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St. Nell’s Haven for Writers

LORENA BENIQUEZ/West Branch Life Writers have traveled from far and wide to write at St. Nell’s Humor Writing Residency for Ladies in Williamsport. 

Writers from New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and across the United States have traveled to St. Nell’s Humor Writing Residency for Ladies in Williamsport, which is housed in a 1903 brick home. The residency’s purpose is to afford women/non-binary writers a place to get away from busy lives to immerse themselves in the writing experience. Thanks to Emily Flake, the residency’s founder, the atmosphere invites writers to dive into their craft. “I wanted a space that welcomed you to do something creative,” says Flake.

Flake describes the residency’s decor as “fussy grandma,” which she decorated herself. “I wanted it to feel cozy without smothering. I wanted it to feel like the house was hugging you.”

The three bedrooms, and even two hallways, have desks. Also, throughout there are bookcases filled with tomes on the art of humor and writing to serve as inspiration.

With over 2,000 square feet, the home was gently used when Flake and her husband John Pastore purchased it. “I felt really excited. Just walking in, it just felt good and it had a good vibe to it.” She adds that she always wanted pocket doors (the home has two sets of them in working order). “We didn’t want a fixer upper because we didn’t have the money or skill for that,” she says referring to husband John Pastore, who helped with minor fixes the home needed.

Flake and Pastore, along with daughter Augustine Pastore, live in a 1,000 square foot Brooklyn apartment in Brooklyn. When writers are not at the residency, the family travels there to reset it for future writers and enjoy its expanse, which includes a backyard. “This is the first time that I have had a yard since I was a teenager,” says the humorist.

Traditional furniture complemented by knick knacks gives the space a cozy feel, conducive for any creative. “About 30% of the furniture is from a vintage store while another good chunk is from FB Marketplace and another chunk is stuff from people in Brooklyn that they threw away,” says Flake.

Then there are those giggle inducing pieces like a painting of a homemade cassette titled “Hell’s Bells @ St. Nell’s Mix” by artist Elly Lonon, a bathroom mat that implores residents to restrain themselves from drug use or another painting that determines if pants are necessary on a given day. Since Flake is a cartoonist for “The New Yorker” magazine, it makes perfect sense that a residency built by a humorist for humorists must have some sense of whimsy.

St. Nell’s in Williamsport is the first Fabulous Space in WBL that was actually “home tested.” After staying there for three days, this writer gained a deeper perspective on the space’s intricacies and quirks. For instance, the home has two staircases. Located in the large vestibule, the front staircase is stately, while the one that drops into the kitchen is more about function. You feel that function when stepping upon each wooden stair that sags in the middle – a reminder these were well trodden by residents and domestic help for close to 120 years.

Another discovery came during moments of procrastination (okay, perhaps hours). Housed in the living room’s coffee table is a pull out turntable, which is a nod to Pastore’s current job heading a record company and Flake’s past music industry experience.

Open for almost a year, the home has now hosted over 30 writers. For Flake, the draw is not just the residency, but the city as well. She says, “I fell in love with the place in June 2020. People were very casually nice and there are great restaurants. It feels good to be there.”

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