Novelist seeks inspiration, community in Lenthall House

New York native and novelist Brando Skyhorse is used to seeing once-passionate writers become drained by their work.

As the 2014 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington for GW’s English department, Skyhorse hopes to rediscover his own enthusiasm for writing and teaching. And the historic Lenthall House where Skyhorse lives, tucked away at the corner of 20th and F streets, already has him sitting up late at night on the top floor to write.

“[I’m] learning how to be exuberant about writing while being around other writers that are still exuberant about writing,” said Skyhorse, a 2011 PEN/Hemingway Award-winner and author of the novel “Madonnas of Echo Park” and memoir “Take This Man.”

Skyhorse has joined a line of 21 writers who have, since 1993, written on the antique desk, marveled at the 90’s-era halogen lamp and struggled to move the unwieldy glass table that all come with the fully-furnished home. It serves as a home for Skyhorse and his partner, a museum and an event space for the English department.

Since 1976, the fund that alumna Jenny McKean Moore left to the department has brought a promising published poet or novelist to campus. The writers teach a workshop for undergraduates along with a free community workshop.

Past residents have included poets Rick Barot and Bruce Snider and non-fiction writer Molly McCloskey.

“There’s a trajectory. There’s a history. There’s a lineage,” Skyhorse said.

While teaching, Skyhorse is also focusing on building a stronger sense of community among GW’s creative writers, and is hoping to use Lenthall House to bring some new life to the program. He said he wants to host a series of events so students will more readily associate the house with the creative writing program.

He and his partner, poet Erin Kelley, have already opened up the Lenthall House this year for a student poetry slam called “Open Space.”

“Open Space was fun because Brando operated it a lot like his classroom. He was hands off, generous and encouraging,” said Booker Smith, a sophomore in Skyhorse’s creative non-fiction class.

It was the first of a four-part series hosted by poetry professors David McAleavey and Jennifer Chang and headed by sophomores Sara Policastro and Tess Gann, who said Skyhorse was more than willing to host the 100-person event on Sept. 30.

“If it were me, I would have said 20 people tops, but Brando kept saying ‘the more the merrier,’” Gann said.

The brick house, Gann explained, provided a cozy space for the event.

The laid-back atmosphere of the Lenthall House is just the feeling Skyhorse hopes will attract students back again. He even hopes to expand his programming to events for students who enjoy role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons – anything that sparks a conversation about effective storytelling.

“One of the great things about having the open house policy is that we get to meet young writers who are doing the work and they get to meet other writers, so they understand that writing isn’t just about work, it’s about a community,” Skyhorse said.

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