The day after Commencement marks a winding-down period for much of campus, and this year it will also be the day Penn breaks ground on the Kelly Writers House (KWH) expansion. The new Kelly Family Annex will include the Student Projects Space and the Zises Family Seminar Room, and will transform the building’s side garden into an ideal outdoor reading and performance venue.
The highlight of the Annex—and the impetus for its construction—is its impending state-of-the-art digital recording studio. Supported by KWH Advisory Board members Nina and Gary Wexler and named after their son, the Freddy Wexler Studio will advance KWH’s initiatives to bring literature to students, readers, and writers around the world through digital media. Freddy Wexler is a Penn alumnus whose involvement with Writers House helped him launch a successful career as a music producer in Los Angeles.
Al Filreis, faculty director and co-founder of KWH, says the House's growing need for a dedicated studio space goes back to its founding purpose to be “part of the president’s and provost’s efforts at that time to create co-curricular learning spaces for students that would provide intellectual enrichment outside the classroom.”
The presidential directive came in the mid-1990s, a time when digital media and the internet were just beginning to catch on, and Filreis was among a small group of Penn alumni, students, and faculty who identified these innovations as ideal vehicles for creating a community where students could experience, in his words, “what it’s like to be part of the arts and feel like this is part of their education.”
With 22 million downloadable files and counting, KWH’s PennSound boasts the world’s largest archive of poets reading their own work. Other digital platforms for which Writers House is well-known include "Alumverse," an alumni book group that constituted one of the earliest listservs; Jacket 2, the oldest online poetry magazine; and ModPo, a massive open online course offered through Penn and Coursera that has attracted 80,000 enrollees in just two years.
The KWH building currently affords only one room that can accommodate the House’s dual needs for a recording space and a performance venue, which has posed an increasing challenge over the years. The Wexler Studio will ease the recording process for House visitors' podcasts, webcasts, radio programs, and interviews. Filreis says he expects to double the House's already extensive offering of programs, saying, “We are going to be running that studio all day, every day, producing more content than ever before.”
Completion of the project is slated for November. All KWH programs will continue uninterrupted throughout the fall, and a celebratory event is being planned for January 2015.