A Room of One’s Own, in the Middle of Boston

Writers RoomYou can walk right past the Writers’ Room.  Located at 111 State Street in downtown Boston, it’s in a tall office building like any other in the area.  But the minute you enter the quaint, slow-moving elevator—accompanied by a Writers’ Room member with the magic key to get you to the fifth floor—you can tell that there’s something worth stopping to look at here.

The Artists Foundation of Massachusetts established the Writers’ Room of Boston in 1988, first as a project and later, in 1993, as an incorporated non-profit.  Today, the Writers’ Room is the only urban writers’ retreat in New England and can boast that it is both the second oldest such space in the country and the least expensive option in an urban setting.  It’s open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, and authors are welcome—and encouraged—to take advantage of the space as often as they like.  Rural areas across the mid-Atlantic and farther south may boast lower membership dues, but they don’t have the operating costs a round-the-clock refuge in downtown Boston must cover.

To the authors and intellectuals who have become members of the Writers’ Room, it is a sanctuary, a home away from home, and, at least in part, a storage unit. Stepping off the elevator, members enter a foyer that houses bins for the current thirty five members of the Writers’ Room, as well as bookcases atop the storage space packed with books on various subjects, both real and imagined.  The bins are like elementary school cubbies for the authors who come in and out of the Writers’ Room every day, at every hour of the day, filled with research materials, favorite mugs, and whatever else a writer may need to get through that next chapter.

Through a door around the corner from the elevator is where the magic happens.  In here is the true Writers’ Room of Boston: ten cubicles with lamps, comfortable office chairs, and plenty of desk space, a work area that is available to members on a first come, first serve basis.  The room is lined with floor to ceiling windows, allowing writers to contemplate the State Street cityscape of hustling commuters and usually unnoticed architecture.  There is also, of course, a kitchen with the most necessary of writing tools, a coffee machine.

As it gets easier to ignore the writing to be done at home, with the distractions of television, the internet, and the influx of information we view and process every day, place like the Writers’ Room become more precious, more luxurious, and more necessary.  The mission of the Room (as it’s affectionately called by those in the know) is to provide a secure writing space for those who want to finally push through the end of the larger writing projects for which they may not otherwise have the time or space.  But the unofficial offerings are space, sunlight, and silence, a cocktail that has led to both private and public successes for some members, from the completion of countless works to the winning of prestigious awards.

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Having your own space—and knowing you’re paying for the opportunity—is also a major motivational factor.  If you become a member of the Writers’ Room, you’re afforded an incredible space in which to do incredible work.  It would be a shame to let that go to waste.  And with the financial factor there, you’re more likely to work hard and truly use the space to its potential, to feel that you’re getting your “money’s worth” and making the most of the membership you earned.

Despite the solitary nature of writing, the Writers’ Room has helped to develop a community of local writers from all disciplines and representing all genres and backgrounds.  Membership usually hovers around a group of forty, though the Room is always looking to expand and open the door to local writers in need of space.  The largely distraction-free space (that only just updated from a slow, procrastination-discouraging Ethernet) is the draw for many to the Writers Room, but the sense of community that members discover there is just as important.  It’s a built-in workshop and a network of support, centered around an organization dedicated to encouraging collegiality among its members and strengthening Boston’s arts community.

Memory Blake Peebles, administrator at the Writers’ Room, joked that you “know people by the back of their heads,” chatting at the sign-in sheet near the elevator or for a moment before you settle into work, but the opportunity to discuss works-in-progress is always there.  Every June, the Room also hosts a summer reading series at various universities and spaces across the greater Boston area, allowing members to come together—and see each others’ faces.  In addition, those at the Writers Room hope to do more to help emerging writers, in particular, to ensure that these young talents are able to find and keep their feet in the writing and publishing realms.  To that end, the Writers’ Room offers four fellowships to writers, open to anyone currently working on a project they need the extra push to complete.  The first fellowship is the Ivan Gold, named for a local writer and founding member of the Room.  The other three are awarded to one nonfiction author, one poet, and one emerging writer.

The sense of community continues into the board of directors who oversee the activities of the Writers’ Room and the day-to-day staff on State Street.  Memory, the administrator, is herself an author, who joined the Room in August 2010 when she and her husband moved into a small proctor suite in a freshman dorm at Harvard.  The economic break allowed for full-time writing, but there just wasn’t the space or quiet to truly focus.  Luckily, Memory found the Writers’ Room and got to work on her story, “The Sugar Bowl,” then spent the next two and a half years editing.  This past summer, “The Sugar Bowl” won Ploughshares 2013 Emerging Writer Contest.

If you’re a writer working on a collection of poems, a novel, or even a doctorate thesis, consider applying to the Writers’ Room and reap the benefits of space, sunlight, silence—and a dictionary on every desk.  For more information, check out www.writersroomofboston.org to learn how to apply.  The Writers’ Room will also be hosting an open studio night on November 14, beginning at 5pm, for interested parties to enjoy light refreshments and speak to current members about the benefits of membership.

Comments

  1. All these years of writing in waiting rooms, coffee shops,my car–and I never knew about this! Wonderful.