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The Writers Place Set To Leave Its Longtime Home In Kansas City's Valentine Neighborhood

Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3
The Writers Place has occupied a dramatic building on the corner of 36th and Pennsylvania since 1992.

The Writers Place is pulling up stakes from the Valentine neighborhood. 

Since 1992, a castle-like house at 3607 Pennsylvania has served as a "literary community center," home to countless poetry readings, workshops and art exhibitions. The non-profit organization headquartered there plans to relocate to a small office inside The Nonprofit Village, a co-working space at 31 W. 31st Street, in December.

"The building had just become financially untenable," says writer and editor Maryfrances Wagner, a past board president. 

The distinctive limestone structure was built in the early 1900s as a residence; in the 1950s, the building housed a church. The Writers Place and the publishing house Helicon Nine took occupancy in the early 1990s.

"Even though we have done many repairs over the years, it's still an old building that constantly has assorted problems, and currently, one of the major problems has been with the electrical system," says Wagner, who chairs the programming committee. "And it was going to be a lot of money, thousands of dollars." 

Wagner says the upkeep just became too much. 

"It got to the point where the board was spending half of its meeting just talking about the house instead of being able to focus entirely on its programs," she says.

Credit Midwest Dramatists Center
Melody Butler and John Mulvey at Midwest Dramatists Center, inside the Writers Place.

In recent months, New Letters magazine editor Robert Stewart, a founding board member, stepped in to help Wagner and others with the transition and recruit new leadership. 

The Writers Place will be re-named as The Midwest Center for the Literary Arts/The Writers Place, with one paid staff member, several longstanding volunteer committees, and nine new board members to help chart a path forward.

"We have tried to bring on some seasoned people who know a lot about boards," says Wagner, "and we also asked some young people to join the board, to give them an opportunity — and to try to appeal to the younger generation."

"This is really a very positive move," Stewart says. "By de-centralizing the operation, we can reach into locations around the city that had otherwise maybe not been served with these kinds of literary programs."

The closing of the building will impact other literary organizations, such as the Midwest Dramatists Center

The fledgling playwrights' collective signed a lease to establish its headquarters at The Writers Place in 2014. The group offered residencies for playwrights, built a small black box theater in the basement, and hosted readings and workshops of plays-in-progress.

Now, they're looking for a new home. 

"We probably would have never left," says Vicki Vodrey, the Midwest Dramatists Center's board president. "It's a very beautiful space, to begin with. That house is gorgeous. I think everyone has felt so comfortable there, and at home."

The Dramatists Center is likely to also stay in Midtown, Vodrey says, and the board has identified a few possible sites. But she still regrets leaving.

"It's just been such a great fit for us," says Vodrey. "We'll miss it very much."

Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3

A private foundation owns the building. The N.W. Dible Foundation was started by the late Bill Hickok, who co-founded The Writers Place with his wife, Gloria Vando. 

It's possible that the house will go up for sale, but "we are still exploring our options," Vando told KCUR in an email.

The Writers Place will continue to host events at 3607 Pennsylvania until the house shuts down in early December. The last event on the schedule: The Riverfront Reading Series, featuring poetry and fiction, on Sunday, December 2. 

But, no matter where the organization is based, Stewart says, the mission continues: "to support literary writers and readers and to advance the cause of the literary arts through the community."

Wagner says the organization has programs planned into 2019. Now, they just need to find the right venues — ones that won't require as much work.

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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