Rose O'Neill Literary House

The Rose O'Neill Literary House is one of three "Centers of Excellence" at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. With Director Joshua Wolf Shenk [ [ Joshua Wolf Shenk Faculty Page] ] and Assistant Director Kathryn Bursick, [ [ Kathryn Bursick Faulty Page] ] the house helps brainstorm and coordinate literature-centered programming as well as providing a place for students and student groups to gather.
In the past the house has been host to such notable writers as Allen Ginsburg, Toni Morrison, John Barth, Michael Dirda, William Warner, Billy Collins, George Saunders and Issac Asimov.


The Rose O'Neill House started as the Richmond House by Professor Robert Day in 1970, shortly after arriving at the college. It remained in its original structure until 1982, when the house was finally demolished. In 1985 a more structurally sound establishment, the Bell House was acquired in part thanks to Mrs. Betty Brown Casey '47 and her husband Eugene B. Casey. It was then renamed in honor of Eugene Casey's mother Rose O'Neill Casey. [ [ Sophie Kerr Prize Overview] ] It continued to be directed by Professor Day until his retirement from the house in 1997.
A series of directors followed including English Professor Robert Mooney, who acted as from 1997 to 2005. Novelist Benjamin Anastas then served as interim director during the 2005-2006 academic year. In 2006 the current director, novelist Joshua Wolf Shenk took the position as full time.


In 2007 the Lit House underwent its first phase of major renovations including a new kitchen, library bookshelves, a wider sliding door, and a new ceiling over the Mary Wood reading room. New couches and chairs were also purchased, as well as carpets. Other accents include a chalkboard wall in the kitchen, sticky cork-board in the foyer, and a lamp where students and guests can write notes and hang them for the rest of the community to see.A large part of this refurbishment was the cataloguing and framing of posters, which provided an opportunity for the house community to vote on which posters they would like to see re-hung.


The House is host to various festivals each year including:
*Humor and Satire Festival spring of 2007, featuring Joe Garden of the "Onion," John Hartwood of the "Wall Street Journal," author Jonathan Ames, and George Saunders. [ [ Humor and Satire Festival] ]

*Storytelling in the Digital Age fall of 2007, featuring a performance of SimpleText and presentations from poet Oni Buchanan and Professor Corey Olsen. [ [ Storytelling in the Digital Age] ]

*Idiot's Fest: Subscribers that Rock spring of 2008, featuring Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr of Idiot's Books, as well as musicians Drew Bunting and Brian Slattery. [ [ Idiot's Books] ]

*Literature at the Margins Festival spring of 2008, featuring Aaron Diaz of the webcomic Dresden Codak, Jeph Jacques of the webcomic Questionable Content, ST Joshi, the foremost Lovecraft Scholar in the US, and sci-fi/fantasy author Peter Heck. [ [ Literature at the Margins] ]

The house also holds regular Programming Committee meetings in order to gain student input on future events. Two events currently in the works are RockLit, [ [ Washington College SEB] ] a festival for the fall of 2008 centered around literature in and about music, and a graphic narrative festival scheduled for the spring of 2009.

Print Shop

In 1987 the house opened its Letterpress Room, run by Mr. Michael Kaylor. In 1992 it was reinstated as the Literary House Press and in 2003 received added support from the newly instated Jacoby Endowment. [ [ Washington Magazine] Jacoby Endowment Article] Today the shop uses a Vandercook 4, in addition to one motorized and two non-motorized C & P platen presses, and over 100 cases of type. [ [ The Composing Stick] A Blog of the Rose O'Neill House Print Shop]
In the past students have been invited to complete both beginner and advanced workshops on setting type and operating the machinery. From the print shop comes Washington College's "Print Club" as well as the job titles of "Printer's Devil" and "Print Shop Apprentice."
Often the shop will create limited edition broadsides for guest authors as well as limited edition books including John Barth's 1992 speech "Browsing" and most recently Ron Carlson's "Beanball." Select copies are available for purchase via the Print Shop website. [ [ Literary House Press] ]
Part of the Print Shop also consists of a bookbinding area where students can learn the art of hand-binding books and journals. [ [ The Composing Stick] ]

Fellowship Rooms

The House also offers a unique opportunity to six juniors or seniors each year, allowing them to reside in "Fellowship Rooms" located on the third floor of the house. Each room is given to two students as a quiet, personal space for them to work on portfolios or thesis. In return each Fellow much propose a project in order to give back to the House Community. [ [ Fellowship Rooms Overview] ]



One of the most important traditions of the house is its posters. Lining the walls are various posters, covering everything from guest authors to student events. In 2007 and 2008 under the direction of new director Joshua Wolf Shenk, the posters were reframed, many of them professionally, and digitally catalogued. The first floor features the first wave of the newly framed posters while on the uppers floors they continue to be hung. [ [ The Elm] Lit House Renovations Article]
Students are also able to voice their opinion speakers and events by hanging the posters upside-down in order to show disapproval. In light of this, some authors have taken to signing the posters upside-down, while others, like playwright Israel Horovitz, prefer to sign notes such as "if you hang this poster upside-down you will get a disease."- just in case.

Freshman and Senior Readings

In conjunction with the Washington College English department, every year in the fall freshman are invited to share their work with the college community during the annual Freshman Reading. [ [ Freshman Reading] ] Any prose or poetry is accepted, and admission is free.The same tradition happens in the spring for graduating seniors who would like the opportunity to show their growth. [ [ Senior Reading] ] Both readings together paint a picture of the students' growth as writers during their time at the college.

Holiday Party

The Lit House also hosts the English Department holiday party, at which time the "Washington College Review" is unveiled. It is a semi-formal event where students and professors can relax before the end of the semester. The "Review" itself was at one time printed by the O'Neill Literary House Press, and still remains linked through the holiday party tradition. [ [ The Washington College Review] ]

Writers' Union

The Washington College Writers' Union has strong historic ties to the Literary House, going back to the original Richmond House which was started in part to house the events of the Writers' Union. Today the Union operates as a separate entity, but still hosts regular readings in the house as well as the annual Halloween Party and Blackhearts Ball.

Writers' Theatre

In the spring of 1998, Writers' Theatre, a student group whose members write and perform original productions, used the Literary House as the staging ground for a murder mystery based on the movie Clue. This use of the Literary House has become an annual Writers' Theatre tradition.

Edith Wharton

One of the most endearing elements of the Rose O'Neill House is Edith Wharton, cat-in-residence. [ [ The Literary House Program] ] Originally a gift to the students of the house after the death of a fellow classmate, Edith remains a staple of the house, seen lounging at all hours of the day and often asking to be let in or out. The students as well as the staff of the house collectively take care of Edith.

External links

* [ Literary House Homepage]
* [ BitLit: the Literary House Blog]
* [ Lit House Press Homepage]


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