April 11, 2013: Twit Crit Blog Launch

This launch event for “a super cool new blog project about Twitter writing” (Lily Applebaum) had attendees gasping for breath and complaining of stomach pains from laughing too hard. After an introduction from Madeline Wattenbarger detailing the aim of Twit Crit – to create a unified space for serious writing about Twitter as a contemporary literary platform – Isaac Kaplan ushered Patricia Lockwood, poet and tweeter, to the podium. Lockwood put audience members through a grueling forty minutes of hilarious snark paired with thoughtful theoretical insight, warning audience members that she’d never given or attended a lecture (though of her shaking hands she said, “that’s not nervousness, that’s espresso”). Sighing romantically at the mention of Twitter, she dissected the social media platform into five functions: Twitter as Alter Ego, Twitter as Six-Word Story, Twitter as Real-Time Autobiography, Twitter as Meta-Internet, and Twitter as the Last Transmissions From Earth. Common themes throughout the event were Hemingway trying to sell baby shoes and Aaron Carter’s self-aware penis. On a more serious note, Lockwood, borrowing a quote from The Wire, also emphasized the need for “soft eyes” when examining this “simple, stubborn technology that grows through the cracks.” The poet concluded by reading a selection of her infamous Twitter sexts against a backdrop of Robin Williams playing a saxophone before guests attended a bird-themed reception featuring an excess of Peeps.

March 14, 2013: Timebank Presentation

When Penn Timebank’s student founders say “time is money,” they really mean it. Julia Graber, Manon Vergerio, and Meghna Chandra explained the thought behind Penn’s newest (if not first) “network of reciprocity”(Graber) in this Creative Ventures program. A timebank, they noted, values a core economy over a monetary economy, venerating those jobs that seasoned timebank-organizer Marie called “beyond value”: caring for children or the elderly, working in public health, etc. Operating under the belief that “everyone is a valuable asset”(Vergerio), Penn Timebank allows members of its community to trade time as currency in an hour-for-hour exchange; one member’s experience in Georgian language tutoring might be reciprocated with another’s knowledge in computer efficiency, Indian cooking, spiritual/philosophical guidance, or even an ability to offer transportation to IKEA. When asked why Penn was an ideal timebank location, Graber cited Ithaca Hours and claimed, “we were jealous of Cornell.” Other highlights included tips for avoiding timebank-related trouble with the IRS and the social-work implications of coproduction models. To participate, sign up at penntimebank.org, or learn more at penntimebank.wordpress.com.

February 6, 2013: Sensible Nonsense

In her eloquent introduction to this program Sensible Nonsense founder and former KWH work-study student Arielle Brousse reminded us of the legitimate artistry of our best-loved childhood stories — those books so captivating that you’d cart a picnic-basket’s worth of new ones home every week, so cherished that you thought about “losing” the library’s copy, or so resonant that you contemplated “potential misguided memorial tattoos” at the death of a favorite youth author. In this union of intelligent reflection and relatable nostalgia, it was clear that for these readers, children’s literature transcends its recommended age limits. Jess Bergman began with the origins of her love for “hurt-so-good catharsis,” The Velveteen Rabbit, while Isaac Kaplan invoked the power of oral storytelling by recounting his mother’s inventive “Pickle Car” saga about “an average, everyday, human-sized pickle” that just wanted to become a car. Chava Spivak-Brindorf traced her history of children’s-lit-derived lessons, lending insight into what Arielle called Chava’s “idealism that doesn’t wait around.” Victoria Ford described her very own “bad cases of stripes” (similar to the trials of lima-bean-loving Camilla Cream), and bonded with Penn professor Kathy DeMarco Van Cleve over South Carolina connections and young family members’ obsessions with Ninjago. The night concluded with an after-school-snack-laden reception. Get involved at http://sensiblenonsense.us.

