Sue Gilman’s connection to The Wren’s Nest and West End goes back to her childhood. She grew up on Lucille Avenue just two blocks away from the historic home of writer Joel Chandler Harris and even attended the elementary school in the neighborhood named in his honor.
As The Wren’s Nest executive director, a post she’s held for nearly a year, Gilman is still settling back into the neighborhood, but she has a clear vision for the future of the museum and extending the legacy of Southern literature in the community.
Gilman had big shoes to fill when former director Lain Shakespeare, the great-great-great grandson of Harris, stepped down in 2011. Shakespeare is credited with saving the house/museum where Harris penned his famed Uncle Remus stories from bankruptcy and disrepair when he stepped in as director in 2006. After a nationwide hunt for a new director, Gilman got the nod and returned to Atlanta after many years away working in development and marketing in New York and Vermont.
“The Wren’s Nest was the first museum I visited as a child and it had a lasting impression,” Gilman said. “Lain did remarkable things here and I’ve spent my first year maintaining his momentum and moving toward building more programming at The Wren’s Nest.”
What attracted Gilman most to the job at the Wren’s Nest was the writing programs, including the partnership with the KIPP Strive Academy, housed at her old elementary school. “I feel like I’ve come full circle in a way,” she laughed.
Gilman oversaw the publication of the latest KIPP Scribes anthology, Read After Burning, which launched at the recent Decatur Book Festival. The book features original fiction by 17 of KIPP’s 5th, 6th and 7th graders that take place in some of Atlanta’s historic buildings and communities, including The Fox Theatre, Zoo Atlanta and Oakland Cemetery.
As The Wren’s Nest moves toward its 100th anniversary in 2013, Gilman has also been exploring new programming for the museum, including a talk back series with local authors and working with students at nearby Atlanta University Center. More programming for children is also being planned.
Mindful of the issues of race, Gilman said she would like to see more programming that will create “conversation and healing” at The Wren’s Nest. “I think we’re in a unique position to explore the experiences and feelings of race issues not only in the West End neighborhood but in the city as a whole.”
Gilman has settled in East Atlanta Village and is happy to be back. “When the job offer came, I knew it was time to come home,” she says.
She said coming to work everyday at The Wren’s Nest is a pleasure. “Joel Chandler Harris loved this house,” she says. “So many of his things are here and have been left the way they were – it’s magical.”