Annual programs

The Charles Bernheimer symposium


Gabrielle Bell's work has been selected for the 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 Best American Comics and the Yale Anthology of Graphic Fiction. She has contributed to The New Yorker, The Paris Review, McSweeneys, The Believer, and Vice Magazine. The title story of Bell's book, Cecil and Jordan in New York, has been adapted for the film anthology Tokyo! by Michel Gondry. Her first full-length graphic memoir, Everything is Flammable, was named one of the best graphic novels of 2017 by Entertainment Weekly, Paste Magazine, and Publisher's Weekly. Her most recent book, Inappropriate, is a collection of humorous and weird short comics, usually involving animals. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Liana Finck's cartoons appear regularly in The New Yorker and on her Instagram feed. Her recent books are Excuse Me, a collection of Instagram cartoons, and a graphic novel, Passing for Human.


How do you make one of Time's top 10 podcasts of the year with an iPhone and a sponge as your only recording equipment? What makes a conversation interesting to people who can't be part of it? And if you have no mystery to explore, can you draw listeners in with empathy instead? Join us on Tuesday, February 11, at 6:00 PM for this year’s Bernheimer Symposium, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know (But were Afraid to Ask) about How to Succeed In Podcasting Without Really Interrupting Each Other.” Journalist SARAH MARSHALL will join us to talk about her podcast YOU'RE WRONG ABOUT, a show about misremembered history, her lifelong obsession with righting the legacies of maligned women, and how to get your project started when you don't know where to start.

SARAH MARSHALL has published nonfiction with Buzzfeed, The New Republic, and The Believer, and hosts You're Wrong About, a podcast about misremembered history. Before settling in Philadelphia to work on the podcast full-time, she produced it on the road while working as a traveling journalist, house sitter, and sled dog handler.


This year's Bernheimer Symposium is “Extremely Online,” a panel discussion between five comedy writers on the practice of being funny in the age of platform capitalism. The conversation will cover a wide range of topics from Facebook's looming influence on comedy institutions to the effects of Twitter's timeline on the voices and psyches of emerging joke writers. Using tweets, video clips, screenshots, and many personal anecdotes to parse through the current state of comedy, the panel should serve as a guiding light for aspiring satirists or anyone whose ever wondered when's the appropriate time to log off. The event will be hosted by Ronald Metellus, and features Kyle Harris, Caitlin Kunkel, Jeremy Levick and Milly Tamarez.

Milly Tamarez is a stand-up, writer, and comedic actor based out of Brooklyn, New York. She has written for the Onion Studios, Reductress, BRIC, and has been featured on Vice, BET, Above Average, Univision, and Comedy Central. She's the founder of the satirical website Flexx Magazine.

Kyle Harris is a comedian and writer originally from Boston and recently moved to Brooklyn, Kyle is a regular at Good Good Comedy Theatre where you can see him every second Sunday of the month with the sketch comedy collective Darlings. He's also performed at clubs including Punchline Philly, Helium Comedy Club, ImprovBoston and currently studies at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in NYC. He most recently performed at the 2018 Cream City Comedy Festival in Milwaukee, the Altercation Comedy Festival in Austin and is a contributor to satirical site Flexx Mag.

Jeremy Levick is a Brooklyn-based writer and comedian. He's currently a senior contributing writer at The Onion and a contributor at its sister site ClickHole.

Caitlin Kunkel is a comedy writer and satirist who lives in Brooklyn. She created and teaches the Online Satire program for The Second City and is a co-founder of the comedy and satire site for female writers, The Belladonna. Her first satirical book, “New Erotica for Feminists,” was published last November.

Ronald Metellus is a writer and performer who works as a senior contributor at The Onion. He's currently developing a web series with OpenTV and is a friend of the Writers House.

September 27, 2017: PATRICIA LOCKWOOD

Patricia Lockwood was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and raised in all the worst cities of the Midwest. She is the author of a memoir, Priestdaddy, and two poetry collections, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black and Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, a New York Times Notable Book. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New Republic, and The London Review of Books. She lives in Savannah, Georgia.


Sam Allingham is the author of the story collection The Great American Songbook. His short fiction has appeared in No Tokens, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and One Story, and has received a Special Mention for the Pushcart Prize. He lives in Philadelphia and teaches at Temple University.

Emma Copley Eisenberg is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. Her work can or will be found in American Short Fiction, Electric Literature, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Salon, Slate, Hyperallergic, The New Republic and others has been supported by Lambda Literary, Buzzfeed, and the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. She has an MFA in fiction from the University of Virginia and lives in West Philadelphia.


John Szwed, author of Billie Holiday: the Musician and the Mythand Farah Jasmine Grffin, author of If You Can’t Be Free Be a Mystery will discuss Billie Holiday’s time in Philadelphia for this year’s Bernheimer Symposium. Established in the memory of Comparative Literature teacher and scholar Charles Bernheimer by Writers House Advisory Board member Kate Levin (GAS'96), the Bernheimer Symposium is organized each year by the Writers House Program Coordinator, who takes the opportunity to think expansively about programming possibilities.

