KWH 15th Anniversary

KWH Homecoming Celebration Program

Open House: 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM

Help us celebrate our 15th year! Renew your acquaintance or get to know this lively and innovative home for writers of all ages and genres as you join members of the Writers House community for informal conversation, coffee, and light refreshments.

Celebration: 4:00 PM

It's our 15th year as Penn's literary hub – and we're delighted to mark our anniversary with readings and reminiscences by former students of Al Filreis: Suzanne Maynard Miller, Alicia Oltuski, Eric Umansky, and Kerry Sherin Wright. A scrumptious reception in the dining room will follow immediately afterward. Suzanne Maynard Miller (C'89) is a playwright and teacher whose work has been produced in Los Angeles, Seattle, Providence, New Haven, and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Alicia Oltuski (C'06, G'06) is a writer whose book about diamonds is forthcoming from Scribner. Eric Umansky is a senior editor at the non-profit investigative newsroom, ProPublica and former editor of Former KWH Director Kerry Sherin Wright (C'87) is the founding Director of the Philadelphia Alumni Writers House at Franklin & Marshall, where she teaches courses in creative writing and contemporary experimental fiction.

Hub Alumni: where are they now?

Audrey Beth Stein (C'97)

I am the author of a memoir, Map, which is a Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and a two-time national prizewinner in the David Dornstein Memorial Short Story Contest (both times for stories which I started while at Penn). I earned my MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College and now teach memoir and novel development at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Penn was huge in my development as a writer... classes with Karen Rile and Lorene Cary in particular really helped me explore and find my voice, and the birth of the Writers House brought community and a sense of home I'd been missing in the city environment of West Philadelphia. I remember returning from a semester abroad one of the first days it was open (before the "Kelly" was added to its name)... the fridge in my High Rise South apartment was broken, so I just moved my groceries into the Writers House kitchen and made a pot of gazpacho!

Tali Aronsky (C'97)

i was a member of the original group of students that claimed the old chaplain's home on locust walk and turned it into the writers house. i remember all those early conversations about the house: what would we call the space? what would we house there? how would we draw fellow students in? what were we—and it—all about? at the time i remember feeling uncomfortable with calling myself a writer. i was an english major, yes, but hadn't thought of myself as a writer—i hadn't taken any creative writing classes, didn't own cats, heck, i didn't even drink coffee.

i went on to become a journalist, working as a broadcast producer at CBS News in all three mediums—radio, television, and the internet. at CBS, i became very attuned to the business and responsibility of turning events and human actions into reportable news and fact. later, i joined mayor michael bloomberg's press corps, working as director of communications and marketing for nyc's department of consumer affairs. my big challenge in government was to do away with easy-to-hide-behind bureaucratic speak and to usher in plain language—clear, direct communications that made it easier to reach the city's multitude of business owners and residents, and to have them better understand both the laws that govern them and the rights that protect them.

Henrietta Jones (C'99)

Although she left Penn in 1999, Henrietta hasn't strayed too far from higher education. She has worked for three different universities in the past 10 years, starting in New York, then to Washington, DC, only to return back to New York. Penn and the Writers House will always be in her heart. (By the way, she still has the disco ball that was her graduation gift from the House.) She always drops in at the House each year on Alumni Day, often bringing her friend(s) along for an impromptu tour.

Henrietta's favorite memories of the House include the green couch in the alcove (the subject of the Penn Gazette article "My Green Heaven", baking cookies for the Virgin House Band gigs, and having a certain redhead friend visit her during "couch duty".

Marya Sea Maminsky (C'99)

Since graduating in 1999, I've lived in Philly, New York City and have finally landed in Seattle where I work as a performer, writer and professor at Cornish College of the Arts. Writing continues to be a cornerstone of my personal and artistic life. I've written and performed over twenty solo shows and have recently finished a full-length play about urban development titled Condo Millennium. Last year I was commissioned by to write an article about the most provocative female roles in film over the last decade and also by the Richard Hugo House in Seattle to write a new performance for their 2010 Literary Series. Since living in Seattle I've been honored with a number of awards including a City Artist Award from the Seattle Mayor's Office in 2009, Artist of the Year from Seattle Magazine in 2007 as well as the 2008 Award for Teaching Excellence at Cornish College of the Arts. The Kelly Writers House was a big part of my experience at Penn and I am so glad to still be connected to the great work there.

