The Downtown Writer’s Center (DWC) has offered local writers a place for study and camaraderie for 10 years. The center offers up to 12 courses a year, many taught by experts in their respective genres. Next fall, the DWC will move to a larger, newly renovated space that had say sat unused inside the Downtown YMCA.
Phil Memmer, director of the Arts Branch of the Downtown YMCA, 340 Montgomery St., and founder of the DWC, said that in addition to classrooms, the renovated space will include office space and a library. Memmer said the renovations are on track to be completed by Sept. 1. “It’s going to be a huge improvement over what we have now,” he noted.
Renovations will cost about $105,000, and all but $5,000 of that has already been raised. “We really are at the point where a small donation really can make a difference,” he said. “We are so close.”
The center, opened in 2001, offers courses, readings and workshops in fiction, poetry and non-fiction. About 250 students a year attend the programs, Memmer said, adding that the DWC benefits from the city’s wealth of local talent and access to established writers who enjoy championing others. Current faculty includes Memmer, poet Georgia Popoff and pop culture blogger Kim Reed.
“We have a terrific faculty here,” Memmer said. “It’s a gang of serious folks who understand what it takes to be a writer.”
That understanding, and the camaraderie of other writers, has kept Kyla Town coming back to the DWC. “What’s really nice is that people are there to support each other,” she said. “It’s not a competitive atmosphere like you might find in a traditional academic setting.”
Town, a Syracusan who is employed as a technical writer, was bitten by the writing bug when she was about 12. She pursued it on and off as a young adult, but stopped writing for about 10 years while raising a family. Town started taking courses at the DWC about six years ago. Today, she is readying some fiction for publication, and a poem she wrote last year was recently accepted for publication in a national poetry collection. She will graduate from the DWC Pro fiction-writing program this summer.
“I look at where I was six years ago and where I am now and it’s like night and day,” she said.
Poet Jessica Cuello, a Marcellus teacher, discovered the DWC about three years ago. “I was isolated in my writing and had been somewhat active in a writing community in San Antonio, Texas,” she explained. “I missed having other eyes to look at my work. I also missed being around other people who loved and talked about poetry.”
Cuello, a Geneva native, will publish a chapbook of poems about Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie later this year.
Another collection, completed through her DWC coursework, is ready for publication. “I tried to be open to what each particular teacher had to offer and get as much from it as I could,” Cuello said of her DWC instructors.
Memmer said the expansion will enable the center to offer advanced courses in non-fiction, specifically, the DWC Pro program, which offers an intensive two-year course of study for serious writers. “This is a very selective program. Writers have to audition to get in,” said Memmer, adding that the interest in this genre reflects national trends. “The memoir is very hot right now,” he said. “Family stories, shared experiences.”
Town is pleased that the DWC is expanding this particular aspect of its programming. “In the Pro program, you really start to develop a bond and friendship,” she said. “It’s more than just taking classes and sharing ideas. We all just want each other to succeed.”
Cuello sees the DWC as an important asset to the community and is happy to see the expansion. “The Y is a gem,” she noted. “The courses are a financial bargain and the teachers are stellar.”
Although she will soon complete her Pro program, Town expects that she will maintain a relationship with the DWC. “You never stop learning, as a writer,” she said with a laugh.
To contribute to the DWC expansion, or to learn more about upcoming courses, contact Memmer at 474-6851, Ext. 328.
Pen pal: Phil Memmer stands inside the under-renovation space inside the Montgomery Street YMCA where the Downtown Writer’s Center will relocate in September.