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Last July, Laura Dennis went to a writers’ workshop in Hindman, KY, to develop a story about her grandmother’s experiences in the devastating Hurricane Agnes flooding of 1972. In an ironic twist, Laura became caught in a 2022 flood that claimed more than 40 lives, numerous homes and businesses and swept her own car away.

One year later, she will spend a week at Sunny Point working on a book interweaving her grandmother’s story, her own experiences and some history of the Southern Tier.  She hopes that this getaway will provide “what I need most, namely uninterrupted time and space to engage with the writing process.”

That is exactly what the Center’s Artist in Residence program is all about, says Executive Director Kris Pearson. “Our facility is a quiet place where people can go and focus and be inspired.”

The program grew out of a desire to share the spirit of Dr. Annie Smith’s 2008 gift of the beautiful Sunny Point property. Visual, literary and performance artists from all over the country have participated.  The artist is asked to “give back” in some way, such as teaching a class, offering a talk or donating an artwork. Laura plans donate copies of some of her published work.

Her stay will be something of a homecoming. She grew up just outside Penn Yan and her parents, Tim and Dawn Dennis, still live in the area. She graduated from Penn Yan Academy, received a B.A. from Nazareth College and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Indiana University. She is a college professor in Southeastern Kentucky.

With more than two decades of academic writing experience, Laura turned to creative writing – fiction and non-fiction – more recently.

Her grandmother’s story provides plenty of inspiration. Ruth Dennis grew up in Buffalo, attended Cornell University andmarried her college sweetheart, Bob. They were both reporters for the Hornell and Canisteo newspapers and they also ran a farm in Jasper, NY, that had been in the family since the 1800s. Bob died during another natural catastrophe – the ice storm of 1991. Ruth passed away at home in 2006 at age 83.

While at Sunny Point, Laura plans to revisit Southern Tier locations that were important to her grandparents and hopefully talk to some people who knew them – and who remember the flood.

Her goal is to get beyond facts and explore the emotions and motivations that lie beneath the surface. “That’s where the magic happens.”

                                                                 —Kathy Lindsley

Laura Dennis

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