Kirsten Thorpe (C'00)

so nice to pause and think about the writers house, and so nice to be thought of as alumni. i can't believe it's been 15 years! i still remember my first day of work in high rise east as the actual house was being renovated, and how exciting it was when 3805 officially opened its doors as the kelly writers house.. i was just a baby creative writing major at the time, doe-eyed and hanging onto every word of poetry spoken in the walls. i think i was taking mike magee's english 10 class at the time, haha!

these days i'm living in san francisco, teaching psychology at santa clara university, and writing sweet little poems to my brand new 4-month-old, roy (of course, picture attached). i still listen to the podcasts from kwh and old readings on pennsound, and i try to catch blurbs that feature writers house folks on poem talk or poetry off the shelf, etc. but lately, my own poetry reading has focused more on reciting shel silverstein (with a little gertrude stein thrown in for good measure) out loud to my little guy.

i have so many great writers house memories.. mostly the kaleidoscope of people i got to know, and have completely lost touch with, sigh. but, i'll never forget putting up the magnetic poetry wall on locust walk, or telling the philosophy club to keep it down when they got out of hand, or when one of my poetic heroes, kenneth koch, visited and he asked me if i ever took baths in the bathtub on the second floor - umm, what?, or giving my own reading graduation weekend with all my friends and family there. but maybe my favorite memories are from when i was living in the house - curling up on the green velvet couch in the alcove with pistachios or a cup of tea and a book after everyone had left at night - alone in the warm echoes and the dim smell of the words we'd eaten for dinner. sooo great.

Pete Rock (Hub member 1999-2001)

When was I a member of the Hub? 1999-2001? Maybe something like that, some piece of that time. I'd moved to Philadelphia because my wife decided to go to medical school at Penn. My second book came out during that time, and I was researching my third (The Ambidextrist) while making money as a human subject in medical trials. I was also temping full-time in the office of the Penn Football team, a serious education. At the same time as I was writing and working all these strange jobs for money, I began to teach a split undergrad/grad/staff fiction writing class in the MLA program; around then I also fell under the sway of Kerry Sherin, who was like an angel walking the earth. So I came to teach in that big room upstairs at the Writers' House. Those were wonderful mixtures of people, and such an amazing place. In the million classes I've taught since then I've never had a better time. We left Philly in 2001 and moved to Portland, Oregon, where we still live. Since then I've taught at Reed College, where I am now a Professor in the English Department. I've published six books of fiction, most recently the novel My Abandonment. My wife Ella is saving lives and we have two little daughters, Ida and Miki.

Tahneer Oksman (C'01)

As an undergraduate, I spent a lot of my time at KWH as the co-host of Speakeasy and an English (creative writing) major. When I graduated in 2001, I spent a year as Al's assistant. I loved hanging around and getting paid to go to readings and organize the WH Fellows Seminar that year.

Since then, I've graduated from the Masters Program in Humanities at the University of Chicago, and I'm currently a graduate student (ABD) in the English Literature department at CUNY's Graduate Center as well as a Writing Fellow at Brooklyn College. My dissertation focuses on Jewish American women's memoir writing, and I've recently become interested in reading and writing about graphic memoirs (comic books!) as well. I have essays coming out this year in the academic journals A/B: Auto/Biography Studies and Studies in Comics. I still love to read poetry and fiction, and I hope one of these days to incorporate more of my own creative writing into my life. I am still very much in touch with my Speakeasy co-hosts, and one of them will be flying in from Wisconsin for my upcoming wedding.

