After months of renovations and construction at a price tag of $6.8 million, the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, which houses the Shapiro Creative Writing Center, is ready for the first day of classes. The Center will provide space for many departments and programs.
The new Center was made possible by a gift from Robert L. Allbritton ’92 and Elena Allbritton ’93 and their family. John M. Shapiro ’74 and Shonni J. Silverberg’76 gave $3.5 million to endow the Shapiro Creative Writing Center.
Several programs will find a new home in the Center according to Donald J. Moon, Dean of the Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Programs. The Feminist Gender and Sexuality Studies (FGSS) program, the Quantitative Analysis Center (QAC) and Information Technology Service’s (ITS) Instructional Media Services will all be housed in the Center. Science in Society program (SiSP), which has not yet had a physical home on campus, will also eventually join them.
Students will have access to computer labs as well as a lounge on the ground floor and a cafe area on the top floor. The cafe area will not be serving food but this is a future possibility according to Dean of the Arts and Humanities Krishna Winston.
“There is so much informal space,” said Assistant Professor of English Lisa Cohen, who specializes in creative nonfiction writing. “There is a lot of space for students and faculty to interact formally and informally.”
Cohen is enthusiastic about the new Shapiro Creative Writing Center, which is located on the third floor. The Center will bring many writers to campus. In the spring, writers Diane Williams and George Saunders will visit campus, in addition to Hilton Als, a Distinguished Visiting Writer who will teach in the spring.
“It’s a new space,” Cohen said. “We don’t just have to rely on Russell House [another events space on campus].”
With the endowed Shapiro gift, construction on the Shapiro Center was finished and the English Department hired Professor Deb Olin Unferth who specializes in fiction writing. The Shapiro Center will house two shared offices for visiting writers, a single office for one of the Ford writing fellows and a writer’s lounge which will be a work area for students. Student-run journal publications such as “The Hangman’s Lime” and “Ostranenie” will have a room within the Shapiro Center they will be able to use.
Davy Knittle ’11 has been active with writing and publications on campus and is the editor-in-chief of “Pedestrian,” editor of the “Stethoscope Press” and the student coordinator for Writing Hall. Knittle hopes that student groups will become more active, allowing everyone who wants to be published the chance. Additionally, Knittle hopes that having the fact that some student publications will now be housed in an academic building will not lead to administrative influence over student content.
“The thing I’m nervous about is that everyone’s voice gets heard,” Knittle said. “The Shapiro Center could be really helpful in perpetuating that. We just need to make sure we keep our integrity.”
Laura Bliss ’11 is an English major who worries about funding for writing programs.
“Wesleyan has not had enough classes and programs for those interested in learning to write, and it still doesn’t,” Bliss wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “It is extremely difficult to get into the creative writing classes at any level. I am really not sure that the University has the ability or desire to fund the new Writing Center to the degree that it needs to be.”
Winston said that the endowed gift from Shapiro and Silverberg has been invested. Once the economy stabilizes it should provide a reliable income to sustain the Shapiro Center into the future by considerably expanding course offerings in writing.
“The [Shapiro and Silverberg] gift has proved to be a spur for the development of all sorts of writing programs,” said Director of Writing Programs Anne Greene.
Besides the new Shapiro Center, one of the new developments is a creative writing concentration in the English major, which is available for the class of 2011 and below.
“The concentration developed out of the great demand among Wesleyan students for writing courses,” said Elizabeth Willis, the Shapiro-Silverberg Associate Professor of Creative Writing.
Additionally, Winston and a committee that includes faculty from disciplines across the University are developing a certificate in writing, which they hope to present to the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) for approval this fall. If approved, the certificate could be available to students of all majors as early as the spring semester.
“What I’d like to accomplish is to expand the serious attention we pay to writing at Wesleyan and bring together all those who are interested in becoming writers,” Winston said. “I want Wesleyan to be known as a place that is serious about cultivating skilled writers and I would like to see continued attention paid to writing by students who bring to it a multitude of interests and a wide range of expertise.”
With more space devoted to writing on campus and new programs beginning and developing, Winston’s goal may come to fruition.
The opening ceremony of the Center will take place on Friday, Oct. 2 at 6:00 p.m. with remarks to follow.