Coming Full Circle: Wichita to Rochester by Len MessineoI was dying in Wichita. I’d become a reference librarian for the noblest of reasons. I’d been a library patron since I was old enough to peek over the Reference Librarian’s Desk. I was a whiz at finding things. Put a blind fold on me, spin me around, I could find Paul Revere’s horse, how many packing buds it takes to fill the Grand Canyon, the excruciatingly correct etiquette for a Bris. Then the worst befell me: I was promoted to head of the art and music division, given a musty office in a back room, stuck to an administrative seat like a wad of gum to the underside of a chair.
I visited with Joe because I deeply admired the community of writers he was creating; I wanted to start a literary center out of the Wichita Public Library similar to Rochester's, if on smaller scale.Writers and Books was by then at its present location, 740 University Avenue, the old 3rd Precinct Fire Station, though this was well before the building was gutted and completely redone. Joe was a comely bookish sort. His small office was wallpapered with books, pyramids of books on the floor and his desk. There might have been one or two fire station motifs: a yellow asbestos slicker hanging on a hook, seven league boots.Joe generously shared his savvy for setting up a writers' program and I eventually founded the Wordfoundry at the Wichita Public Library. I joined with Wichita State University which has an excellent MFA Writing Program; I hung out there when I wasn’t pencil pushing, taking writing and literature course.
The Wordfoundry ran full-out for ten years with workshops and celebrity author readings.
One day, Wichita State’s fiction teacher, mystery writer James Lee Burke, buttonholed me in the hall. "I'll tell you, pard'ner,” he said in his bush-swamp bayou accent. “If you don't get for your MFA, I'm going to have you arrested for loitering."
I did just that. Fifteen years later, I again visited with Joe Flaherty, joined Rochester’s burgeoning literary community, and began teaching at Writers and Books.