Kelly Writers House Celebrates 15 Years of Success

Fifteen years ago a band of forward-thinkers believed there should be a place on campus where people could gather to appreciate, create, study and participate in every aspect of the writing process. The place, they believed, should exist outside the conventional classroom, be open to everyone in the community and be run by those who would use it.

That vision became the Kelly Writers House (KWH) at 3805 Locust Walk, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary on Oct. 30.

Al Filreis, the Kelly professor of English and one of the house's original founders recalls that KWH was established in 1995 on the idea that students at Penn deserved a place on campus where they could find a rich intellectual experience that had nothing to do with the curriculum.



Today, the house stands as a shining example of the power of artistic and educational collaboration put into practice. It's a place where novelists, poets, journalists, screenplay writers, humorists, food writers and others meet, work, dine and mingle.

In the early days, the house was known simply as the Writers House. But about a year into the Writers House initiative, Penn alumnus and Chairman of the China Ceramics Company Paul K. Kelly dropped by to see what was going on in the shabby Tudor-style cottage on Locust Walk.

“He met with me and the house's first director, and it just happened that on that day there was a jazz band playing in the front room and cookies and cakes were baking in the kitchen,” Filreis says. “He absolutely loved the place, and within 20 minutes he pledged $1 million to help fix it up.” Kelly's gift allowed for a complete renovation of the site that included new plumbing, restoration of the fireplaces, an updated kitchen and the painting of the exterior of the house with its original colors of tan and Fairmount green. Its new name was the Kelly Writers House.

Over the past 15 years, Kelly Writers House has welcomed world-class authors such as Joan Didion, Richard Ford, Ian Frazier, Joyce Carol Oates, Jamaica Kincaid, Grace Paley, Gay Talese, John Edgar Wideman and others. This year, Marjorie Perloff, Susan Cheever and Edward Albee will work with students through the Kelly Writers House Fellows program.

“It's more than just a venue for readings and events,” says Lily Applebaum, a junior in The College. “There is a real emphasis on community-building here, anybody can come in and make the space their own.”

Text by Tanya Barrientos
Photos courtesy of the Kelly Writers House & Steven Minicola