Gianna Sottile, '25, reads a short story on Feb. 9, at the Humanities Center for the Drown Writers Series. Sottile is studying english and was encouraged by Professor Stephanie Watts to share her work. (Layla Warshaw/B&W Staff)

Drown Writers Series amplifies creative voices across campus


In 1996, a group of graduate students yearned for a space to gather and read works of writing aloud. Nearly 30 years later, the Drown Writers’ Series continues to be an opportunity for the Lehigh community to gather and share creative works.

Friday, Feb. 9 marked the first session of the semester. Students and faculty joined together in the Humanities Center and listened to one another present short stories and poetry.  

Lauren Gilmore, ‘23G, and Abby Trainor, ‘25, have co-hosted the series since the fall of 2023, the first time the series was held since before the pandemic.  

Randi Hodges, ‘25G, reads poetry on Feb. 9, at the Humanities Center for the Drown Writers Series. The theme for the day was “love” in honor of Valentine’s Day. (Layla Warshaw/B&W Staff)

Trainor said she believes her job is to make people comfortable enough to share their work, even if it may still feel weird for people to share intimate spaces. 

In its current phase, the series is advised by Stephanie Watts, the director of the creative writing program and a professor of English. 

For Watts, the ability to sit together and share is simple, but it’s also powerful. 

“All of us — students, faculty and everybody — have so many responsibilities,” Watts said. “Our brains are here and there and everywhere. It’s nice to be in the space and just be immersed in the language that we’re hearing. That’s really important.”  

The series is sponsored by the English department, but it’s not exclusive to English majors. Recited works have included poetry, manuscripts, articles, music and even stand-up comedy. 

As a first-year doctoral student, Gilmore hears from peers that it’s common to get caught up in the trudge of academic research writing. However, she said the series offers a place for people to pause and remember the work they truly want to do. 

Trainor, who normally shares at each session, uses the series to present poetry despite typically writing in prose.

“Most of the time I’ve never said the words that I felt and written out loud,” Trainor said. “Being able to do that in a welcoming space where people want to hear what you have to say and are just as passionate as you are is just so lovely.” 

Still, that welcoming space isn’t just created by the series’ participants. 

The Humanities Center’s nearly off-campus location and house-like appearance play into the goals of the series. 

Located at ​​224 W. Packer Ave., the Humanities Center differs from the sterile, modern design of classrooms on campus. Wood floors, plush couches and stained glass window adornments place the series in as comforting a venue as possible. 

“I’m very moved and influenced by my physical space,” Watts said. “The Humanities Center is, for me, the perfect space. There’s a kitchen, there’s a living room, and it feels like you’re just you. Just walk in with your bookbag down and get cozy.” 

Since the series takes place outside the classroom, the mood is kept relaxed with free lunches and no pressure to read anything aloud. 

Watts said public speaking, even in small groups, can be difficult. Faculty are frequent attendees of the series, coming to support their students and one another. 

“Our professors and our staff members are also writers and working on things,” Watts said. “We are a group of learners. Some of us are longer in the journey than others, but we are still learning and trying to better ourselves in and outside of our fields.” 

Trainor believes that despite Lehigh’s reputation in business and engineering, “creativity permeates Lehigh’s campus.” And with the Drown Writers Series, there’s no reason not to share. 

The next sessions of the Drown Writers Series will take place on March 22 and April 26 in the Humanities Center. Any interest or suggestions for themed readings can be sent to Lareun Gillmore at [email protected] or Abby Trainor at [email protected]

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