Lenya Caldarera Bloom (C'02)

I have been living in Puebla, Mexico since 2004. Writing actually brought me to this unexpected home because writing has always been about moving boundaries or, at the very least, examining them. I decided to study the ultimate boundary and ended up undertaking a Masters in Sociology at the Benemerita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla to examine more closely the border between the US and Mexico, and what our perception of the border has done both to our perceptions of ourselves as Americans and our perceptions of our neighbors in Mexico. Initially, writing was the courage to look at this issue, and then it was work as I wrote my thesis. I finished in 2005 and have since gotten married to Manuel Martinez Castillero, and economist, and am currently teaching English to Junior High School students at the American School of Puebla. In my job, I use activities learned at the Writers House to help my students improve their written work. In fact, I have spoken to them a number of times about why people write and how writing can create and/or strengthen a community, using Kelly Writers House as an example. I have wonderful, warm memories of the Writers House and look on it as a principle reason for studying at Penn. Happy Anniversary!!!!

Michael Schwartz (C'02)

I first joined the WH community in the fall of 1998. I had emailed David Deifer about working on his magazine, Xconnect: Writers of the Information Age. He called back and left a message for me on my answering machine, asking me to do an interview. We met at his office, which was on Penn's campus, in the Information Systems & Computing department. The meeting went well, and when I left I had a spot on Xconnect and a job (working for Dave) at ISC. (Aside: over the years, a number of people would perform dual-duty like that for Dave, including Aaron Couch, Tim Coble, Brian Cope...)

For nine years I worked on Xconnect, first as Assistant Editor, then Fiction Editor, then finally as Managing Editor. My memories are of working up in the Pub Room, with Hannah Sassaman, Arielle Brousse... we took up an entire cabinet in the back with our books and mail-in submissions. Sometimes we'd spend hours updating the web site on the Pub Room computers.

I also remember being part of the first WH Fellows class, with Gay Talese, in 1999. That year, Gay had agreed to teach an entire semester's worth of classes--all thirteen. At the start of the semester, students picked non-fiction topics to write about, and each class we'd review the work of 3-4 students. Gay could be a touch critic; there were a handful of times, I remember, where students were brought to tears while discussing their work... I guess there were bumps in the process. Maybe, not all of my classmates may have enjoyed his class, for one reason or another. But I remember that I did, and felt I learned about writing from it.

So where am I today? Before I left Philadelphia in 2007, I had thought a lot about what I wanted to do next with my life. Making people's lives better was important, and I decided I could do that by getting into the energy business and helping to make energy safe and affordable. (Energy is the ultimate input into goods and services, so, if it's cheaper, then more people can do more things, more of the time.) I left Pennsylvania and went to North Carolina for business school, and then graduated and went to Texas, where I'm working today. And it's hot.

I write less today than I did before, but I remind myself that life comes in waves like that. Sometimes we ride a single wave for the whole of our lives (hello, Al Filreis!), and other times we ride one all the way to shore before getting up and going out again. So it doesn't stress me. It'll be waiting when I need it.

Dan Fishback (C'03)

I'm a full-time playwright, performance artist and singer/songwriter, which is weird. In fact, my life hasn't even changed very much in the seven years since I graduated and moved to New York. I'm still organizing events, still begging people to come to my events, still talking in front of groups of people, still awkwardly encountering my literary heroes on a regular basis, still navigating communities of artists and thinkers. In 2009, when the Village Voice called my play You Will Experience Silence "sassier and more fun than Angels in America," I immediately forwarded the review to Al, as though I wasstill in the Writers House Seminar and had found an interesting article about Tony Kushner.

I didn't really like going to Penn, but I liked Writers House. It was the only place on campus where people's passion for art translated as mild insanity. Thus, it was the only place where I felt at home. It was certainly, too, the only place where I was treated like an adult, like an artist, and like a cool person. In truth I wasn't any of those things, but being treated like something is good preparation for actually becoming that thing. This is all just to say that, as a working artist and a member of a vibrant community of writers, performers and musicians, I can say, with professional certainty, that Writers House is just as practical as any other institution on Penn's campus, providing just as much career preparation as Wharton or whatever else is still there.

