Gathering Writers on "The Blue Stoop"
When Emma Eisenberg ‘09 couldn't find the literary community she was looking for in Philadelphia, she created her own.
When Emma Eisenberg ’09 returned to Philadelphia in 2015 with a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Virginia behind her and a career as a writer ahead, she looked for like-minded literary types and a place to plug in. She found lots of the former, but not the latter.
"Philadelphia is rich in writers and stories and readers, but there’s no literary center,” Eisenberg says. “All of the communities are disparate—a reading series catering to queer poets, a group for science fiction writers under 40—but there was no real central place for all of them to exchange ideas and be part of a larger network.”
Enter Blue Stoop. Founded by Eisenberg and fellow writer Joshua Demaree, the organization aims to bring together writers from all walks of life and all sections of the city for networking, readings, and other events. The goal is to create a place that is “welcoming to all—people who are queer, people of color, people of all ages,” Eisenberg says. “We have a lot of work to do to make sure we’re serving the whole city.”
By August, a mere three months after Eisenberg and Demaree floated the idea for the organization, it was already offering three eight-week classes taught by seasoned instructors in a rented space; hosting author events at an independent bookstore, and building a faithful following for its monthly “literary happy hour,” held at a coffee shop/bar.
Ultimately, Blue Stoop would like to have its own building for its programming that will also offer office space for small presses and literary magazines, as well as a place for writers to work and meet each other, Eisenberg says. “When we held our first meeting in May with different writers and organizations, we asked what was lacking in the community and what people needed in terms of resources,” Eisenberg says. “Most people said, ‘What we really need, but don’t have, is a dedicated space for literary arts.’ ” Most of the spaces where literary events and gatherings are currently held are bars, restaurants, and other shared spaces that are also rarely easily accessible by public transit or ADA compliant.
Buoyed by the enthusiasm of that first meeting, Eisenberg went “wisdom gathering,” reaching out to established writing centers like Boston’s GrubStreet, The Loft in Minneapolis, and The Porch in Nashville.
Find partners, the older organizations said, so Eisenberg and Demaree reached out to the Head and The Hand Press, the creative writing programs at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University, as well as Art Church of West Philadelphia, which provides work spaces to artists, and began building a relationship with CultureWorks of Greater Philadelphia, which offers small arts organizations the tools they need to grow.
Find funding beyond grants and donations, Eisenberg was told, so Blue Stoop decided to offer rigorous craft classes that would help the professional development of young writers, provide work for established ones, and raise the organization’s profile.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if the students we have now go on to publish books in five to 10 years,” says Eisenberg, who teaches the fiction course.
Eisenberg, whose first book, The Third Rainbow Girl, will be released by Hachette Books in 2020, also wants the rest of the country to recognize Philadelphia’s literary bona fides. Among the locals who deserve more national attention: Haverford Visiting Assistant Professor Thomas Devaney, whose poem “The Blue Stoop” gave Eisenberg and Demaree the name for their organization.
That poem, in turn, was inspired by "4th of July BBQ, 2011," an image by acclaimed Philadelphia photographer Zoe Strauss that shows three front steps painted swimming pool blue leading to a front door. The poem talks about the generations of Philadelphians who have passed those steps, sat on them, lived near them. Eisenberg says it reminds her of the city itself. “Philly is scrappy, unpretentious, really rich in stories,” she says.