February 20, 2013: Round Up Holler Girl

This gathering of New York performance artists made for a thought-provoking evening at the Writers House as Dan Fishback, Max Steele, and Erin Markey read from some of their more recent projects. Fishback, the 2012/2013 KWH ArtsEdge resident, began by asking permission to “get a little brainy” and expressing the hope that his piece would be the biggest downer of the night, so that things could only get better. He read from his “Thirty Nothing” project, which parallels the development of the AIDS crisis with Fishback’s own life, choosing an essay on “the absence of queer peoplehood” that dealt with the tragic suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer, Lady Gaga’s response, the absence of gay male role models, and the association of death with queer identity (illustrated through a Star Trek clip that “always gives [him] chills… even though it’s so stupid”). Fishback lightened up a bit while introducing Max Steele, asking, in relation to Max’s work, “have you ever seen a performance that’s so good that you’re kind of scared?” Steele took the stage in a cheerful mood and a buttoned-up shirt (complete with yellow accent plaid), and read from the next issue of his “psychedelic porno poetry zine,” adopting playful inflection and poetic syntax in accordance with the chameleonic behavior of his protagonist. Erin Markey followed with a Mayor Munchkin impression and a reminder that “my parents almost named me Kelly, and if they had, this would be my house.” Her slow, solemn reading about reinventing herself in Georgia, and a song about psoriasis, rounded out the night.


January 30, 2013: Ken Lum

Ken Lum is here and he’s interesting,” said Al Filreis by way of introduction in this lunch talk, an event meant to welcome the new director of the undergraduate Fine Arts department to Penn. As attendees picked away at their Indian food, Filreis asked Lum about his experience growing up in East Vancouver: Lum elaborated on the multicultural quality of the city as well as his personal experience of poverty, explaining the influence of those conditions on the alterity of his artwork. Aspirations for collaborative work between Lum and the Writers House were stoked by Lum’s fascination with language, an interest, he said, driven by his early bilingualism. When asked his impressions of Philadelphia, Lum characterized it as “a deeply undertheorized city,” and explored the possibilities of politicizing the LOVE statue. After a glimpse at Lum’s thinking on communication between Penn’s subject-specific bureaucracies, the artist treated audience members to slides of his historically informed, subversive, and at times “monumental” work.

December 6, 2012: Penn Appétit 5TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION

“It all started with my crush on Tom Devaney,” said Penn Appétit founder Emma Morgenstern at this celebration of the magazine’s fifth anniversary. It was in Devaney’s food writing class that the germ that sprouted Penn Appétit was planted for Morgenstern, whose reminiscences of photo shoots in “dirty, dirty Harrison” and moldy fudge hinted at the escapades and camaraderie that the PA staff shares. Since Morgenstern’s days, the magazine has garnered countless accolades – no surprise, said current editor Eesha Sardesai, “because everyone loves food” – thanks to an impressive lineage of editors-in-chief, all of whom returned for the night’s festivities. Following Morgenstern at the podium were Editor #2, Elise Dihlman-Maltzer, whose strategy was to make a point and retreat to let people get to the sensational reception food, and Editor #3, Alex Marcus, who, with a healthy dose of wonder, explained that not only does Penn Appétit surface in prospective students’ admissions essays, but that the food photographers at Cornell’s Crème de Cornell use “Penn Appétit” as an adjective to describe expert shots. The editors were reminded of the incredible talent that the magazine attracts as readings by Abigail Koffler, Monica Purmalek (reading Chelsea Goldinger), and Katie Behrman dazzled listeners with mouthwatering details on New York pizza, frozen chicken, and fresh French bread. Nicole Woon and Jillian De Filippo rounded out the literary portion with poems from multiple contributors on everything from the Lee Ahn Food Truck to the transcendence of Kool Aid, while Creative Director Maggie Edkins added that illustrations and cover photos associated with the magazine would be on display for all to salivate over.

January 29, 2013: Edible Books Again!

