SummerWrite Teaching Artists

David Broadnax is an actor and writer with an AA in graphic design from Monroe Community College, where he also studied theatre and served as an award-winning Resident Assistant. He has performed locally with the Rochester Latino Theatre Company, Everyone’s Theatre Company, and in the Rochester Community Players dual language (English/ASL) production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. David holds a day job in the service industry and in his spare time often can be found serving as DM in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns.

 Ben Callahan is an artist and educator who teaches enrichment programs in several school districts across Western New York. He moved to Rochester after acquiring his Master of Education at Monmouth University in his home state of New Jersey.

Emma Callahan graduated from Goucher College in 2015 with a degree in Creative Writing and Art History. She works at Eagle Productivity Solutions doing scriptwriting and instructional design. When she’s not playing tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons, she usually can be found reading a book.

Neyda Colón-DiMaria is a freelance artist with strong roots in dance and spoken word. She was born into the Rochester arts community and is a School of The Arts and Borinquen Dance Theatre alumna. Neyda is currently studying communications at The University at Buffalo and is glad to be close to home so she can continue taking part in and giving back to the community that raised her.

 Tracy Cretelle is a writer, puppeteer, teacher, and student who works as an instructional coach for English Language Learners and Multilingual Learners in the Rochester City School District. She writes poetry, fiction, and papers on social justice. While working on her EdD in Teaching and Curriculum at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester, she currently is conducting research using anti-racist methodologies in an effort to support initiatives that seek equitable access to education for all. Tracy is currently. Her idea of a perfect day is a day spent in creative collaboration with friends (of all ages) writing or imagining ways to make the world better.

Rylie Day is a writer, tutor/teacher, mother, and lover of Shakespeare who enjoys writing fiction and creative nonfiction. She graduated magna cum laude from Nazareth College in 2013 with a degree in English Literature. She has been published in literary magazines and newspapers, was part of the 2021 Listen to Your Mother cast, and is a guest at Rochester’s speak easy. Before teaching at Writers & Books, she took classes as a teen and young adult. Having taught in many settings and circumstances, Rylie feels most at home in the classroom, whatever form that may take.

Julie Donofrio has been making people laugh for years, sometimes on purpose. She has worked as a comedian, improv actor, children’s entertainer, teacher, and humor writer (of the column, “Take My Advice; I’m Not Using It”), and has appeared everywhere from New York City comedy clubs to the beverage tent at the Monroe County Fair. She has performed in the Toronto and Rochester Fringe Festivals, and her television credits include a guest-starring role in the pilot “Finding Fabulous.” Julie has NYS teaching certifications in Childhood Education and Special Education, and she received Writers & Books’ Big Pencil Award in 2015.

Chris Fanning, Director of Communications, Special Events & Operations, began his career at Writers & Books as an intern over a dozen years ago while attending St. John Fisher College. He has worked as Promotions Coordinator for Entercom Radio and Associate Producer of the Key Bank Rochester Fringe Festival. A key contributor to developing SummerWrite’s Hogwarts Academy program in 2016, Chris enjoys a long history of fostering confidence and creativity in children in a variety of roles,  including camp counselor, preschool teacher, and literary teaching artist.

Amy Jarnagin Fisher graduated from Hollins University, where she studied art history in Italy and London, and from Rhode Island School of Design, where she received an MA with honors in museum education. She began her teaching career as an art and design technology instructor at Westminster Academy in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and later became the Art Institute Coordinator and art educator at the Young At Art Children’s Museum in Davie, FL. She also had educational experience at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, FL, the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, and The Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Michael M.B. Galvin spent the last 20 years as a professional screenwriter in Los Angeles, working with MGM, Fox, Disney, Warner Brothers, and Miramax, as well as many independent studios and production companies. His adaptation of Fat Kid Rules the World, with writing partner Peter Speakman, won the audience award at the 2012 SXSW film festival. He is the co-author of the Rebels of the Lamp series of middle-grade novels on Disney’s Hyperion imprint. There is a Post-It note on his refrigerator that asks “Why aren’t you writing?”

 Michelle LaVarnway is a music educator in the Greece Central School District,, choir director at the First Presbyterian Church of Honeoye Falls, and a mom. She received a Master of Science in Music Education from Nazareth College and a Bachelor of Music from SUNY Fredonia. She also performs in local community theatre productions.

Wendy Low has more than 40 years of experience in making creative writing enjoyable and vital to beginning writers and helping writers at all levels improve their craft. Her poems, stories, and essays have been published in Breaking the Silence, Desperate Acts, HazMat Review, Napalm Health Spa, Poems on Wheels, and Rochester Woman as well as on Rochester’s “The Poet’s Walk.” Her poems and plays have been performed on local stages. A former college English instructor and the former Director of Education at Writers & Books, she currently teaches, coaches, and edits freelance.

