Just Buffalo Literary Center’s board of directors announced a planned leadership transition that will take place as of July 1. Current Executive Director Laurie Dean Torrell will retire after 20 years of service, with Artistic and Associate Executive Director Barbara Cole assuming the role of executive director in addition to her duties as artistic director – ushering in a new era of community-building work.
A press release stated, “Since becoming Just Buffalo’s executive director in 2002, Torrell worked to create a top-caliber team of board and staff, implementing new curatorial, educational and advocacy initiatives. Under her leadership, the organization secured competitive grants to more than triple the budget and bring expanded literary programming to the WNY community, including the BABEL author series, and the writing center for teens.
“Torrell pioneered an administrative collaboration, which received national recognition from the Kellogg and Lodestar foundations and was featured in Board Source magazine. In conjunction with Just Buffalo’s 40th anniversary, Torrell spearheaded the successful JB40 campaign, a three-year $1 million effort (2015-17) to launch the on-site writing center, expand visibility and participation, and ensure Just Buffalo’s work and mission to remain vital for years to come.
“Most recently, she led the organization in securing national grant funding with colleagues in Detroit for ‘Writing Across the Rust Belt,’ a collaborative capacity building initiative (2019-24) that will have fieldwide impact.”
Torrell said, “I could not be more humbled, more proud, more grateful of all we’ve been able to do together. This is a moment of profound transformation as we all move through COVID into what is to come next. It is the greatest of gifts when you can transition in your own way in your own time, which is what I’m doing now. I very much look forward to continuing work with Just Buffalo in a contracted role administering the LitNYS project that supports literary organizations throughout NY state through regrants, mentoring and an annual convening. I will also continue as co-chair of Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance (GBCA) as we realize our dream of creating a cultural plan for Buffalo and Erie County.”
Torrell is recognized as a leader in the nonprofit sector, and has advocated for a fuller understanding and appreciation of the “intergenerational lattice” that undergirds the work of Just Buffalo and nonprofit organizations.
“This is the first time in history when four, five, sometimes even six generations are actively involved, being served by and participating in our organization all at once,” Torrell said. “I look to those who have come before me: our founder, Debora Ott; our inspiration, the poet Robert Creeley; all of the poets, writers, board members, donors, colleagues and friends who have made this journey of the past 20 years possible – who continue to inspire every day. Our job now is to make sure we are putting full support behind the next generation: the next leaders, the next new audience members, our students who are graduating, becoming mentors and for whom we want to provide even more opportunities … so that this work and mission continues stronger than ever.”
Just Buffalo Board President Elizabeth Pascal said, “Barbara is uniquely qualified and prepared to assume the role of executive director in addition to her outstanding work as artistic director of Just Buffalo. Promoting the next executive director from within the organization makes perfect sense for Just Buffalo, which prioritizes retaining, developing, supporting and growing ‘top talent’ at all levels. Our search committee held the bar extremely high, and we found our top, most committed, most qualified, national-level candidate right here, ready to make this commitment. We are absolutely thrilled and excited to undertake this next chapter together.”
Cole has served as Just Buffalo Literary Center artistic director since 2012. She was promoted to artistic and associate executive director in 2019. In her new role, she will continue her artistic leadership of the organization, including for the Babel Series, with the official new title of executive and artistic director.
A 2011 Fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts, Cole received her Ph.D. in English with a specialization in poetics from the State University of New York at Buffalo (2006), and her M.A. in creative writing from Temple University (1998). Cole first became involved with Just Buffalo as a writer-in-residence, immersing herself in public schools throughout the City of Buffalo and working to inspire new approaches to writing in the classroom. In 2008, Cole was appointed education director and succeeded in expanding Just Buffalo’s award-winning “Writers in Education” programs. She was promoted to artistic director in 2012. In addition to her work with Just Buffalo, Cole edited (with Sarah Bay-Cheng), “Poets at Play: An Anthology of Modernist Drama” (Susquehanna University Press, 2010).
Just Buffalo Literary Center’s mission is to create and strengthen communities through the literary arts. For more information, visit justbuffalo.org.