History & Mission
Just Buffalo Literary Center’s mission is to create and strengthen communities through the literary arts. Since 1975, we have striven to make Western New York a community that fully supports and values the love of reading, the art of writing, and the power of the literary arts to transform individual lives and communities.
Just Buffalo’s history began with a reading by Diane DiPrima organized by Debora Ott. Passing the hat among interested friends, she managed to scrape together enough to bring the great beat poet to Buffalo for a reading at the Allentown Community Center. A regular reading series began that included the likes of Robert Creeley, Ed Dorn, Alice Notley, Ted Berrigan, Maureen Owen and many others. Before long, writing workshops for adults and children, a literary magazine, and a radio show were added to the mix.
In 1982, Just Buffalo established its renowned Writers in Education program, providing in-school creative writing based programs for young people that today serve as many as 4000 students per year. After more than two decades of stewarding community-based literary programs and establishing Just Buffalo as a national presence on the literary scene, Debora left the organization in 1998. She hired current Artistic Director Michael Kelleher in the months before she left. Ed Taylor served as Executive Director from 1998-2001.
Laurie Dean Torrell took over as Executive Director in 2002 ,ushering in a new era in Just Buffalo’s history. In her nine years at the helm, Just Buffalo has experienced an extraordinary expansion. Moving from the Tri-Main Center to the Market Arcade Building in 2005 marked the beginning of a groundbreaking administrative collaboration with CEPA and Big Orbit Galleries. All three organization have benefited from this long term effort that involves shared resources and staff as well as a joint education effort, Writing With Light.
Babel, Just Buffalo’s premier public program, was founded by Artistic Director Michael Kelleher in 2007 and launched with the help of a grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation. The series, which has featured among its literary presenters three past winner of the
Nobel Prize in literature, quickly became Just Buffalo’s most popular event. Buffalo Spree magazine awarded it a Best of Buffalo award in 2009 for “Most Innovative Arts Programming, any artform.”
In 2009, Just Buffalo expanded again, adding office and performance space at the Western New York Book Arts Center. It was there that the popular Big Night series began. Just Buffalo’s award-winning education programs continue to serve students and teachers throughout the community under the direction of current Education Director, Barbara Cole.
Just Buffalo’s presence in the Western New York Community has helped make Buffalo a uniquely literary city. A quick glance at our Literary Buffalo calendar will reveal the many and varied literary events that take place in the community on a daily basis. Buffalo is a great place for writers and readers alike and just Buffalo is proud to have been a part of that since 1975.