Travel, titles, and tropics: The time the FAA delayed the PLC heading to the KWLS

It may seem idyllic to head to a 4-day conference in Florida in the dead of winter. Don’t get us wrong; it is. However, our non-traveling colleagues were still slumbering when we headed to Sea Tac to catch our 5:30 a.m. flight. We should have slept in. On that very day, all flights were delayed or canceled because of a Federal Aviation Administration’s technical glitch. Luckily, they must have rebooted that one computer and we were off by 7 a.m.

English I teachers Lauren Doscher (also our librarian), Barbara Henderson (also our diversity director) and Jeanne Hanigan (also our journalism adviser) attended the 40th annual Key West Literary Seminar entitled, “Singing America: A Celebration of Black Literature,” from Jan. 12-15, 2023. This PLC, or Professional Learning Community, yearned to expand their knowledge of other texts out in the literary world, especially those written by black authors. While the entire PLC could not travel because of familial obligations, the other English I teachers Anna Hunthausen and Melissa Minjares were there in spirit (and on cardboard photos).

All English I PLC members were together, in some way or another. (Photo courtesy of Jeanne Hanigan)

The traveling PLC was joined by Bellarmine alumna, Alison Morhbacher B’07. She recently accepted the Executive Director position of Camp Gallagher after years of teaching English at Forest Ridge School. Alison is no stranger to the KWLS; she and her father, Dan Mohrbacher, of St. Charles Borromeo Language Arts middle school fame, have been going to the Southernmost Point since 2017. Talk about vertical alignment.

Her mother, Jerilynn, also accompanied them on these trips. But while the father/daughter duo attended the literary seminar in years past, she and the other spouse along for the ride, Jim Hanigan, spent their time at the beach or pool. In fact, those two graduated from Bellarmine the same year. Jim asked Jerilynn, the 1982 valedictorian, if she ever questioned what went so terribly wrong in her life that she was hanging out with him, the junior class president who did not share the same academic classes, in Key West nearly 40 years later.

The seminar officially started on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. which provided enough time to go on a morning catamaran ride to a snorkeling reef in the Atlantic. Refreshed and somewhat tan, the PLC listened to the Ambassador Chorale of Florida Memorial University and then to poet Kevin Young deliver the John Hersey Memorial Address. Later a welcome reception allowed authors and guests to mingle. The group was able to meet other teachers, librarians, and lovers of literature. All of these events took place at the outdoor Coffee Butler Amphitheater, the venue introduced in 2022 in response to COVID protocols.

The rest of the weekend and seminar was nothing short of amazing. The writers turned speakers astounded: Jabari Asim, Jericho Brown, Ashley Ford, Tayari Jones, Victor LaValle, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Jacqueline Woodson, to name only a few. They spoke of history and of Afrofuturism, of slavery and of Juneteenth. They spoke of the past, present, and future of black literature, especially important, and ironic, with Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis’s rejection of a new AP course on African American studies. This timeliness of this seminar in Key West did not go unnoticed.

Jericho Brown presented his poetry while the wind blew the banner and his papers. (Jeanne Hanigan)

With limited free time, the teachers did check out some other literary spots, namely, Ernest Hemingway’s home and one of his favorite bars, Sloppy Joe’s. It was there the PLC bonded over dancing throughout musical decades. They also enjoyed their meals out, even sampling conch fritters (which was an experience to share with their students studying the “The Sound of the Shell” in Lord of the Flies). They also walked and walked and walked.

The 40th annual Key West Literary Seminar was so worth its hefty price tag. But the additional perk was spending quality time with colleagues and organically discussing literature and curriculum with the backdrop of a magnificent sunset. As a school that values PLC work, this time together was the whipped cream on the slice of Key Lime pie. Even the return flight obstacle again, when the pilot, an hour and a half in high altitiude, turned the plane around to get another plane that had four (and not three) working de-icers, all added to the adventure aptly named, “The time the FAA delayed the PLC heading to the KWLS.”

For more information about the Key West Literary Seminar, click here:

The PLC that travels together, stays together. (Jim Hanigan )
Enjoying the sunset at Mallory Square is a fitting way to end the weekend. (Jim Hanigan)