Can the seaport’s new literary center make the district feel less distant?



The partnership developed by the city between GrubStreet, the bookstore and Mass poetry, which is also moving in, is perhaps a step to make one of the whitest and wealthiest neighborhoods in the city less homogeneous. The joint venture on the first two floors of Fifty Liberty Drive, a 14-story residential tower owned by the Fallon Company, opened this week.

“We don’t know the neighborhood at all, but I think the Seaport is also learning about itself as a neighborhood,” said David Sandberg, co-owner of Porter Square Books. “This is an exciting project because there is still time to design the seaport.”

What city officials and some in the neighborhood hope that the Seaport can be more than a fortress of hotels, skyscrapers and restaurants serving a predominantly white, affluent clientele. In the last ten years, according to a Globe Spotlight Team Series After the race, a fraction of the residential mortgages in the Seaport’s main census area went to black buyers, and the borough’s median household income is the highest of any Boston zip code.

In 2018, a year after the Spotlight series was released, the city asked for proposals from art groups interested in renting the 13,166 square feet at Fan Pier – at a price well below the market. The non-profit GrubStreet was selected and received a generous construction grant. (Also, GrubStreet has raised $ 8 million from supporters.) The result is a light, airy, and, city officials and others hope, welcoming space.

Formerly located in Back Bay, GrubStreet rents its light and airy Seaport space, which includes classrooms, a kitchen and a lounge area, at well below the market price.Pat Greenhouse / Globe Staff

“We’ve offered tours to neighbors and community members and people are excited,” said Eve Bridburg, Executive Director of GrubStreet, with great energy for the area. “

Founded in Bridburg in 1997, GrubStreet works with approximately 5,000 students annually and hosts an annual conference, The Muse and the Marketplace, which is attended by eminent writers, agents and editors. Almost half of GrubStreet’s instructors are People of Color.

Bridburg does not know all of the staff at the writing center and the students are excited about the move to the Seaport.

“Some people are not as happy as others,” she said. “But the move doesn’t change our mission. We do everything to stay inclusive. “

The writer Regie Gibson, who has taught at GrubStreet since 2006, believes the writing center can have a positive impact on the seaport. Gibson also understands the reluctance of some employees and trainers.

“The Seaport definitely has an atmosphere that seems corporate and aloof to the average Bostonian,” he said. “But I see GrubStreet as a small oasis in an inhospitable desert.”

As an example of what is possible, Gibson points to GrubStreet’s new neighbor, the Institute for Contemporary Artwho moved from Boylston Street to Seaport in 2006 when the area was a jumble of parking lots.

“They worked really hard to get people down there who might not feel welcome,” he said.

David Sandberg, co-owner of Porter Square Books, sits on the stage that the store shares with GrubStreet and Mass Poetry.
David Sandberg, co-owner of Porter Square Books, sits on the stage that the store shares with GrubStreet and Mass Poetry.Pat Greenhouse / Globe Staff

The bookstore – it’s called Porter Square Books: Boston Edition – opened on Monday and occupies part of the first floor. It includes the café and stage, which are also used by GrubStreet and Mass Poetry. Daniel Johnson, executive director of Mass Poetry, said the group was Evening of Inspired Leaders, On November 18, a fundraising event will take place on the new stage, at which personalities such as the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky and the CEO of Moderna, Stephane Bancel, will give readings. (It is also broadcast live.)

“We hope this space can activate the seaport and be our home for years to come,” said Johnson.

Lightened by large windows overlooking the water, the new 2,775-square-foot bookstore is roughly half the size of the original Porter Square Books, which opened on Mass Ave. in 2004. opened in Cambridge. With so many brick and mortar bookstores continuing to battle against online giant Amazon, it’s encouraging that Porter Square Books is expanding, says Beth Ineson, executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association. And the impact on the neighborhood can only be good, she says.

“Independent bookstores are in the community building business,” Ineson said. “So opening a bookstore in a neighborhood trying to promote community is a smart move.”

Sandberg, the store’s co-owner, said it was exciting to be working with GrubStreet and Mass Poetry to create a literary hub in the seaport, and it was gratifying to open a new location at a time when so many other bookstores are closing to have. (Porter Square Books is not just writing a new chapter: Posman Books opened a store on Newbury Street last spring and Beacon Hill Books & Cafe is slated to open on Charles Street in 2022.)

Efforts to make the seaport more culturally diverse could also be supported by Amazon, whose newest office building, a 630,000-square-foot complex slated to open in 2024, will include two new theaters reserved for the city’s performing arts nonprofits .

Among those who make GrubStreet and the bookstore a success is filmmaker Raber Umphenour, co-founder of the Midway Artist Collective, a live work space in nearby Fort Point.

“The fire department of development activities is now looking at Fort Point,” said Umphenour. “And we want to make sure this is done in a more thoughtful and conscious way than at Seaport, which includes a culturally rich program that takes place when organizations like GrubStreet are successful.”

Mark Shanahan can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MarkAShanahan.



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