Writers Room participant Jordan McCullough reads to a crowd at last year's Writers Room anthology reading. Photo courtesy Jen Britton.
Last year, Drexel’s Writers Room published an anthology of work contributed by Drexel students and community members during the literary arts program’s first season of programming. When its second anthology reading is held from 4:30–6 p.m. on June 7, a whole year’s worth of work will be highlighted — and a whole night’s worth of activities will be featured.
The event, “Anthology Two and Portraits Through Time,” will be a public reading, with members of special Writers Room courses and workshops reading pieces they’ve published in this year’s anthology. Yet the celebration will also be an art gallery show; work will be on display that was created at Writers Room during a day-long drawing and writing workshop given by Jacklynn Niemiec, an assistant teaching professor of architecture in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, and Valerie Fox, PhD, a teaching professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences. Niemiec received a Westphal Faculty Mini-Grant that helped finance the workshop and the limited-edition chapbook of works created that day.
After all of that, there will be a community dinner prepared by members of Drexel’s culinary department and Brian Lofink ’03, the Dornsife community chef in residence and chef at The Sidecar Bar and Kermit’s Bake Shoppe.
It’s fitting that people from all backgrounds and disciplines will be coming together and partaking in these different forms of art — that’s what Writers Room is all about. Though it is a College of Arts and Sciences and University Writing Program initiative held within the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships, Writers Room is open to all Drexel students, staff, faculty and alumni plus community members in nearby Mantua and Powelton.
“We scheme to make it so cool people can do cool things here,” explained Kirsten Kaschock, PhD, an assistant teaching professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences and assistant director of Writers Room. “That’s what people are really responding to.”
People have been responding since the program was started last year by Rachel Wenrick, an associate teaching professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of Writers Room. There’s even more to do now, thanks to the expanded programming.
From the very beginning, Drexel faculty and students have worked with community members to revise and develop their pieces at monthly workshops. Writers Room also expanded its course offerings since the last anthology reading, which meant that more students and community members were taught by faculty from the Department of English & Philosophy. The courses were “War Stories,” in which Robert Watts, an associate teaching professor, used nonfiction, fiction and autobiographical texts of veterans to create discussions about war and literature; Wenrick’s “Creative Nonfiction,” in which students read classic and contemporary nonfiction literature to examine their experiences for meaning; and “Philadelphia Stories,” which was taught by Gabriella Ibieta, PhD, an associate professor, and allowed students to read and write essays on novels about Philadelphia.
An additional lineup of workshops, book discussions, and special events were also introduced to great success. In February, Writers Room was invited to the Free Library’s “One Book, One Philadelphia” program launch, featuring performances by students at the Curtis Institute. Last month, a group of participants went to the College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Lecture Series to hear author Zadie Smith speak and answer some of their questions. After all of these events, participants wrote about what they learned and experienced.
“The level of involvement with Writers Room has been amazing,” said Wenrick. “It’s really transformative for students and teachers to have that kind of space.”
A pilot program was introduced this year to give Drexel students one writing credit for their work produced at Writers Room. A handful of students across the University participated, with more expected next year. These students added to the mix of dedicated community members to create what Kaschock calls a “hardcore group” of Writers Room devotees who not only come to events but also bring their friends.
“A lot of people want to come in and tell a story or their own story,” she said. “So you learn a lot when you build relationships with them.”
Currently, Writers Room is planning a festival’s worth of programming this fall to celebrate Zora Neale Hurston’s life and magnum opus “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” thanks to a Big Read Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. As previously covered by DrexelNow, Writers Room will partner with the Free Library of Philadelphia to use the book in events including workshops, seminars, lectures, a soul food cooking class and even a parade.
But before the programming and courses for the next academic year can happen, Writers Room is coming together to reflect on all that happened this past year. It’s a great opportunity for those involved with the program — as well as those thinking of getting involved — to see and hear what can be created at Writers Room.