Writers unite in latest venture

The new project will join three student writing programs

The Daily Pennsylvanian
January 16, 2003

AOL and Time Warner. Mobile and Exxon. MCI and WorldCom.

And now the University has introduced the next big merger -- one that could enhance the writing requirement at Penn.

The Writing Program, the Creative Writing Program and Kelly Writers House will join together, while maintaining their separate functions, under a new umbrella organization -- the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing.

Kelly Family Professor of English Alan Filreis will be heading the new center, which will officially open on July 1. The directors of the three, currently separate, writing programs will report directly to Filreis to allow an energetic alignment of the three programs.

"What we're trying to achieve is a greater whole than the sum of the parts," Filreis said. "Penn has been doing writing in disparate parts."

Arts and Letters Dean Rebecca Bushnell -- who is scheduled to step up as dean of the College in July -- is pleased that Filreis has taken on the position.

"He will bring his phenomenal energy" to the project, Bushnell said.

The Center will be located at 3808 Walnut Street in a historic building in the backyard of Kelly Writers House. The School of Arts and Sciences is planning its renovation and the installment of some of the latest technical aids in the teaching of writing.

"We're... creating a writing neighborhood," Filreis said.

Undergraduate English Department Chairwoman Nancy Bentley referred to Filreis as the "brain child" of the whole project. She said that taking on a new venture that is such a departure from the traditional curriculum would require a leader like Filreis.

"In some ways," Bentley said, "I can only imagine someone like Al trying this new program."

The concentration of the new center will be focused on making writing courses and writing resources more accessible to students across disciplines. It aims to expand student opportunity at both the introductory and advanced levels.

Filreis said the center aims to encourage writers who are not necessarily English majors -- "I'd guess of the 9,800 undergraduate students, 800 or 1,000 think of themselves as screenwriters" -- to have more opportunities to improve their skills beyond the mandatory writing requirement.

Creative and critical writing will now be combined, permitting students to be "more expressive, giving them a certain power of expression," Bentley said.

The center will sponsor workshops, symposiums, renowned guests and student publications. It will also house a writing lab with state of the art technology.

Bushnell believes that this conglomeration of writing resources will also be the envy of other higher education institutions. She said that to her extent of knowledge, no other university has employed such a comprehensive system.

Director of the Kelly Writer's House Kerry Sherin echoed that sentiment, saying that in most other schools, one would expect to encounter a writing program, writing support group or writing intensive classes. But what they don't have, Sherin said, is a place where all members of the university can collaborate to develop extended opportunities for the students.

Bushnell is enthusiastic for this project to finally materialize because "it sends the message that [the University] wants to send -- writing can be intellectually exciting."

The Kelly Writers House in itself is already a unique establishment on Penn's campus. Sherin felt that it will most likely "continue to be doing what it has been doing," but will be enhanced by the program.

"The center will continue to create a sense of community among the different departments that deal with writing at Penn."

Bentley agreed that the center will foster communication between the writing programs. She has helped oversee the transitional process the program is now undergoing "from a decentralized system to a more integrated one."

The program is being initiated by the School of Arts and Sciences. The Provost's office is currently affiliated with the Kelly Writers House and will continue to play an active role.