Tracy Nemecek is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. As an undergraduate, she majored in Psychology and English, and discovered that bibliotherapy (the application of storytelling, reading, and literature as sources of healing) is the perfect nexus between her interests in people and stories. In her counseling work, she has applied bibliotherapy, cognitive- behavioral therapy, and psychoeducation to assist children, teens, and adults in both private practice and school settings to learn more about themselves; set and achieve realistic goals; and strengthen their coping skills.

Kylie Newcomer is a teaching artist and youth program coordinator at Flower City Arts Center. She earned a BFA with a concentration in photography, and a minor in art history from the SUNY College at Brockport. Her current work focuses on alternative photography, particularly the cyanotype process, and risography.

Francesca Padilla is a Dominican-American fiction writer born and raised in New York City. She is the recipient of a Walter Dean Myers Grant from We Need Diverse Books and holds a BA in Creative Writing from the State University of New York at Purchase College. Her debut young adult novel, What’s Coming to Me, is forthcoming from Soho Teen August 2022.

Sara Bickweat Penner spent many years working in theatre in New York City, Chicago, regionally, and throughout the U.S. She has a MFA from The Actors Studio in New York and has worked with Ellen Barkin, Lee Grant, Arthur Penn, Elizabeth Kemp, Ron Leibman, and many others. She has worked in independent film and television, and as the student/talent liaison on Bravo’s Inside the Actors Studio. In Chicago, she co-founded Candentia Theatre Company. Sara has taught acting at the New York Film Academy, the Music Theatre Company in Chicago, at public and private schools throughout New York City, and currently at the University of Rochester and Finger Lakes Community College.

Marna Rossi, PhD, is a storyteller and workshop leader who helps young people express themselves through storytelling, poetry, and drama. She has designed and taught programs for University of Rochester’s Girls’ Science, Math, and Computer Camp; the Urban League Teen Program; the YMCA; and church youth programs. She has performed with the Storytelling Guild of Rochester and taught child and adolescent development at Nazareth College and RIT. Marna is the recipient of the Writers & Books’ 2011 Big Pencil Award for inspiring the creation and appreciation of literature in young people.

Alexa Scott-Flaherty is an actress, director, producer, and teacher. A proud member of Labyrinth Theatre Company in New York City, she works locally at Blackfriars, Geva Theatre Center, and The JCC Centerstage. She has worked as an actress in New York City at many theaters, including The Public Theatre, SoHo Rep, and PS 122; with the Royal Shakespeare Company of London; and The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. Alexa is a visiting lecturer in the Department of Performing Arts at the Rochester Institute of Technology; serves on the Key Bank Rochester Fringe Festival’s Board of Directors; and is an ensemble member of Impact Interactive LLC, a unique theatre-based training company in Rochester. Alexa served as Development Director at Writers & Books from 2009 to 2019, and has been teaching at the organization for over a dozen years. As daughter of Writers & Books founder, Joe Flaherty, Alexa has been involved in the organization since the very beginning.

Katherine Varga is a playwright and freelance writer. Her plays have been featured in Geva Theatre’s Regional Writers Showcase, the Rochester Fringe Festival, Writers & Books’ 2 Pages/2 Voices festival, and on the University of Rochester campus; and have been performed in Chicago, Denver, and La Crosse, Wisconsin. She has been published in the Democrat & Chronicle and Rochester City News. She has served as a SummerWrite Coordinator and Teaching Artist for the past five summers, and is constantly amazed by the creativity of SummerWrite kids. MFA: Ohio University.

Almeta Whitis is a renowned storyteller, theatre artist, author, and poet who has taught on five continents. Combining diverse stories and traditions, alongside history, she encourages students to explore storytelling, movement, film, and the  literary and visual arts with the goal of helping them gain an enhanced understanding of academic subjects, critical thinking, and important social issues. Her “SMUDGE STICK EXPERIENCE: The Pungent Aroma of Truth,”  a one-woman show produced in 2019, received multiple “Outstanding” nominations and was judged “Best Show” at the 2019 TANYS Festival. Whitis’ experience as an educator, university professor, and Master Teaching Artist has resulted in many other awards, among them, Phi Delta Kappa’s 1995 “Lay Teacher of the Year,”National Endowment for the Arts’ “Most Skilled and Experienced Community Artist, and Governor Mario Cuomo’s 1993 “Decade of the Child” Award. She was featured in Rochester Museum and Science Center’s “CHANGEMAKERS: 200 Rochester Women Who Have Changed The World” exhibition in 2020-21.

​​Kate Whorton is the Director of Ceramics at the Flower City Arts Center in Rochester. She received a Masters in Art Education and a BFA in Sculpture from the University of Southern Mississippi. She moved to Rochester several years ago. She lives with her husband, who teaches creative writing at SUNY Brockport, and their two daughters, in Brighton, NY.