Reflections from our first Writer in Residence: Kristin-Paige Madonia

My month long writing residency with The Studios of Key West began with a waterspout: a tornado of Atlantic Ocean that leapt onto land my first day on the island and welcomed me into the community with the energy and commotion that comes with any extraordinary natural phenomena. I waited for the storm to pass inside the shelter of the Mango Tree House, my new home and studio for the month of October (2008), and I realized that my time as a resident artist would undoubtedly be unlike any previous experience. Amidst the transition out of hurricane season and into the winter, I spent the month exploring the island and working on my second novel.

Each morning began with a short walk and a cup of Cuban coffee, the flawless blend of espresso and warm milk that signaled another day of perfect selfishness. My residency was a rare opportunity that came with no responsibilities, the remarkable gift of time and space as I explained to those I left behind, and I was free to spend each day doing as I pleased. I biked the island neighborhoods every evening and ate out at as many local hole-in-the-wall restaurants that I could find; I visited each and every art gallery I came across and spent many afternoons at the beach. I met poets, painters and fishermen, dancers and chefs, nomads, musicians and transvestites. I enjoyed meals among new friends, generous artists who welcomed me into their homes and filled me with fine food and good wine. And everyone, those associated with The Studios and those not, expressed genuine interest in my work, the method of my craft, and my plans for future projects. I now know that the gift of time and space for an artist is secondary only to the gift of a community that authentically and undisputedly supports artistic pursuits. The population of Key West is unlike any other in their sheer belief in the power of the arts, in their unapologetic open-mindedness, and in their dedication to the celebration of self-expression. And in between the mask-making workshop, the sunsets down by the water, the nights of live music at the Green Parrot and all that fresh sea food, I managed to write an entire novel. My writing during that time was fueled by the insight and energy of an author in respite, a writer surrounded by honest inspiration and restricted by nothing, and I believe the book is a much more successful product because of the home that I found in Key West.

My residency with The Studios of Key West ended with Fantasyfest, which, in a way, was a lot like the waterspout in its magnitude of unstoppable energy. My last night I found myself costumed and dancing the streets of a town that had become a home for me. And like all homes, I believe I will always be able to return there when I find myself searching again for the freedom and artistic support necessary to continue the journey of being a writer.

The Studios of Key West