Lighthouse Writers Workshop Opens Brand-New Digs in Time for LitFest | Westword
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Lighthouse Writers Workshop Opens Brand-New Digs in Time for LitFest

This space is heaven for readers, writers and all lit-lovers.
The new Lighthouse Writers Workshop facility on 39th and York Streets
The new Lighthouse Writers Workshop facility on 39th and York Streets Teague Bohlen
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Lighthouse Writers Workshop got its start back in the early 1990s, when founders Michael Henry and Andrea Dupree met in the MFA program at Emerson College in Boston. They originally planned to go the usual writer-professor route, but while they were matriculating through their master's program, the national market for academic jobs — particularly in the liberal arts and writing — was flooded by those with a similar plan for the future. The couple had to look at other options.

And so the Lighthouse Writers Workshop was born, growing from humble beginnings as a passion project back in Melrose, Massachusetts, to a literary nonprofit in Denver with an impressively wide reach and a well-deserved and still growing national reputation. The name was inspired by Edward Hopper paintings that portray the lit shores of Cape Cod. “I really dig Edward Hopper,” Henry says on the Lighthouse website; the name stuck instantly for the partners, as did the original Lighthouse tagline: “A beacon for writers.”

That beacon has its own digs now: a custom-built architectural beauty at 39th Avenue and York Street, just south of the newly constructed paths along the Cole-Clayton Greenway. After a couple of construction-related delays, the new Lighthouse building will see its grand opening just in time to kick off the 2023 iteration of LitFest — Lighthouse’s biggest annual event — on Friday, June 9. (For more information on the eight-day festival full of literary loveliness, see the event's web page.) 

The new building was a long time coming. Although Lighthouse was initiated in Boston, it wasn’t until Dupree and Henry moved to Denver that it really became established. Dupree, who’d gone to middle and high schools in Denver, was coming back to visit her mother. “It wasn’t our plan to stay,” she recalls. “But when Mike first came to Denver, he just fell in love with it. He got a job as a ski instructor in Keystone, and I got a job copywriting while we were getting Lighthouse started.” That was 1997; Dupree and Henry were married a year later. They’ve been partners in Lighthouse longer than they’ve been husband and wife.

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Michael Henry and Andrea Dupree in front of the new Lighthouse facility at 39th and York Streets.
Teague Bohlen
“We just wanted to hang out with other writers,” Dupree continues. “That’s really how it started.” In August 1997, they registered Lighthouse as a business with the State of Colorado and began searching for their first location. It came down to either a downtown loft or a bungalow in Washington Park. To choose, according to Henry, they relied on the I-Ching, tossing three pennies four times. Henry recalls that the pennies relayed a message of “ascending,” so they moved to the loft.

Lighthouse grew in fits and starts, and soon needed more space. In the days leading up to what would become 9/11, it moved into a house on 27th Street in Curtis Park, where it ran workshops out of the living room four nights a week. When more space was needed, it expanded into a Welton Street rental space and then to various leased spots nearby, culminating in an old motel near Speer and I-25 that was full of industrial fluorescent lighting and no small amount of despair. Henry and Dupree referred to it as the Depressing Dentist’s Office. By 2005, they knew Lighthouse had to find better space.

It was then that the Thomas Ferril House at 2123 Downing Street opened up, leasing directly from Colorado Humanities. The mix of literary history and cool old-house energy was like a gift. Dupree and Henry saw the workshop's enrollment rise steadily — so much so that by 2010, it was clear that Lighthouse was going to have to move yet again. Colorado Humanities had expressed a desire to sell the Ferril House anyway, so Lighthouse moved to the Milheim House on Race Street, where it remained until 2021, when the owners of that historic residence also decided to sell.

It was time to finally buy, Henry recounted in a 2021 Westword interview. “It just didn’t seem to make sense to keep leasing,” he said. “We really wanted a place where we could stay for a while.”

In February 2021, he and Dupree chose a site where Lighthouse could build its own facility. The original plan was for 11,000 square feet with a “dream date” launch projected for June 2022. While they ended up missing that projected deadline by a full year because of construction delays, Dupree and Henry agree that it’s still a dream come true.

“We’re just so excited,” Dupree says while walking through the new Lighthouse location. “It’ll be so great to be able to host everyone.” She says her favorite trait is the central spiral staircase that leads up into a tower that, from the exterior, is reminiscent of the Hopper lighthouses that inspired the nonprofit's name. She also loves the “cafe space with the garage door. There’s something wonderful about the indoor-outdoor possibilities there.”
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The central stair goes up three stories; there's also an elevator to make sure everything is ADA-compliant.
Teague Bohlen

There’s something wonderful around every well-considered corner of Lighthouse’s new facility, from the spectacular gathering and reading areas, bookish nooks, copious shelves and everything else that a place might need to serve as both educational and inspirational space. The building boasts three floors with eleven expansive workshop and event spaces; four living room/salon areas; seven offices plus an open area with room for nearly twenty more workspaces; fourteen gender-neutral restrooms; a kitchen; and a youth room that comes complete with views of the mountains and a secret door leading to a perfectly private reading spot.

The new building also comes with an elevator, only one of the many features that make it completely ADA-compliant — something that previous Lighthouse sites have not been. Dupree recalls a time when a writer’s grandmother had to be carried down the stairs of the Milheim House so she could participate in her granddaughter’s book launch in the Grotto space. While Dupree was grateful that people were willing to help accomplish that, she says it was also a “real low point” for her in terms of accessibility — and one of the reasons the new facility goes to every length to ensure that such a thing is never needed again.

The couple has included some personal touches, as well. One of Henry’s favorite elements is the shower they had put into the restroom near one set of offices. An avid cyclist (his new book, Mountain Biking the Colorado Trail, hits shelves June 19), he looks forward to biking down from their home in Thornton — a one-way trip of about nineteen miles. “It’s mostly along the Platte River,” Henry says. “The cool thing is that you get off the Platte and don’t have to ride on any streets. It’s all protected down to the Greenway, which is right outside our door.”

“I’m really looking forward to people being able to just hang out together,” adds Dupree. “Hang out and write. We’ve always offered space to people who wanted to come and write, but they’ve always been dark little areas. Here, we’ll have a lot of different kinds of places for people.”

She also mentions the opportunity for local schools to participate in Lighthouse’s mission. “Bruce Randolph is a stone’s throw away,” she says. “Cole is nearby. Manual High isn’t that far off. We just want to be a resource for kids and people in the community who might be interested in writing, who might need some resources, some assistance, a place to be."

Bolstering that sense of community is top priority for Henry. “This is a space where people of all ages can find community outside of the workshop experience," he says. "Where they can share their love of literature, where they can share their stories with other people in this physical space. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time but haven’t been able to do.”

So what’s next for Lighthouse Writers Workshop, now that it has a permanent home on York Street, a place of its own design? “We’re always going to work on attending to people who self-identify as writers,” Dupree says. “But now we feel like the sky is the limit for including people who might otherwise never say they’re a writer. Seeing people discover it for the first time is such a joy.”

Lighthouse Writers Workshop grand opening and first day of LitFest, Friday, June 9, 3844 York Street. Find more on both events at lighthousewriters.org.
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