By Clare Mulroy
This article was first published July 1, 2021 in Washington Independent Review of Books here.
Even throughout the pandemic, we were reminded of the resilience of the arts. Now, with the world beginning to open again, read how a few local nonprofits are contributing to the arts and literary scene in DC.
Under the storefront of Tivoli’s Astounding Magic Supply Company in Columbia Heights, 826DC provides free writing and publishing opportunities to young people in the District.
According to incoming Senior Manager of Communication and Development Sarah Richman, nonprofits like 826DC are essential in serving DC’s youth.
“Too often, literary spaces only feature adults, and that is such a disservice to young people who have incredible and powerful things to say, but also to us,” Richman says. “We’re missing out on magnificent stories, on important points of view, and on a really valuable slice of the human experience.”
826DC focuses on creating relationships both with the writing community and among writers. Supporting newspaper clubs at schools in DC is one way it encourages aspiring journalists to identify what is important to them within their own communities and nationally. Students not only find mentors in 826DC volunteers; older students get the opportunity to mentor younger ones.
The organization also hosts programs like the “Young Authors’ Book Project,” which gives students the hands-on experience of writing, editing, and publishing their own book. This year’s project is “Sometimes I Have to be Brave,” which includes personal narratives and poems about community written during the coronavirus pandemic.
Though the pandemic shifted 826DC’s operations to fully online, Richman says it gave the organization another unique opportunity to foster space for young people to cope with and process difficult changes in the world.
An artist and writer himself, Robert Bettmann created Day Eight as a way to further connect the world of the arts and creative projects. According to Bettmann, the “left and right hands” of the organization are its poetry publishing and arts journalism work.
Day Eight offers opportunities for local poets through publishing and performance. The organization is currently working on a nature-themed anthology featuring the work of 16 poets and four visual artists.
For the past six years, Day Eight has also hosted the DC Poet Project — one part poetry reading series, one part open-mic contest. Accompanying the competition is the DC Poets for DC Schools Project, where finalists and winners of the contest are invited to perform and teach in local schools.
Day Eight’s work with students doesn’t stop there. They also host an Arts Writing Fellowship, which is designed to support early-career arts writers. The program is often sought out by college students, and Bettmann says that this kind of experience is particularly important for young journalists entering such a competitive field.
“By creating this program where we make the decisions for who is included based on the quality of the writing, we feel like we can actually affect that trajectory a little bit,” he explains, “helping people stand out as having been recognized as one of the best writers in the area and also make actual connections with editors and mentors who could possibly hire them.”
The Inner Loop
When Rachel Coonce and Courtney Sexton moved back to DC in 2014 after college, they struggled to find a literary community that wasn’t affiliated with a school or specific program.
Soon after, they launched the Inner Loop, whose mission is creating connections between local writers and the community. With around 75 attendees at their first event in April 2014, Coonce and Sexton realized that there was an empty space in the District that needed to be filled.
Years later, the Inner Loop is operating with that same mission. The organization has five distinct programs. Their writing series brings both established writers and beginners in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry together each year. “The Inner Loop Radio” is a podcast hosted by the pair. The Inner Loop also hosts a summer writers-in-residency program and fall retreats, and their author’s corner project works as a publicity campaign for newly published writers by partnering with local restaurants to promote their work.
During the pandemic, this project became especially important as the arts and food-and-beverage industry struggled to adapt to a newly virtual world.
“How can we engage and support them and our writers at the same time?” Sexton recalls asking. “The idea there was this ‘side of literature’ with your order, essentially. Encouraging people to patronize the restaurants where our writers were being featured.”
They started an “inspiration series” on the podcast, too, speaking to authors about coping during lockdown, and they launched a writing contest in partnership with District Fray. Surprisingly, Coonce and Sexton say event enrollment did not suffer during the pandemic. The need, evidently, persists.
[Photo of future authors courtesy of 826DC]
Day Eight fellow Clare Mulroy is a rising senior at American University studying journalism and minoring in both sustainability and women’s, gender, sexuality studies. Her freelance work appears in the Hill, Cape Cod Health News, and Tagg Magazine. Clare is also an intern at NBC News’ Washington Bureau. She lives in Washington, DC, but hails from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In her free time, you can find her searching for something new to paint or picking up a good book.