Grub Street, Boston’s largest nonprofit writing organization, is taking steps to address community concerns following the recent publication of the New York Times Magazine article “Who is the Bad Art Friend?” The article profiled a dispute involving more than half a dozen writers affiliated with, and employed by, the organization. While Grub Street played no direct role in the controversy, founder and executive director Eve Bridburg wrote in a statement that the involvement of so many leaders in the organization’s community—and the release of potentially disparaging emails by them—prompted an internal review and other steps intended to address matters of professionalism, as well as of “race, class, elitism, artistic ethics, and insider-outsider dynamics.”
Among the immediate changes noted by Bridburg are the resignation of author Jennifer De Leon from the Grub Street board of directors, the departure of Alison Murphy from her role as longtime director of online learning, and the departure of author Sonya Larson from her role heading up the organization’s annual Muse & the Marketplace conference. Artistic director Christopher Castellani, whose emails were quoted in the Times article, addressed members in a follow-up email on October 30, asking their forgiveness. Castellani will remain with the organization.
The internal review, which was conducted in recent weeks by the legal firm Locke Lorde, found that the organization had dealt with the matter appropriately, including how it handled a 2018 human resources complaint brought by author and instructor Dawn Dorland. Nonetheless, Bridburg said that the organization will continue a comprehensive review geared toward addressing an influx of community concerns raised by the article. In the coming months, she added, the organization intends to hire an outside firm to assist in that effort.
“We have a responsibility to ensure that the actions of our staff and instructors are not in conflict with our values or mission. We also have the responsibility to safeguard the artistic standards expected in our classrooms,” Bridburg wrote. She expressed confidence that by taking the issues head-on, Grub Street “will emerge a stronger organization for it.”
Founded in 1997, Grub Street has seen a meteoric rise to prominence in recent years, drawing nearly 1,000 attendees yearly to its annual conference. Following a multi-year $8 million capital campaign, Grub recently relocated to a 13,000 sq. ft. location in Boston’s Seaport district.
Grub Street also recently updated its strategic plan to include a substantial focus on ensuring access to its facilities and resources; among its proposals is a plan to provide free public transit passes for BIPOC youth from across the city of Boston to be able to use its new space for literary events. Still, Bridburg acknowledged that the organization will need to do more to address the issue of insider-outsider dynamics, which she said were raised in e-mails from members to the organization's leadership following the publication of the Times article. She expressed optimism that the organization will succeed in doing so. “It’s our hope that through the work ahead, we can regain the trust of all our members,” she wrote, “and move forward together in a positive and productive way.”