This year’s edible books party perpetuated a strong Writers House tradition of literary food puns. With classics such as “A Raisin in the Bun” (literally, a raisin in a hot dog bun), “Pad Thai Rice Lost” (spilled takeout “representing [pad thai and rice’s] fall from grace” [Santi Cortes]), “Fifty Shades of Earl Grey,” “Some Cheese” (in honor of Fellow John Ashbery), and “Steve Cobs,” laughter was as plentiful as the glittery construction-paper crowns distributed to participants by Michelle Taransky and Alli Katz. Prizes were given in categories ranging from “Most Disturbing” to “Best Use of Food from Commons”; the empty plate for “The Hunger Games” even won “Most Conceptual.” At the end of the awards ceremony, guests feasted on the entries (with the exception of less appetizing entries like “Ketchup in the Rye”), be they visually appealing (The Very Hungry Caterpillar cupcakes) or mildly unsettling (“Animal Farm”).


November 7, 2012: Changing the Way We Drink

Penn undergraduate Becca Goldstein has a history with craft spirits. Having worked in several distilleries, Goldstein, who moderated this discussion on the changing face of drinking, could well be considered an authority on the subject herself. She was in good company with liquor enthusiasts Jo Randell, who bartends at Fiume; James Yoakum, who founded New Jersey’s first craft distillery, Cooper River Distillers; and Drew Lazor, a local food and drink writer. The program began with the panelists’ agreement that whiskey was their drink of choice, and proceeded to cover topics including the absence of spirits in sustainability discussions, the importance of talking to your bartender, the influence of Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire on the reemergence of cocktails, and brand-name loyalty in popular drinking. General laughter met Goldstein’s inquiry about Philadelphia liquor laws, and panelists expanded on the difficulty of introducing craft liquors to the area; Lazor remarked that “Philly is just kind of more of … a beer and shot town.” The panelists qualified that this could be changing, however, as “stuff that your Italian grandfather drank at like 2 PM playing bocce ball” (again, Lazor) becomes more and more fashionable. The program wrapped up with advice to young (legal) drinkers on being adventurous, an explanation of vermouth, and favorite hangover cures.

October 24, 2012: Andrew Whiteman and Ariel Engle

Who knew that Andrew Whiteman of Canada’s Broken Social Scene was, in the words of Al Filreis, “a guy who likes PoemTalk”? Whiteman and his talented wife Ariel Engle indeed confessed to being both PoemTalk and ModPo enthusiasts during this night’s surreal performance, pausing as they recognized Internet-celebrity-TAs Molly O’Neill, Emily Harnett, and Max McKenna. The two journeyed through their musical reinterpretation of In the Pines by Alice Notley (a poet they discovered through PennSound) in narrative order for the fellow “poetry people” in attendance, an atypical move in their history of performing the record. Transitioning from drummed-up percussion to bluesy vocals to space-age synth and back again, the duo conducted instrumental conversations with Notley’s compelling work. Engle’s cutting voice – which has been complimented by Notley herself – and Whiteman’s buttery tones mellowed the poet’s darkest lines to haunting effect. In the question-and-answer session that followed, an awed audience dug up details on the constraint-based songwriting process used to produce the record, Alice Notley’s feelings on the work, and artistic decisions regarding the ordering of the songs.

October 9, 2012: Writing About Art

Marcel Duchamp

Modeled after the ever-popular "7-up" series and 2011's Dylan-fest, Isaac Kaplan (C’15) organized the first ever "Writing About Art" program. It featured eight speakers, each having selected a (different) piece of art by Marcel Duchamp to describe, discuss, deconstruct, contextualize, riff off, etc. Novelist and keeper of the Institute of Contemporary Art’s blog “Miranda”, Rachel Pastan started the evening off right. Her talk on Bicycle Wheel (1913) highlighted Duchamp’s obsession with chance and made the audience want to visit the PMA and give the wheel a spin for themselves. Thomas Devaney utilized his poetical skills to deliver a hilarious, thought provoking way to create your own “personal trap” in the style of Duchamp’s 1917 work The Trap. Reminding us that the digital age hasn’t left Duchamp unscathed, the Writers House’s Lily Applebaum examined hashtags and the digital organization of Why Not Sneeze, Rose Selavy (1921) on the PMA’s website. ICA Staff Member and Penn Alum Grace Ambrose brought her expansive knowledge and charming style together in order to discuss Duchamp’s first work of installation art, First Papers of Surrealism (1942), which challenged the traditional art viewing experience. Student Henry Steinberg (C’13) created his own work of literary assemblage in homage to Torn Paper Self Portrait (1958). Things got explicit in every sense of the word as Philadelphia based artist Francie Shaw gave the crowd a detailed, extensive talk on the finer points of Duchamp’s masterwork Etant Donnes (1946). That same work was the focus of the venerable Penn professor and writer Jean-Michel Rabaté who explained Duchamp’s complex answer to the old question: when is a door not a door?