John Szwed is an anthropologist, musician, and writer who has taught African American Studies, Film Studies, Music, Anthropology, and Performance Studies at New York University, the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, and Columbia University, where he was Director of the Center for Jazz Studies. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, and in 2006 was awarded a Grammy for Doctor Jazz, a book included with Jelly Roll Morton: the Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax. Szwed has published widely as a journalist, and his books include So What: the Life of Miles Davis, Space is the Place: the Lives and Times of Sun Ra, Alan Lomax: the Man Who Recorded the World, and Billie Holiday: the Musician and the Myth.

Farah Jasmine Griffin is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She received her B.A. from Harvard (1985) and her Ph.D. from Yale (1992) Professor Griffin’s major fields of interest are African American literature, music, history and politics. The recipient of numerous honors and awards for her teaching and scholarship, in 1996-97 Professor Griffin was a fellow at the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College. She is the author of Who Set You Flowin'?: The African American Migration Narrative (Oxford University Press, 1995), the co-editor (with Cheryl Fish) of Stranger in the Village: Two Centuries of African American Travel Writing (Beacon, 1998), If You Can't Be Free Be A Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday (Free Press, 2001) and the editor of Beloved Sisters and Loving Friends: Letters from Addie Brown and Rebecca Primus (Knopf, 1999). Her most recent book is Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II.

November 17, 2014: The End of the World

Whether it's fire, ice or zombie outbreak, everyone has an idea about the end of the world. This year's Bernheimer Symposium celebrates the apocalypse: how we get there, what it's like, and what happens next featuring experts, readers, and a zine. Established in the memory of Comparative Literature teacher and scholar Charles Bernheimer by Writers House Advisory Board member Kate Levin (GAS '96), the Bernheimer Symposium is organized each year by the Writers House Program Coordinator, who takes the opportunity to think expansively about programming possibilities.


Lynn Povich is an award-winning journalist who has spent more than 40 years in the news business. After graduating from Vassar, she began her career as a secretary in the Paris Bureau of Newsweek magazine, rising to become a reporter and writer in New York. In 1970, she was one of 46 women who sued the magazine for sex discrimination, the first women in the media to sue. Five years later, she was appointed the first woman Senior Editor in Newsweek’s history. Lynn has written a book, The Good Girls Revolt, about that landmark lawsuit, its bittersweet impact on the women involved and what has--and hasn't changed. Lynn became Editor-in-Chief of Working Woman magazine in 1991, and in 1996, she joined as East Coast Managing Editor, overseeing the internet content of NBC News and MSNBC Cable programs and personalities. In 2005, she edited a book of columns by her father, famed Washington Post sports writer Shirley Povich, called ALL THOSE MORNINGS...AT THE POST. A recipient of the Matrix Award for Magazines, Lynn serves on the Advisory Boards of the International Women's Media Foundation and the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.

January 15, 2013: Locust Moon Press on Comics

Organized by Program Coordinator Alli Katz, this year’s Bernheimer Symposium featured the brains behind Locust Moon Press, creators of the comics anthology Once Upon a Time Machine, a “compendium of future fairy tales” published by Dark Horse Books; and an upcoming collection of work inspired by Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland. They shared both their work and insight into the process of realizing large collaborative artistic projects.

February 8, 2012: Pico Iyer

Co-sponsored by Creative Writing

Pico Iyer is a travel-writer, essayist, and novelist born in England, raised in California, and educated at Eton, Oxford, and Harvard. After teaching writing and literature at Harvard, he joined Time in 1982 as a writer on world affairs. Since then he has traveled widely, from North Korea to Easter Island, and from Paraguay to Ethiopia, and basing himself in Japan, where he lives with his Japanese wife. He writes on literature for The New York Review of Books; on globalism for Harper's; on travel for the Financial Times; and on many other themes for the New York Times, National Geographic, TLS, Conde Nast Traveler, The New Yorker, Sports Illustrated, and His books include Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, Cuba and the Night, Falling off the Map, Tropical Classical, and The Global Soul. In his latest, The Man Within My Head—out in January from Knopf—Iyer sets out to unravel the mysterious closeness he has always felt with the English writer Graham Greene, examining Greene's obsessions, his elusiveness, and his penchant for mystery.

November 11, 2010: A Conversation with Judy Wicks on Food, Politics, and Activism

There was a full house and full table spread for White Dog founder and activist, Judy Wicks, who visited us for lunch on November 11th, 2010. This should come as no surprise; as she explained, Wicks is in the practice of “bringing people together around food,” placing her many projects and organizations under the umbrella description, ‘peace through parties’. “I use good food to lure innocent customers into social activism," she said playfully though in no way joking. Indeed, she reminisced with audience members she recognized from the days when White Dog was just a coffee shop about anti-war trips down to Washington D.C., and shared what, to her mind, are the most important factors that contribute to the “local living economy movement” and, ultimately, world peace. “Win-win exchange, not win-lose exploitation; slow food, not fast food; valuing life over life-style; being more, not having more…" These are only a few of Wicks’s guiding principles yet as anyone who attended the 5th annual Charles Bernheimer Symposium could tell you, the most impressive was the example Wicks set herself.

