The Philadelphia literary community may be stuck at home like everyone else, but that hasn’t stopped its members from being active and developing financial workarounds.
Blue Stoop, a nonprofit that organizes events and provides resources for Philadelphia writers, shifted its spring and summer events online. In addition to writing classes and monthly happy hours, the organization created Wednesdays on the Stoop, an hour-long virtual writing workshop where participants respond to prompts.
“We want to engage writers who are stuck at home with their creative lives,” said Emma Copley Eisenberg, director of Blue Stoop.
The organization sponsored a Philadelphia Writers Emergency Fund in partnership with the 215 Festival. The fund has raised $25,000 for writers and booksellers impacted by the pandemic, according to Eisenberg.
“The Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy also has a robust list of places where people can donate to support artists, specifically writers and booksellers,” she said.
Blue Stoop will donate 50% of the money raised during the first half of its upcoming June Fund Drive to the Bread & Roses Solidarity Fund, which funds racial justice grassroots organizing in Philadelphia, in support of recent protests against police brutality.
For independent bookstores losing revenue due to canceled events and store closures, donations and book orders have been a lifeline.
“We lost our big annual Kids Lit Fest, which is just so hard. People come from all over the city, the store and neighborhood are full of happy families,” said Elliot batTzedek, outreach coordinator at Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Mt. Airy.
She said that demand for books and jigsaw puzzles remain high.
“We all joke jigsaw puzzles are saving indie bookstores right now,” she said.
Another savior arrived in the form of Bookshop.org, an online bookselling platform for independent bookstores that launched in January as an alternative to Amazon. It has raised nearly $3 million to be divided evenly among the stores that signed up to use it.
“Bookshop.org is our best friend. We were one of the first shops to sign up back in January, and they have been amazing. The first thing they did (when the pandemic started) was raise the amount of each sale that we get,” batTzedek said.
She urged customers to be patient with their local retailers, who cannot always guarantee delivery dates like larger companies.
“We’re all working hard and struggling with the unpredictable, and the entire global supply chain is disrupted,” she said. “It requires patience to support a community through this change.”
Writers and editors are also adapting to support their community’s changing needs.
Cleaver, a Philadelphia-based literary magazine for both emerging and established writers, is offering Zoom writing workshops in the summer and fall taught by the publication’s staff of volunteer editors.
“They generate income for the magazine and instructors, and also offer a wonderful opportunity for the community to connect,” said Miriam Camitta, a fiction and nonfiction editor for Cleaver and a writing instructor in Temple University’s non-credit division.
She said submissions to the publication, which has an international audience, have remained steady during the pandemic and covered a diverse range of topics.
“There have been people writing about the pandemic, but they’re also writing about other things because they have things they’ve been working on,” she said.
Poet Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach ran a Zoom workshop in collaboration with the East Passyunk bookstore A Novel Idea called “The Poetics of Parenting.”
“My experience of motherhood is inseparable from my experience as a writer,” Dasbach said. “Especially now when I feel like parents barely have time for themselves, I really wanted to provide this space to create because we feel so consumed by the need to create everything for our children.”
Dasbach also created the online reading series “Words Together, Worlds Apart” with California-based poet Grace Kelly Thomas. Every two weeks, they invite writers to read poems based on a theme. She said the online format made the readings more accessible for people with children.
“With real poetry readings, I can’t make it to a lot of them because I have to figure out how to get child care,” she said.
She designed the readings to foster literary community during the pandemic and plans to continue them after it ends.