Jenny Gropp & Laura Solomon: The Wordsmiths

Jenny Gropp & Laura Solomon: The Wordsmiths

Love and poetry are enduring themes for the couple who run Woodland Pattern.

Jenny Gropp and Laura Solomon met in the sweetest way two writers can meet: Girl buys a poetry book, girl loves said book, five years later girl meets the author at a poetry reading and they fall in love. Gropp says that book, Blue and Red Things, was her first introduction to Solomon, even though they hadn’t met in person yet. Their happily ever after came in the form of a job. Since 2018, they’ve served together as executive directors of Woodland Pattern Book Center.

“That was an amazing thing to be hired as a couple,” Solomon marvels while remembering the hiring process. “It was unusual.”

But hiring a couple to lead Woodland Pattern made a lot of sense. The center was founded by a couple – along with other community members – and many of the nonprofit’s supporters consider the space a home away from home.

Shelves stretch to the ceiling, stuffed with carefully curated books and pamphlets. Many of the offerings are rare, and some of the selections can’t even be found online. Solomon describes the inventory as having a personality. Gropp jokes that the books are alive.

The personality of the collection is part of why Woodland Pattern has become such a beloved institution in the literary community. “Poets are weird nerds,” Solomon explains. “People who get really deeply involved in this stuff tend to know about all of the places in the country where you can get poetry.” At Barnes & Noble, you can find Emily Dickinson’s poetry from the 1800s, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find something contemporary. The oldest books in Woodland Pattern date back only to the 1980s.

The center served 19,000 people last year, but many people in Milwaukee still don’t know about this literary treasure in their own backyard. In the year of the center’s 40th anniversary, Gropp and Solomon plan to get the word out. “A major goal is to bring visibility to this place,” Solomon says. “Despite the fact that this doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country, people don’t know enough about it, and we would love to see that change.” 

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This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s February issue

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Allison Garcia is the Digital Editor for Milwaukee Magazine.