Positioning themselves as an antidote to persistent concerns about racial, ethnic, and class divides in Boston, a coalition of literary organizations have banded together to propose a multi-use literary and cultural hub in the city’s burgeoning Seaport area. Led by the writing non-profit Grub Street, the group’s proposal got a boost this week with the announcement of a $2 million grant from the Calderwood Charitable Foundation should their plan be approved.
In an e-mail to supporters, the group—which consists of Grub Street, the Harvard Book Store, and Mass Poetry—urged literary patrons across the city to contact city leaders and the owners of 50 Liberty, the 14-story condominium tower that would house the hub, to support their plan. Grub Street executive director Eve Bridburg also told supporters that the project could mean long-term stability for her organization, which bills itself as the largest of its kind in America.
“As some of you know, we’ve been looking for new space for several years now,” wrote Bridburg, “With the sharp increase in rents, we face the real possibility of having to relocate outside of the city. The Seaport – in the city and reachable via train, bus, car, and boat – would afford us long-term security in this city we love.”
The group proposal includes a bookstore, classrooms for writing workshops, and two venues for large-scale literary gatherings events, including the Mass Poetry Festival and Grub's annual writer's conference. “Though [Boston has] one of the most robust and lively writing and reading communities in the country," the group wrote in their application that, "there is no major public venue or large, central place where readers, writers, and thinkers from diverse backgrounds and communities can gather on a daily basis to create and share work.”
The submission is one of eight before the Boston Planning & Development Agency and the Fallon Company, who are working jointly to turn the 13,166 sq. ft. space on the ground floors of Fallon’s new building along the waterfront into a cultural hub. The area has boomed in recent years, drawing tech companies and publishers. America’s Test Kitchen relocated to the area in late 2017. In January, Cengage announced plans to move in as well, and Amazon intends to locate thousands of jobs there in the coming years.
Yet, the neighborhood has also come under fire as emblematic of growing inequality across a city already known for persistent divides. Support from Calderwood, which has donated millions of dollars to cultural and equity-based projects across Boston, is a boost for the group’s vision, “to build a 21st century narrative arts/storytelling center: a democratic, accessible, active space for people of all ages, race, ethnicities, and backgrounds to connect and to learn from the crafted words of the most famous writers and thinkers of our day, as well as from each other.”
Completion of the building is expected in the coming months, as is an announcement on which plan has been selected.