Writers House trained me to value my mild insanity - a mild insanity which is now the basis my entire life.

Josh Kruger (C'04)

I first started at the Writers House as a budding political scientist/activist during my freshman year at Penn. As someone who tutored writing and interned with an English teacher, I was thrilled with the opportunity KWH presented me.

I met some of the most enduring friendships at the Writers House. In fact, I can faithfully say that my best friends on earth were ones that I met sweeping floors, buying groceries for receptions, and carting wine up and down the stairs. We would spend literally hours talking with one another, sharing ideas, debating politics, rabble rousing, and being college kids. I would always relish the role of devil's advocate in hub debates, too, typically clashing with Peter Schwartz. At the Writers House, I learned many things about myself, notably that I need to check my arrogance and swagger at the door and that no matter how smart one thinks he is, there is always someone smarter and much much much more well-read.

My life's taken lots of twists and turns since my tenure there at the Writers House. Right now, I'm the Development Coordinator for the William Way LGBT Community Center (the gay community center here in Philadelphia.) Prior to that, I was the senior grant writer for a network for YMCAs (though, now they're just the Ys apparently!) I reside in West Chester, and I live with my partner.

Jamie-Lee Josselyn (C'05)

Jamie-Lee hasn't quite left the Writers House yet. Since her graduation, she has been working as Al Filreis's assistant, coordinating the Writers House Fellows Program (she's now seen 21 Fellows pass through the house!), TA'ing Al's classes many times over, heading up the House's efforts to recruit high school students, and this fall she is teaching a creative writing course. She lived in West Philly for a bunch of years, but is now in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood with her boyfriend and their three cats. Jamie-Lee runs marathons now. She's also enrolled in Bennington College's low-residency MFA program, concentrating on non-fiction. For now, the memoir project she was working on about her mother seems to be morphing into a series of linked personal essays.

Some of Jamie-Lee's favorite old timey KWH memories include the Cooperman/Sandick vs. Josselyn/Goodridge basketball rivalry, making "Doctorows" in the kitchen with Phil & Co., the summer Blake forced her to get a Friendster account and watch endless clips of Fantasia from American Idol, how she and John used to spend most of the work day eating lunch at the green table, Linus and Lucy, the time she got lost in the Catskills with a bunch of Fellowsites, whatever it was that she and Janine did when they weren't at Happy Hour, watching Shoah on her birthday in the Arts Cafe, high-fiving Connie Chung and, of course, all those pineapple hats, may they rest in peace.

Roz Plotzker (C'05)

Where I am and what I do: I am a medical student in NYC.

How writing is (was) a part of my life: Actually, writing has (had) a pretty big role in my life.

Before med school I did medical volunteer work in Kenya. I kept a daily poetry blog about the home based care program where I worked. (This comes up later --- do not forget this detail!).

Then came school. No time for poetry. By the end of my first year I'd had it with anatomy. I went to a friend's farm/artist colony in Eugene, OR to write some more. [Accomplishments: one short story, and a lot of cooking]. But, as usual, autumn was inevitable, and I ended up back at school again. I only lasted the fall semester before I fell off the wagon and started to write again. Another blog, this time prose. I was writing on it compulsively. Even during histology lab.

Here's where the story takes a turn. In the middle of the spring semester I had a presentation accepted to a conference called "Examined Life: Writing and the Art of Medicine" at the University of Iowa. I gave a talk about my Kenya poetry blog, "Mosquito Nets are from Heaven" (did you remember?). Who should come to my talk, but a soon-to-graduate student writer for WebMD -- and she needed to find a replacement! The rest is history. In addition to writing progress notes, I'm now writing for the med student blog "The Differential" on MedScape/WebMD.

Best KWH memories: amazing meals, a great piano, a beautiful space to study, and of course wonderful people.

How was I involved: groupie turned non-fiction writing student turned hub member turned junior fellow.

