Writers are snobs. Insufferable, pretentious, cliquey. Driven by insecurity and ego to stamp their name on works they simultaneously dread putting out into the universe, and can’t wait for readers to devour.
At least, they can be. Or they used to be. Or, they are pretty much everywhere else, except for Blue Stoop, the nonprofit launched in Philly in 2018 as a hub for writers of all levels and backgrounds to convene and grow, through classes and workshops and events.
When author Emma Copley Eisenberg (a former Citizen contributor) and Joshua Demaree, now the director of the 215 Festival, co-founded the organization, they envisioned Blue Stoop as a home outside of Philly’s more intimidating writing institutions—think Pen & Pencil Club, Kelly Writers House—for literary Philly. They wanted to be more plugged-in to the community, more grassroots, more organic.
“Our mission is to support writers, foster creativity, and build an inclusive literary community,” explains program coordinator Maya Arthur, who found Penn, from which she graduated, and the Manhattan publishing world, in which she worked as a publicist, stifling and not particularly diverse. (“I was one of the few Black people working in my office, so that felt really weird,” she says.)
“Our featured readers are international stars and local Philadelphia heroes who have been nominated for the Booker Prize, started national conversations on diversity and inclusion in publishing, won public office in Pennsylvania, served as poet laureate of Philadelphia, celebrated gay erotic manga, and much more,” Eisenberg says.
“We want to support writers from all walks of life, whether it’s connecting writers to resources and professional opportunities, generating more resources to be equitably shared with the writing community, or generating learning opportunities to improve their craft,” Arthur explains.
Inclusivity has been at the heart of Blue Stoop’s work, prior to that becoming yet another 2020 buzz word. An early 2020 event they held, just before the pandemic, for example, was set at Paul Robeson House and welcomed author Kiley Reid as well as members of MOVE, while the Black-owned Hakim’s Bookstore sold books. Prior to Covid-19, Blue Stoop also regularly lured non-local authors to hold readings in Philly, a city which often gets overlooked on major book tours.
There’s also the organization’s commitment to providing free programs as well as scholarships to writers who’d otherwise simply not be able to afford to develop their skills.
“We’re intentional in terms of our partnerships, financial aid and money, and we have such a diverse board as well,” Arthur says. “Poet Yolanda Wisher is on our board and so are people from all sorts of walks of life who are helping to champion Philadelphia from all corners.”
A nonprofit fiscally sponsored through Culture Works Philadelphia, Blue Stoop hosted its pre-Covid programming out of Cherry Street Pier, where the organization is part of the artist-in-residence program.
Like everyone else during the pandemic, Blue Stoop has pivoted to online programming—keeping it free, thanks to support from individual donors and board members. Since the start of the pandemic alone, Blue Stoop has hosted 33 free online events for writers, offered 10 online craft classes with financial aid available and 50 percent BIPOC teachers, and provided digital resources, inspiration, and connection.
And on Saturday, December 5, from 7pm to 9pm, Blue Stoop will host “Words of Revolution; Words of Solace,” when 10 local authors will read from other writers’ works that bring them a sense of empowerment, a feeling of comfort, or both. In the spirit of inclusivity, tickets are available on a pay-what-you-wish sliding scale, from $20 to $100.
Attendees will hear from Kiley Reid, author of Such a Fun Age, which was recently long-listed for the 2020 Booker Prize; Brittney Cooper, professor, author, and activist; writer and artist Myriam Gurba; Anne Ishii, executive director of Asian Arts Initiative; poet Airea Matthews; Philadelphia Poet Laureate Trapeta Mayson; editor and state senator-elect Nikil Saval; author and literary agent Eric Smith; author Amber Sparks; and memoirist Elissa Washuta.
“Our featured readers are international stars and local Philadelphia heroes who have been nominated for the Booker Prize, started national conversations on diversity and inclusion in publishing, won public office in Pennsylvania, served as Poet Laureate of Philadelphia, celebrated gay erotic manga, and much more,” Eisenberg says.
To ward off Zoom fatigue, the Blue Stoop team tapped award-winning Philly cinematographer Aly Spengler to pre-record and stitch together the readings, though the event—which will air on YouTube—will still feature opportunities for interaction.
The fundraiser aims to continue to pay staff and teachers a living wage, and to provide financial aid options to students, including full scholarships.
“It’s really about leaning into all the feelings of resiliency, grief, loss, hardship, small moments of joy, that this year has brought for us, while highlighting authors and writers that we really enjoy,” Arthur says. “It’s seeing writers we enjoy sharing the writers they enjoy, and having a sense of kinship.”
Saturday, December 5, 7pm-9pm, virtually.Header photo (L-R): Kiley Reid, Nikil Saval, Elissa Washuta and Brittney Cooper