.Reading Room

The Sitting Room Community Library By Kary Hess

Nestled among majestic redwoods and within walking distance of Sonoma State University, the Sitting Room, a community library focused on books by and about women, is a welcome place of respite for study, focus and quietude.

“Its focus is on women, but it is open to all, free and always growing,” says Karen Petersen, cofounder of the Sitting Room and Librarian at the Herold Mahoney Library on Santa Rosa Junior College’s Petaluma campus.

Peterson and J.J. Wilson, Professor Emerita, Sonoma State University cofounded the Sitting Room in 1983, along with an enthusiastic group of book lovers who “donated books, held salons and celebrated the cultural contributions of women artists and writers,” says Petersen. “People just brought books, it was very touching. It started out very small and then it grew.”

Inspired by the Morrison Reading Room at the UC Berkeley University Library where Petersen and Wilson were students, they conceived the Sitting Room as a retreat and quiet space for anyone to come read and study.

Today the unique, nonprofit community organization houses over 7,000 books, including a small lending library and exceptional literary collections devoted to Virginia Woolf, poetry, art and fiction. It is also a place for writers to work, learn and share.

While visiting and browsing the library is a special experience, its titles are fully searchable at the Sappho archive online (librarycat.org/lib/Sitting_Room).

“From its beginnings in a Cotati storefront, the Sitting Room has always made a special place for local writers and of course students,” says Petersen. “Our workshops, book groups and programs featuring regional poets and novelists shine an important and valued light on the rich literary culture of our region.”

Petersen remembers the recently deceased local writer Susan Swartz.

“The late Susan Swartz was a beloved member of the Sitting Room family and we were looking forward to hearing her read from her new novel, Laughing in the Dark, on March 15,” Petersen says. “We will still host a reading on that date with local author Barbara Baer and a chance to remember Susan and her inspiring, funny, tragic writing.”

The Sitting Room’s Writer in Residence program introduces the public to various featured writers, workshops, readings and performances. Current writers include Patti Trimble, a spoken-word artist performing her work Penelope at the Sitting Room on June 6, and Sonoma County Poet Laureate Maya Khosla and her fire-inspired Local Legacy Project.

“Cofounder J.J. Wilson has begun a special series devoted to rediscovering lesser-known women writers such as Dorothy Bryant, Rumer Godden and currently Rebecca West,” Peterson says.

Indeed, a shelf of West’s work is visible as you enter the Sitting Room.

This treasured community library has inspired and supported, many local writers in their work for nearly 40 years, by literally providing them the simplest of things—a room of their own.


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