A quiet has finally settled
over Kelly Writers House.

It’s the morning after graduation, and in the garden, leftover blue balloons have drifted behind the hostas. No one is arranging hors d’oeuvres in the kitchen or setting up the mic in the Arts Cafe. No one is doing homework or debating poetics or making out on the old green couch. The chaplain’s house-turned-writers’ hub is easing into summer. Digesting, if you will, another year’s worth of stories:

Tea with Margaret Atwood. Ian Frazier eating bugs with undergrads. Quake, Penn’s first literary erotica magazine, rumbling into print. A visit by Liberian storytellers and workshops with West Philly schoolchildren. And, on May 13, scores of well-wishers gathering for the 10th anniversary of a place that faculty director Al Filreis calls “an incubator, a free space, a sandbox … for really, truly creative people,” a place where “we together changed forever the way that Penn talks and thinks about the writing arts.”

The Writers House story began in 1995 when Penn recognized, in Filreis’ words, the need to “deepen the undergraduate experience outside the curriculum,” and handed over the keys to a dusty Victorian home at 3805 Locust Walk to a group of students, faculty, and alumni interested in creating a “wacky, academically left-of-center experimental learning community.” The House would be a space where “ideas were taken seriously for their aesthetics and intellectual power, without a grade associated with it, and without a faculty member in charge of the room where you had to raise your hand.” It would be a place “where you check your academic standing or caste or position at the door.” And it would serve plenty of food (more on that later).

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©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 06/28/06

The House that Writers Built
By Susan Frith

Photography by Jacques-Jean Tiziou
Illustration by Brian Biggs

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