October 8, 2012: Charlie Morrow

Sound artist, composer, conceptualist

Internationally acclaimed sound poet Charlie Morrow’s pointed gestures and linguistic complexities blurred the lines between performance and preface in this dynamic creative ventures program. After an introduction that spanned the poet’s history with sound, and included speculation on recording as communication between the living and the dead, Morrow removed his characteristic bowler hat for a reading that incorporated mime, speaking in tongues, the language of peepers and toadfish, and systematic patriotic vowel movement, concluding each poem with a quiet nod and a shy smile. Morrow was eager to include the audience in his experimental choruses, noting “a lot of what I’m doing is so obvious it would be more fun if you joined me,” and drew amiable laughter with such pieces as “Counting to Ten, the Long Way” and “Who Knows.” He also shared some of his more visual/graphic work, most notably his recent “Spells” composed of friends’ names. The event concluded with a question and answer session in which Morrow discussed the jingle business, the politics of listening, and the process of hearing a space.


September 11, 2012: New Queer Jewish Writing: Dan Fishback and Ezra Berkley Nepon

Exuberant readers Ezra Berkley Nepon and Dan Fishback fused humor and solemnity in this lively exploration of their queer Jewish writing. Nepon began with a piece about “metal-head Bar Mitzvah boy” Ben Hesherman, her former drag king alter ego. With tentative pauses and refreshing modesty, Nepon turned to more serious matters, including her outrage at seeing a girl bring a unicycle to Auschwitz, before reading from her play “Between Two Worlds” excerpts featured “alter-ego animals and stuff” as well as Coney Island carnival ride sex metaphors. Nepon concluded with an ode to the late Adrian Cooper in which she postured that “Yiddish realness is a performance of vernacular drag.” Jessica Lowenthal proceeded to introduce ArtsEdge resident Dan Fishback through a series of funny emails for “a flavor of the early years.” Fishback prefaced his reading with painful recollections of his less-than-enjoyable time as a Penn student – remarking that he didn’t know whether he was being attacked for being gay, anti-Zionist, or anti-war – and qualified that returning was a “triumph” rather than a trauma. With a self-mocking tone, he read a favorite “well-intentioned liberal” Daily Pennsylvanian column from his undergrad years, turning a supposed obsession with squirrels into a scathing critique of prewar America. To follow were a monologue, complete with sassy stage directions, in which Fishback considers Nihilism as “a nice metaphysical alternative,” and an excerpt from “Thirty Nothing” which involved mimed cigarette smoking, sultry asides, and an explanation of the difference between synecdoche and metonymy courtesy of Santi Cortes. In the Q&A that followed, the writers drew parallels between Jewish and queer traditions, defined “prostalgia,” discussed old queer Jewish writing, and fielded a difficult question on how “seen” queerness is in the modern day.


December 7, 2011: Material Construction

An Investigation in Text and Movement as Artistic Materials

In artistic practice and production, TEXT and MOVEMENT are materials with distinct texture, history, function, possibility, charge. This evening’s program includes five artists, working in choreography, performance, sound and the written word. Through a variety of multimedia performance, “reading” and participatory workshop, each of these artists will lead audience members through an embodied and communal investigation of text and movement: what they are, what they do, the overlap and interstice, the way instances of each construct space, bodies, and community, the possibility of a map, the relationships we find and make.

