Books and community: How Blue Stoop is surviving — and even thriving — despite coronavirus

10 Philly authors will read about revolution in the literary collective’s year-end fundraiser film.

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Blue Stoop / Facebook
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For the 2020 holidays, Blue Stoop is trading its annual party for the chance to kick back and chill out.

The two-year-old literary collective usually hosts an in-person celebration at the end of the year, but this time around invites folks to relax, connect with loved ones, and get inspired.

Set for Saturday, “Words of Revolution; Words of Solace” features a cadre of Philly writers reading from revolutionary works. Shot at Cherry Street Pier, the show is definitely not your normal Zoom meeting, said Blue Stoop co-founder Emma Eisenberg.

It’s being professionally produced by Aly Spengler, who Eisenberg described as “someone who really appreciates how to create a visual that feels engaging” and brings community to the fore.

Philadelphia Poet Laureate Trapeta Mayson, one of 10 writers participating, chose to read “Poem About My Rights” by June Jordan.

“June Jordan was known as a poet for the people because she captured the lives, experiences and voices of ordinary people,” said Mayson, who lives in Germantown. “I too strive to do that in my own work.”

Tickets are available on a sliding scale from $20 to $100. There’s also a free option for BIPOC attendees, meaning people who identify as Black, Indigenous and people of color. Proceeds will be used to continue paying Blue Stoop staff, to compensate visiting teachers and for a scholarship fund.

The collective launched in May 2018 when a group of Philly writers, including Eisenberg and co-founder Joshua Demaree, banded together to create an informal, accessible place for local authors to connect.

Most of the organization’s funding comes from events and classes, Eisenberg said, and a fraction from donors and grants. The collective employs five part-time staffers and has about 10 volunteer board members. It also makes a point to pay authors and experts featured in special events, and compensates guest instructors.

When COVID came, the nonprofit felt the creative economy shakeups.

“There were such massive cuts to the arts sector in [Mayor Jim Kenney’s] most recent budget which were really disappointing and tough for the whole arts community in Philly,” Eisenberg told Billy Penn.

As part of austerity measures to deal with a half-billion-dollar pandemic deficit, Kenney’s 2021 budget eliminated the $3 million Philadelphia Cultural Fund, from which Blue Stoop had received grants.

“We’ve lost a good amount of revenue and money,” Eisenberg said. But, she added, “when we’ve asked for money, there’s been an amazing response.”

Prompted by the community, Blue Stoop has pivoted away from large-scale national author gatherings toward more localized events.

May brought the launch of Wednesdays on the Stoop, a weekly Zoom hosted members of the collective’s community. The free event has been well attended, and garnered a loyal following, Eisenberg said, though it doesn’t contribute directly to the organization’s bottom line.

The pandemic did give a boost to another part of the enterprise. When classes moved from in-person to online, it increased accessibility to students beyond the city borders. Enrollment is now competitive, said Eisenberg, with classes filling up fast. The spring 2021 courses are $400, offer financial aid, and begin at the end of January.

Overall, the literary community has been incredibly supportive, Eisenberg said, including the 10 writers featured in “Words of Revolution.”

Best-selling writers like Brittany Cooper (“Eloquent Rage”), Kiley Reid (“Such a Fun Age”) and Eric Smith (“Don’t Read the Comments”) agreed to participate at lower than usual rates, Eisenberg said.

“Brittany Cooper could sell out an auditorium on her own,” she said, adding that Philly’s high profile during the election and successful anti-Trump organizing likely bolstered the city’s rep among some heavy hitters.

Blue Stoop has a $5,500 fundraising goal for Saturday’s event and has already hit 86% of its target. The other goal is less concrete: to get virtual party-goers to really relax after such a rough year.

“So much of our lives are now participating in a Zoom while washing dishes,” Eisenberg said. Saturday’s virtual fundraiser is designed instead to be watched like a film.

“We invite people,” she said, “to make this experience a time of rest and intention.”

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