John Carroll (C'05)

John Carroll has been a Hub member since 2004, when Al Filreis was horrified to learn that the then-senior was not yet on the Hub listserv. He worked at KWH after graduating from Penn, keeping the Assistant Director for Development seat warm between the incredibly successful reigns of Phil Sandick and Arielle Brousse. John now lives in the Washington, DC area with his wife and cat. He is pursuing an MFA in Fiction at American University. He fondly remembers the time that Kerry Cooperman donated a lawn chair to the House. What ever happened to that thing?

An (Lam) Enloe (C'05)

Happy 15th Birthday, KWH! It's been more than 7 years since we've parted ways, but my memories of the Writers House are still fresh and delicious! I was part of the Writers House staff during my undergraduate years and I enjoyed every moment at the House. Being around so many great thinkers really inspired my own creative side. Nowadays, however, my creative side has starved a bit as I focus on my career as a Physician Assistant. I am also currently in another world called Michigan, but I hope to one day find my way back to the Writers House for a visit down memory lane.

Jenny Suen (C'05)

Where: between Hong Kong and Los Angeles
By day: International Creative Management
By night: Freelance writer, novelist, and sometime television producer
Best KWH memory: when Norman Mailer flirted with me after the little seminar he did on his book on Iraq... or maybe when KWH hosted the launch of my magazine, Propagandha Silk and we drank box wine in the William Carlos Williams garden... or reading a monologue I wrote about sex and PINK and for Seven-Up on GOLD.
On writing: I am lucky to have the privilege of writing every day!

Matt Ocks (C'06)

Since leaving the Writers House Matt Rosenbaum changed his last name to Ocks in an attempt to keep his mother's maiden name alive and well into the 21st century. Ocks has been the grant writer at Old City's Arden Theatre Company for four years while moonlighting as a playwright. His play Herschel the Handless appeared in the 2008 Philadelphia Fringe Festival and a one act called Cheesesteak Latkes was staged at MOTH Theatre in Los Angeles last year, directed and produced by other Penn alums. Cowboy/Indian will receive a reading as part of PlayPenn, a festival of new play development in Philadelphia, later this month, and another work called Summer Boys is also scheduled for a reading by the Philadelphia Dramatist Center this summer. Matt's favorite Writers House memories include late nights with his co-workers hanging out in the Hub Office, learning how to order books under the tutelage of his pal Seth Larecy, and meeting the late, great Susan Sontag during a Fellows event his freshman year.

Arielle Brousse (C'07)

After I graduated from Penn, I landed a job as an assistant in the Development Department of one of my favorite museums, The Franklin Institute. In the space of three months, my supervisors recognized my talents as a writer and editor, and I took on a new role that encompassed both grantwriting and donor communications. I was at The Franklin Institute for two years—spanning the historic King Tut exhibit, the opening of three new permanent exhibits, and winning the international bid to host the first showing of the Galileo, the Medici, and the Age of Astronomy exhibit from Florence. In 2009, the opportunity arose to interview for the Assistant Director of Development position back home at the Kelly Writers House; one thing led to another and I’ve installed myself in the tiny second-floor office above the kitchen, where I can smell all the aromas from the work-studies baking below and join all the conversations taking place in the hub office next door. In addition to my fabulous job at KWH, I’m starting a part-time master’s degree program in Nonprofit Leadership this fall, just over the bridge at Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice. So I’ve got a lot of goals right now: my fundraising goals to support KWH’s incredible roster of projects and programs; my educational goals to gain the skills and theoretical background necessary to better serve the Writers House; and my personal goal to finally, once and for all, figure out how to use my sewing machine.

Nick Montfort (GR'07)

At the Writers House, I founded the MACHINE electronic literature reading series, organized AUTOSTART: A Festival of Digital Literature, and hosted what may have been the first ever palindrome writing workshop. I was often at Speakeasy, which is what led me to get involved at the Writers House. That, later, led me to be bold enough to ask to sit in on Charles Bernstein's and Bob Perelman's courses. I was at Penn doing a Ph.D. in computer and information science, which involved learning more about the writerly, literary uses of computing and following up my masters in creative writing from Boston University. While I was at Penn, my book Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction was published by the MIT Press and two publications that I co-edited came out: The Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1 (ELO, 2006) and The New Media Reader (MIT Press, 2003).