November 10, 2009: Leonard Cassuto and S.J. Rozan on Crime Fiction

On a Tuesdsay evening, Professor Leonard Cassuto and writer S.J. Rozan joined us for a discussion on crime fiction. Immediately catering to our questions, the pair orchestrated the event as a conversation. “This is so school,” Rozan comically remarked after her introduction, “you know, everybody’s sitting in the back.” The seating arrangement did little to subtract from the topics we covered, however, which ranged from meta-mobsters to W.H. Auden’s addiction to Cozies, to the question of realism in the crime novel. Alluding to the hot genre of the day, Cassuto waggishly concluded, “vampires are, of course, serial killers of a certain kind.” For such a sinister genre, it was a light and enlightening night at the Writers house, which Rozan feels is “one of the great things about crime writers…. A lot of us take our work really seriously,” she mused, “but we don’t take ourselves all that seriously.”

September 25, 2008: Food Writing

Our third annual Bernheimer Symposium celebrated the wonderful genre of food writing and we treated events like meals-- they nourished us all through the day. For lunch, local writer and food blogger, Dynise Balcavage, joined us to discuss her blog, Urban Vegan, along with freelance writing in general. Then for an afternoon snack (albeit an elaborate one) Erin Gautsche led a KWH Reception Bootcamp where she gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Writers House table spreads. Participants had the rare privilege of joining Erin and her staff as they translated recipes from Penn alum, Ellen Yin’s cookbook, Forklore, into ready-to-be-devoured dishes (the Leek and Gorgonzola Bruschetta as well as the Poached Shrimp with Wasabi Cocktail Sauce especially proved to be hits).

Anticipating this delicious feast, we sat down to an evening talk by Lin herself who was quick to note the irony of her cookbook: “really, I’m not a chef and I’m not a writer!” she insisted. Whether or not we agree with these claims, her message to do what you love certainly struck a resonant chord. “My parents were extremely against me opening a restaurant…[they] knew that working in a restaurant was an extremely hard life and they were doing everything they possibly could…to protect their child from having to do anything that was too extremely difficult.” Yin’s experience was easily identifiable with many of our writerly aspirations, and her success in the face of these challenges was uplifting for everyone. “There is something unique about Fork,” she said of her restaurant, “it’s very comforting and very warm…it’s a very very cozy place and it…makes people feel amicable and happy.” We couldn’t help but think that sounded exactly like the Writers House.

February 13, 2008: Johanna Drucker

“Books, not babies, is my motto.” So says scholar, book-artist, and visual poet, Johanna Drucker, who visited us in the middle of the week in the middle of February to discuss "the difference between writing and writing a book." Her address opened with a comparison: nearly all 20th century poets were aware of the form of the poem (its look and layout on the page) but the book as a coherent and cohesive unit has been overlooked more often than not. “Anybody who ignores the gutter—is crazy,” she declared, exposing one such commonly neglected consideration. Several folks laughed knowingly, and the not-so-in-the-know among us learned what a book gutter. Additionally, we were happily acquainted with “the algebra of books” and the ways in which working with a letterpress might reveal one’s own "language idiosyncrasies." For Drucker, "there's no rules in artmaking, that's for sure" (38:20) but there is a difference between art that references the book (a ‘book icon’ as she calls it) and the art of bookmaking. And for any sentimental readers who like the feel and smell of a book, she left us with an optimistic message: “I don't think it's because we're at the end of the era of the book that people are working with books, I think it's because the available means of production technology are so much more widespread than they ever were that that kind of engagement is possible.” At last she declared, “the book is so not over,” which we welcomed with a resounding ‘yes’!

"Exquisite Printwork"

After her talk, Drucker led a few lucky participants in the afternoon for a collaborative writing and printing workshop at the Common Press, Morgan building. Together they made beautiful images which nothing can capture as well as the images below.

January 25, 2007: Marathon reading of Jack Kerouac's On the Road

Co-sponsored by the Penn Humanities Forum

Our first Marathon Reading took place on a winter Thursday in 2007. Jack Kerouac's rollicking and rambling classic, On the Road, was a perfect inaugural choice considering the manner in which it was written -- as a three-week marathon writing project. For our rendition, participants read in 10-minute increments from a handmade scroll (modeled after Kerouac's original) that gathered triumphantly on the floor as the evening progressed. Fifties-era music helped set the tone, including a live performance from Penn Jazz. To help readers and audience members make it through this massive endurance feat, we offered a spread of dishes from the novel, each paired with a corresponding quote from the text. A sign in front of a bowl of bananas read, "'Until you learn to realize the importance of the Banana King, you will know absolutely nothing about the human-interest things of the world,' said Remi emphatically."

Erin Gautsche conceived of the Marathon Reading project, as a response to the the Penn Humanities Forum, whose theme that year was travel and the concept of "the road." As Roger Weber reported in his Daily Pennsylvanian article, Erin confirmed "nobody else has ever done this before with this book." Innovative as always, this first Marathon Reading was a promising start for what would shortly become one of the Writers House's most beloved traditions.