the New York Times:
Arlo Haskell, the nonprofit’s executive director, called Bishop, who died in 1979, its “guiding spirit.” The organization devoted its 1993 seminar entirely to her writing, and more recently it has incorporated her letters, poems and photographs into its programming for young people.
Bishop bought the house, located at 624 White Street, when she moved to Key West in 1938. It has been privately owned since she sold it in 1946, and subsequently became a registered national literary landmark.
References to the natural world flower in Bishop’s work from her decade in Key West and thereafter. And the Bishop fan will recognize an even more direct (sort of) reference to the beloved house in her poem “One Art”:
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
(The Key West House is the first one).
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.