November 15, 2011: The Henry Ford of Literature

a talk by ArtsEdge Resident Rolf Potts

ArtsEdge resident and travel writer Rolf Potts introduced us to the revolutionary “Little Blue Books” project of Emanuel Haldeman-Julius in this Creative Ventures program. Girard, Kansas, Potts told audience members, was once the unlikely hub of this 1920s “pop culture sensation,” sending titles from “How to Psycho-Analyze Yourself” to “How to Make All Types of Candy” to mailboxes and subway vending machines across the US. Haldeman-Julius’s socialist-literary vision brought over 300 million 5-to-10-cent pamphlet-books into publication for the enjoyment of the working class, and with prescient works on birth control and sex techniques, made room for various social revolutions to follow. Potts emphasized the “cinematic” nature of Haldeman-Julius’s life, starting with his revelatory encounter with an Oscar Wilde booklet, and charmed the audience with details on the publisher’s creative retitling of seemingly dry works. Potts segued into a question and answer session by discussing the possibility of a Haldeman-Julius biography and noteworthy take-aways for aspiring writers, concluding the evening with free Little Blue Books for all attendees.

November 10, 2011: Kristina Ford

The Trouble With City Planning: What New Orleans Can Teach Us

The Urban Studies department cosponsored this packed Creative Ventures event on the aftermath of Katrina in the city of New Orleans. Six years after the storm, Kristina Ford reflected on the chaos that followed the tragedy from a city planning perspective. Reading from her recent book The Trouble With City Planning, Ford detailed with dismay the “every man for himself” approach to reconstruction in New Orleans on both local and federal levels, remembering her husband’s post-storm comment that “a lot of people around the country [were] licking their chops.” Ford’s personal attachment to the city was clear as she indicated the worst-flooded areas on a map, saying that these days, many such areas look “a lot like the savannah.” Nevertheless, Ford adhered to the belief that optimism is the “fundamental characteristic” of city planners, and that Katrina actually offered a “rare opportunity” for planners to do what they are meant to do: “to engage in a conversation about the future,” with heavy emphasis on citizen input. After a dynamic question and answer session, Ford concluded the event on a lighter note, saying, “that’s enough, soup’s on”; she referenced, of course, a legendary New-Orleans-themed reception that is still remembered fondly in the Writers House kitchen today.


November 5, 2011: The Creative Economy

This homecoming weekend event offered consolation to skeptical parents of English and Fine Arts majors, demonstrating the desirability of creativity in “real-world” jobs. Penn professor and moderator Peter Decherney introduced four power-player panelists before each spoke on their understanding of the broadly defined creative economy. Chief cultural officer of Philadelphia Gary Steuer provided an apt start to the program, emphasizing the importance of a “seamless flowing back and forth” between for-profit and non-profit arts endeavors in today’s knowledge economy. Cheryl J. Family of MTV added that for many corporations, creative leadership is considered a “secret sauce” despite the hesitation many companies display towards the term; oval-shaped Kleenex boxes and content-theft muffin halves were among her intriguing examples. Despite a slightly nervous start which she attributed to her lack of instrument, musician and “lover of crazy ideas” Veronica Jerkiewicz spoke eloquently about her performance project Classical Revolution. GRID magazine’s Alex Mulchay took a somewhat contrarian approach to creative culture by critiquing Daniel Pink’s assertions in Erin Gautsche’s recommended read A Whole New Mind. During the question and answer session, panelists described the statistically proven success of employees with arts backgrounds, the movement “to turn STEM to STEAM” (adding “arts” to “science, technology, engineering, and math”), minimizing pejorative connotations surrounding creativity, the triple bottom line, and the perplexing appeal of The Jersey Shore.

November 2, 2011: Judy's Turn

The Writers House echoed with ’60s pop hits during this roller-coaster of a play written and directed by Penn senior Violette Carb. The atmosphere was festive from the start, as the Arts Café was transformed into both a performance space and a casual party setting (a pastel-clad Josh Herren didn’t hesitate to bop along to the introductory music). Audience members quickly learned that they were at Davy’s party, where Julie and her boyfriend Johnny have a fight over his class ring. Julie’s ex-friend, the notoriously easy Judy, and Johnny soon have a jealousy-inducing encounter in his “red-and-cream Thunderbird,” leading Julie to fight back. Before long all three confused high-schoolers find themselves in the same room, culminating in a revealing fight scene that lends insight about the play’s earlier appearance at the 2011 Fringe Festival. Suddenly lines like “it’s girls like you that created so-called girls like me” take on new meaning as cross-dressing and gender-bending ensue, giving strange perspective on each initially archetypal character.

