The executive director of the country’s largest literary center will step down from her job in August. Jocelyn Hale has run the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis since 2007 and served on its board of directors for five years before that.
“I love this place,” Hale said Wednesday. “I used to come here and take writing classes. I’ll always be cheering it on.”
Hale, 51, plans to leave after the Loft’s 40th anniversary celebration Aug. 21-22. During her eight years as director, the Loft completed a major endowment drive, increased its outreach to youth and communities of color, expanded its free programs and launched a significant online learning curriculum.
“We got into online learning in a very sophisticated way,” Hale said. “We now have online students all over the country. And in Tel Aviv, London, Mumbai!”
John Schenk, the Loft’s board chairman, said in a statement, “Jocey’s energy and passion for the Loft is contagious. She began her tenure as the economy was collapsing and managed to keep the Loft moving forward.”
The Loft was begun by Marly Rusoff in the 1970s in her bookstore in Dinkytown. It started small: readings by Robert Bly and others; writing workshops in the bookstore’s loft by Jim Moore, Patricia Hampl and Michael Dennis Browne. In 1974 writers formed a poet’s club, which evolved into the Loft the following year.
The Loft moved into Open Book, 1011 Washington Av. S., in 2000, along with Milkweed Editions and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. It now has an annual budget of nearly $2 million, hosts hundreds of classes and readings a year, administers grants, and provides writing spaces and a performance hall.
“Our goal is not to be a niche organization,” Hale said. “We serve everybody. The Loft is much more diverse than people realize.”
Hale said she always knew she would leave once her children were in college. She and her husband will take a trip, and then she will explore her options. “I am not retiring,” she said. “I knew that this was the right time for the Loft.”
The board will conduct a nationwide search for her replacement.