Like so many great cities, Philadelphia was shaken by the events of the past year. Police shootings, COVID-19, a tight presidential election, and decades of systemic injustice for marginalized communities have hit the city and the book club hard. But the book scene here survives and creates powerful initiatives to share hope and support with our residents.
The most recent example is the Healing Verse Philly Poetry Line. In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia poet Trapeta B. Mayson said: “Now more than ever we need spaces to process them.” When you call the toll-free number (1-855-763-6792), Mayson’s voice greets you with a recorded message and introduces you to the project, which includes an affirmative poem by a Philadelphia-affiliated poet, information on events and thoughts on health resources. They plan to offer a new poem every Monday; I will definitely call you back. The 90 seconds I spent listening to the current poem (Jan. 8 at the time of writing) has been a welcome break on a day that continues to bring stressful news as well as the everyday, weary demands of living and working in a pandemic .
As I said, this is just the latest such project. Since March and the start of the lockdown, my inbox and feeds have been full of literary organizations and companies taking action.
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Blue Stoop, a community that aims to “empower writers, nurture creativity and build an inclusive literary community,” had organized face-to-face events and readings, but when the pandemic hit, they switched to virtual events. In addition to writing courses, they host weekly Zoom sessions that are free for all comers and range from open microphones to co-writing to more supportive tariffs. For example, on January 13th, “Sit & Write” will include a conversation about mutual accountability. You have an entire page devoted to COVID-19 resources for writers, including links to grants, funds, unemployment benefits, and more.
The 215 Festival, which began in 2015 with a vision to produce an annual one-day literary festival as well as other smaller events, is a co-founder of the Philadelphia Writers Emergency Fund, which raised over $ 17,000 for writers affected by the pandemic. Harriet’s Bookshop, a black-owned bookstore that was hit by racist threats and emails last summer, organized a protest sit-in in October that included music and dancing and the distribution of books through the caste system. Uncle Bobbie’s, also a black-owned indie bookstore and my local, has been repeatedly vandalized. Not only have they stayed open with the help of the community, but they regularly host virtual events to celebrate and support authors (many of them on-site) with new books. Having grappled with its own internal problems related to systemic racism, the Philadelphia Free Library offers a wide variety of virtual programs, from Minecraft and Animal Crossing group games to language study groups, mindfulness meditations, and activity kits.
And these are just some of the organizational efforts. On my walks around town I saw several small free libraries with books and signs promoting anti-racism and mutual aid. Many were stocked with canned goods, toilet paper and books. Seeing the ways my book lovers band together, support one another and reach those in need has been a much needed balm, and I am proud to be a member of this community. We want to continue and support these efforts as we enter 2021!
Looking for more stories on how the book world is reacting to the pandemic? Check out our COVID-19 Updates page.