If you Google "Salt Cay, Bahamas" and select the satellite map view, off the coast of Nassau you'll see an impossibly tiny green and brown spoon-shaped strip of land in a turquoise sea.
Zoom closer, and coconut palms and white sand beaches appear. Closer still, and you can see the blue roofs of Dolphin Encounters, which shelter the dolphins and sea lions that live in the lagoon.
In the late 1800s Salt Cay [pronounced "key"] was the haunt of privateers and pirates who visited the island not to bury treasure, but to cull salt from the lagoon to preserve their food. Today the island is the home of the 3 dolphins who played the famous aquatic star in the Universal Studios movie "Flipper" with Paul Hogan and Elijah Wood.
This incredibly beautiful island also has a unique literary history. John T. McCutcheon, The Chicago Tribune's chief foreign correspondent, Pulitzer Prize winner, and dean of American political cartoonists, purchased the island in 1916 sight unseen for $17,500. During its heyday as a social destination in the 1920s McCutcheon hosted numerous earls, counts, dukes, and duchesses. These were joined by Drew Pearson, John Dos Passos, James Thurber, Arthur Crock, Archibald MacLeish, and Kenneth Roberts.
In later years author John Marquand became the island's first regular renter. Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne, friends of Marquand, came down once for a visit, and during her stay on the island Anne Morrow Lindbergh worked on her book, Gifts From The Sea.
William Styron also vacationed on Salt Cay, where he put the finishing touches on his soon-to-be-bestseller Sophie's Choice. Styron loved Salt Cay, and dreamed of establishing a writers' colony there.
"Don't sell it," he implored the owners who were struggling to keep up with the expense of maintaining a private island. "Wait for me. I'm going to get a bundle soon." The island sold before Styron's book did, so Styron never got the chance to fulfill his plans. But now the island's current owners are rekindling his dream by hosting the Salt Cay Writers Retreat October 20-26.
With a faculty that includes #1 New York Times bestselling authors Robert Goolrick and Jacquelyn Mitchard, editor Chuck Adams (Algonquin Books; Water for Elephants) and publisher Amy Einhorn (Amy Einhorn Books; The Help), Kate Miciak (Editorial Director and Vice President, Ballantine/Bantam Dell) and just 65 students, the Salt Cay Writers Retreat promises an unparalleled opportunity for advanced literary and upmarket commercial fiction writers, memoirists, and narrative non-fiction writers to take their manuscript to new heights of accomplishment in a gorgeous and inspiring setting.
Each morning will begin with a small-group workshop crafted to provide writers with individual attention within the bonds of a close, friendly community. Afternoons will be spent writing, or exploring Salt Cay with the instructors and learning more about the writing life from the vantage point of a white sand beach. Special outings to swim with the dolphins and to experience the island's unique history are included as part of the curriculum, while evenings will be filled with nightly cocktail hours with student and faculty readings.
Styron would have been pleased.
Excerpted from A Family Island: A Short History of Salt Cay, Bahamas by H. Shaw McCutcheon. Used with permission.