Penn and Pencil: Writing outside the cubicle

Penn employess, aspiring writers, find community at creative writing workshop

· January 30, 2014, 6:51 pm   ·  Updated January 31, 2014, 1:06 am

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Penn employees are taking up their pens with a passion.

Penn and Pencil – a creative writing group for Penn employees – creates a comfortable space for aspiring writers to compose and exchange ideas.

Currently hosted in the Kelly Writers House, the group has around 20 dedicated members whose day jobs range from doctor to systems engineer.

In this supportive environment, members help one another write short stories, poems and nonfiction essays. They have had the chance to work with agents and publish their work, both online and in print.

“I look forward to our meetings because I know I will learn something new and be exposed to unique perspectives from the members,” Alex Lerro, an assistant in Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, said.

John Shea, editor of Penn Medicine, the magazine of the Medical Center, and one of the founding members of the group, is the most prolific writer. His main work is “Tales from Webster’s,” a collection of short stories composed of a series of consecutive words in the Webster’s Dictionary.

Shea has won several awards, such as a poetry and fiction contest in the Philadelphia City Paper.

The workshop is usually a comfortable atmosphere where each member is encouraged to share his writing and speak up without pressure.

In particular, the group focuses on providing “solid criticism” for each other. “It’s critical but it’s also helpful and friendly,” Leullen Fletcher , the chair of the group and an administrator at the Perelman School of Medicine, said.

Members have written a large number of pieces, and are constantly working to come up with new stories.

Linda White , who no longer works for Penn but is continuing with Penn and Pencil, just finished writing “Crimes of Fashion Models,” which centers on four models to show “the behind-the-scenes of the fashion industry.”

She immediately set to work on a new piece related to her previous story, possibly about “a necktie that kills the guy who is wearing it.”

The group was started in 1997 by Jennifer Baldino , director of External Affairs of the President’s office. Many of the members have been involved with the group since its inception and are thus very dedicated to the group. For example, Christine Otis , a former Penn employee, continues to take part in the meetings via Skype even after moving to Florida.

The group attracts interest even from those who do not work at Penn. Fletcher said she often receives the question “Do I qualify to get into your group?” from people who have only attended one class at Penn.

Every member showed affection for the group. “I became friends with people whom I might not have been able to meet,” Lerro said. “It’s a nurturing environment.”

Penn and Pencil is holding a reading on Feb. 26th, 6 p.m. at Kelly Writers House to present its works.

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