New Story Lab creates community space for writers

WESTPORT — The sometimes solitary, and at times even lonely, nature of being a writer may be an assumed expectation of the journey, but with the opening of the Fairfield County Story Lab on Friday, it no longer has to be a requirement.

“It’s just a resource where we can share our knowledge, our experiences, and it’s a place where we can all come together,” said co-founder Carol Dannhauser, a journalist and writing teacher who has led the Fairfield County Writers’ Studio.

Located on the fourth floor at 21 Charles Street, with views over Saugatuck, the concept is to have a shared space where member writers can come and work side by side, use a conference room to schedule meetings, or just commune with fellow pen people who are on the same journey.

“We needed it,” L.J. Wilks, of Westport, said of the lab. “I think this is a place where writers need to come. They need to be in a community.”

“I think we’ve lost the sense of creativity in Westport over the last 10 years or so,” she said, and this provides an opportunity to have that shared focus on their art.

“It’s just tremendous to have a facility like this that celebrates writers,” said First Selectman Jim Marpe, who took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, along with Matthew Mandell, chamber of commerce president.

“This is just another dimension of Westport’s artistic heritage and culture,” Marpe said. “The art of writing, performing arts, visual arts — it all fits together.”

In order to sustain the facility, there are four levels of membership, from $25 for a community membership to $275 monthly for all-access to the facility, which is open seven days a week from 4 a.m. to 1 a.m. There is also special pricing for commuters.

The lab also offers some more engaging activities geared toward community, such as a monthly game night that will feature literary-themed games.

“I like the community aspect,” said Evan Pagano, of Darien. “That’s one of the things that attracts me to the shared writer’s space.”

Dannhauser said her work on a new book about space sharing — “Sharing 2.0” — prompted her to think of the idea. She then enlisted the help of longtime friend Diane Salerno, a commercial real estate developer, who helped make the dream a reality.

An amateur writer herself, co-founder Salerno said she has heard many stories of people who write in random places at home just to find privacy, including their bathtub, and consistently struggle with interruptions.

“This gives them a chance to carve out their time and just focus on their writing,” she said.

Further, she said, in between the time spent with pencil in hand — or fingers dancing over the keyboard — these same writers often thirst for interim company that understands what they’re about.

“It’s a lonely business, but you don’t feel so alone when you’re sharing space,” she said.

“It’s a great resource and a great community to be part of,” said Tessa Smith-McGovern, of Westport. “A lot of people don’t realize what a slog it is for a writer. It takes time and it can get lonely.”

“The people here will get it,” Dannhauser said. “They’ll know what you’re trying to do and honor that.”

“It’s another great draw for the Saugatuck area,” Mandell said. “Now it’s not just food and retail, it’s writing and the arts.”