I now live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I'm a tenured associate professor of digital media in MIT's Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies. I teach Experimental Writing, Interactive Narrative, The Word Made Digital, and the Comparative Media Studies Workshop. I continue to write poems, text generators, and interactive fiction and to collaborate on writing projects with others. My most recent academic book, written with Ian Bogost, is Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System (MIT Press, 2009). I have a book of poems, Riddle & Bind, forthcoming from Spineless Books. I'm currently busy collaborating on several creative projects, including one with Stephanie Strickland.

Gabe Crane (C'08)

Just got this, in from the wilderness in northern Minnesota, where I am spending the summer leading wilderness trips with teenagers -- I've already led a 17-day canoe trip and a 10-day trip to the Montana Rockies, and have another one upcoming.

But wanted to drop a line and let you all know what I've been up to lately. I spent this past year living in the Bay Area, after traveling for most of 2009 in Asia. I am working on a novel based loosely on my experiences traveling, and enjoying life outdoors. I will be interning on an organic farm in the fall on the grounds of a Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut - the ADAMAH program at the Isabella Freedman Center in Little Falls. Afterwards, I am lined up for a year in Israel, writing and exploring ancient Judaic texts, as well as engaging in environmental work of one form or another.

Life is great and I hope all is well with all of you there! I'm looking forward to swinging by sometime this fall when I am on the East Coast! Much love from the north.

Danny Goldstein (C'08)

After graduating from Penn in 2008, I took an internship with a large public relations agency in New York, where I practiced PR for a number of technology corporations. After that, I went into a "rotational program" at HarperCollins and spent some time doing book publicity and marketing. I took a job in the William Morrow Editorial department last June and have been an editorial assistant since that time. The job involves everything from scheduling meetings to editing books and designing book covers.

I live in the East Village in Manhattan, and though there's much to write about in the neighborhood, I -- alas -- don't have much time to write. I'm often too busy reading or editing.

I was a Program Assistant during my time at KWH and my best memory of KWH is sitting down to soup with everyone at Mind of Winter and listening to Wallace Stevens. KWH is so wonderful because it's rare to find a place that is so supportive towards young (and older) writers. I can't think of anywhere else where someone can sit down with other great thinkers and writers and really talk about writing -- not just the mechanics of it, but what it means to write -- without any kind of presumption looming. It's an important thing to do, and it's something that you miss in the business world, because as Kurt Vonnegut put it, writing "makes the soul grow."

Aichlee Bushnell (C'09)

After Penn, I moved to California to attend the MFA program in poetry at Mills College in Oakland. In addition to grad school, I've been working for the last several months as a copywriter for Zazzle, a tech start-up in Silicon Valley, so I do huge amounts of writing everyday. I've been really lucky to meet lots of great people in the Bay Area, and I'm thankful that I had Penn and the Writers House to help me make it here. My experience doing work-study as Community Outreach Coordinator at KWH, particularly working with the Brave Star Collective, was one of the most rewarding and formative experiences of my whole college career. In fact, once I finish writing my thesis, a series of epistolary poems involving Sally Hemings, I have plans to revive the seedling idea of the Brave Star project and use it to start a non-profit. Even though I'm all the way across the country, I still get so excited to receive hub emails knowing that you all are continuing to do super fantastic stuff in Philly!

Eric Karlan (C'09)

I'm no longer on the Green Couch every day, but I haven't moved that far away – just on the other side of the Schuylkill in the midst of historic Philadelphia. I am enjoying life as a writer who wears many hats: from college and graduate school application essay consulting to sports blogging to animal writing (for a collectible coin company and a book). The city is my office, and I can often be found working on a Washington Square bench, on the banks of the Schuylkill, or by the ring-tailed lemur exhibit at the Zoo. And even though I'm not a student any longer, I'll have good reason to be at Penn over the next four years: my little brother started as a Quaker this fall!