Written and directed by Violette Carb. Starring Brooks Russell as Johnny, Ansley Sawyer as Julie, and Markie Reichert as Judy.

October 27, 2011: Flash Fiction Flash Mob

Inspiration comes in a flash. So do floods, and so do mobs. Immortality, too, in flashes photographic or cryogenic. Grins & knives flash, and a frowned-upon kind of trench-coated person, and loud bits of jewelry and expensive fashions. Flashes can illuminate or blind, solidify or disintegrate, define or erase, overflow or disappear.

And what is the relationship between writing & time? How much time does it take to write? How much time do we get back by reading? Or is it the other way around?

Whether you think of yourself as a "writer" or not, we're sure that you've got some creative urges you're dying to indulge. So come one and come all! Join us for an evening of group writing exercises that will explore some unconventional ways of approaching writing, exercises that will push you a little outside your usual frame of mind and free you up for some exciting creative possibilities. It'll definitely be more than a little silly, but you can't look dignified while having fun, y'know?

A series of three writers' workshops-in-miniature, each run by a different leader, each lasting about half an hour, will give you the opportunity to create short works in a short time alongside a group of other busy scribblers as we test different angles of approach to the page & each other. These extemporaneous writings will be later collected into a small anthology and made available over the web—and perhaps even a small chapbook! Participants will receive copies to commemorate the event.

There'll be tea & cookies & other munchable things, too. It'll be cozy!

Our inaugural Flash Fiction Flash Mob exercise leaders are Sam Allingham, Timothy Leonido, and Thomson Guster.


October 15, 2011: Re:Activism in Philadelphia

We are pleased to announce the first round of play of Re:Activism in Philadelphia, brought about through the collaboration of the Kelly Writers House's Creative Ventures program, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and the University of Pennsylvania's Urban Studies department.

Created by Colleen Macklin, Associate Professor of Design and Technology at Parsons and Design Director of PETLab, Re:Activism is a big urban game designed to involve its participants in their city's history of activism and public protest. The game requires its players to move about the city performing challenges at sites relevant to the history of activism, highlighting the continued significance of protest sites through conducting interviews with passersby, staging reenactments of past protests, and making creative use of protest tactics (e.g. creation of protest signs, distribution of literature) in order to gather points.

Originally designed for play in New York City, Re:Activism Philadelphia will take its players on a unique journey through Philadelphia's rich history of activism, celebrating the legacy of protest while educating its players with instances of historical activist causes, such as the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society (formed in 1833), as well as engaging them in more familiar contemporary issues, such as the school budget protests at the Criminal Justice Center in March of 2011.

The event will begin at 11:30 AM at the ICA (118 S. 36th St.) and end at the Kelly Writers House. Accept the challenge and join us for Re:Activism Philadelphia!" To RSVP, go to www.icaphila.org.

Re:Activism is a game that explores a city's history of protests, riots, and other forms of political unrest. Players competitively navigate sitesof local struggle and resistance, documenting activism-based challenges with cellphones and using SMS. This interactive game allows participants to "play their city," drawing parallels between struggles, unearth moments of local radical history, and theatrically subvert business-as-usual. Re:Activism is a collaboration between ICA, Kelly Writers House and the Department of Urban Studies, and is supported by the Office of the Provost of the University of Pennsylvania. RSVP required, visit www.icaphila.org for more details.


October 5, 2011: An Edible Book Party

The Kelly Writers House hosts an Edible Book Party celebrating works of art inspired by books and created in kitchens. All are welcome to join the festival to browse the library of edible titles or to contribute their own. Edible books could show up as depictions of literary characters or scenes, interpretations of titles or themes, or sculptures of actual books. Prizes will be awarded in a variety of categories, including "most punny," "most literal" and the "creative spirit award." Come hungry, come curious, and apply to Erin Gautsche for grocery funds to create and display your favorite story as an Edible Book.