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Key West Literary Seminar Books

Established in 1983, the Key West Literary Seminar is dedicated to celebrating important literary works, supporting new American voices, and preserving Key West’s literary heritage. Their flagship program is the annual Seminar held each January, where acclaimed writers explore a unique literary theme. The event attracts the best contemporary writers and readers globally for four days of readings, conversations, lectures, panel discussions, and vibrant parties. It adds up to one of today’s smartest and high-spirited literary gatherings.

Our collaboration with KWLS began in 2019, focusing on rebranding and enhancing Seminar touchpoints. This included a book serving as a guide for attendees and an archive of the year’s literary theme.

Read more about Key West Literary Seminar

Photographs by Nick Doll


Beyond a typical festival program, the comprehensive 176-page book comprises various elements: welcome addresses, excerpts, selected works, presenter biographies, an art portfolio, and “A Life of Letters”—a substantial section describing year-round programming, including KWLS’s Writers’ Workshop Program and listings of award recipients like Teacher and Librarian Scholarships. Different paper stocks help distinguish these sections.

While maintaining KWLS’s evergreen brand identity for the “A Life of Letters” section, each year’s theme offers exciting opportunities for experimentation in cover design and Seminar-centric sections.

2024: “Florida: The State We’re In”

Topos KWLS Florida 2024 Book 05920 Retouched2

To anchor “Florida,” we incorporated water, a recurring theme throughout the state. The cover features the Seminar title within a half-full/half-empty glass of water, symbolizing the fluidity of the theme. Author Jeff VandeMeer, discussing his keynote address, remarked, “Water affects this state in many unseen ways, alluding to our issues and opening up possibilities in literature to make the invisible visible.”

For a unique production effect, the glass is embossed with overprinted clear foil, creating a tactile experience that makes you feel like you could drink (or spill) the book.

Cover elements 3D rendered by Neil Jackson

2023: “Singing America: A Celebration of Black Literature”

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Topos KWLS Singing America 2023 Book 05764 RR 3000px

The 40th Key West Literary Seminar celebrated Black literature in America, drawing inspiration from Walt Whitman’s “I hear America singing” and Langston Hughes’ powerful response, “I, too, sing America.” The cover, typeset in Bayard from Vocal Type, pays homage to Rustin Bayard, an advisor to Martin Luther King, and the 1963 March on Washington. A repeating title, foil, and embossment create a graphic piano, turning the book into an instrument.

2022: “A Seminar Named Desire”

Topos KWLS Desire 2022 Book 05846 V2 1

Exploring the profound and the inventive, “A Seminar Named Desire” delved into the elemental urge at the center of human activity. The heat/touch-sensitive cover, with purple-to-colorless thermochromic UV ink over pink, visually equates desire with heat. The book changes color in readers’ hands, intensifying in hotter environments like Key West, Florida.

This was a winner of the AIGA 50 Books | 50 Covers 2022

2020: “Reading Between the Lines: Sports and Literature”

Topos KWLS Reading Between the Lines 2020 Book 05855 RR

In 2020, KWLS delved into sports writing, exploring the significance of sports in social issues, personal transformation, and cultural change. The cover envisions the book as a ball, using neon-yellow and embossed white foil lines to create a tennis ball effect, with the title typography literally between the lines.

2019: “Under the Influence: Archetype & Adaptation”

Topos KWLS Under the Influence Book Cover 03916 2

The 37th Key West Literary Seminar explored literary archetypes and influences. The formal cover design pieced together two fonts, creating a forward/backward, referential echo—a font under the influence of the other. The Seminar journeyed through Shakespeare, Homer, African folktales, and 20th-century novels, exploring the nature of literary influence.