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Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010

Celebrating the Word: Woodland Pattern Marks 30th Anniversary

Center continues to cultivate Milwaukee’s literary, artistic scene

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Every day we are influenced by the words around us. From what we read to what we hear, words shape the way we interact with our environment. For 30 years, Woodland Pattern Book Center has been promoting the practice of lifelong reading and writing. To honor this commitment to the community, a 30th anniversary celebration of Woodland Pattern Book Center takes place Nov. 19 at the Harley-Davidson Museum.

Don’t be fooled by the name: Woodland Pattern Book Center is not just a bookstore, Executive Director Anne Kingsbury says.

“It’s a very common perception to think of us as just a bookstore,” Kingsbury notes. “We’re a nonprofit literary art center.”

One long-standing event that brings the community together is Woodland Pattern’s annual poetry marathon. The marathon started as the center’s first fund-raising attempt and has continued for the past 17 years. Last year the event lasted over 15 hours and featured 144 readers, including award-winning writers and those who had never read in front of an audience before.

The 30th anniversary celebration at the Harley-Davidson Museum will demonstrate the same devotion to programming. The vision of Woodland Pattern has always been to have a place where people can discover contemporary writing that isn’t mainstream or commercial, Kingsbury says. Most of the books that adorn the center’s shelves concentrate on poetry, usually from small presses. Kingsbury notes that poetry is more than just what’s on the page.

“There’s poetry in music,” Kingsbury says. “There’s a lot of visual art that uses text. There’s a lot of film that uses text. So, anywhere where literature crosses over into other art forms is of interest. We try to have many different of these ‘crossing over,’ where it’s off the page as well as on the page.”

Apart from housing small press publications, Woodland Pattern also holds literary workshops and after-school classes. Often, visiting writers will team up with school programs, giving students the opportunity to work with and learn from published writers.

It doesn’t stop there, either. Adult workshops encourage people from different walks of life to share their work. “We bring in people from various stages of their career, and we’ve worked really hard to keep things affordable, so that just about anyone can come,” Kingsbury says.

Celebration Includes Giorno, Waldman

For the anniversary celebration, an opening reception featuring hors d’oeuvres starts at 5:30 p.m., followed by a silent auction and a mayoral proclamation that honors Woodland Pattern for its dedication to promoting literary arts and declares Nov. 19 as Woodland Pattern Day in Milwaukee.

The main program starts at 7 p.m. The center will honor supporters Sally Tolan and Robert Ragir for their longtime commitment to the organization.

Following that ceremony, acclaimed writers John Giorno and Anne Waldman will perform.

Best known for his Dial-A-Poem series, Giorno has enjoyed a career spanning more than 50 years. He was involved in the New York arts scene in the 1960s, and collaborated with Andy Warhol (Giorno starred in Warhol’s film Sleep).

“[John has] always been pushing the envelope,” Kingsbury says. “He’s always been provocative, a great performer.”

Waldman, co-founder of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, has been an active poet, performer and cultural/political activist since the 1960s. Allen Ginsberg once referred to her as his “spiritual wife” because they had so much in common.

“We are lucky to have [John Giorno and Anne Waldman] coming to the event,” Kingsbury says. “They both have been supporters of Woodland Pattern.”

Giorno and Waldman’s performance will further exemplify Woodland Pattern’s mission to support contemporary writing and make it available. “Here are people at the height of their careers,” Kingsbury says. “I like having people see that a person can make that kind of commitment with their life and continue it on into their 60s and 70s—that creative commitment doesn’t have a shelf life.”

The 5:30 p.m. reception for the Nov. 19 event at the Harley-Davidson Museum (400 W. Canal St.) costs $80 per person or $150 per couple, and includes admission to the 7 p.m. program. Admission to the 7 p.m. program alone is $20.