Room Project in New Center connects women, nonbinary writers to their craft and each other

As a writer living in L.A., Christin Lee found it difficult to write at home, where there’s always dishes to wash, laundry to do, and other tedious yet necessary aspects of domestic life. She couldn’t sit alone with her work or even just feel the pleasure and joy of reading.

Lee realized she wasn’t alone. She would have conversations with other women writers and artists who found it difficult to find space at home to work.

But it wasn’t until after a failed marriage, finishing grad school in Ann Arbor, and moving to Detroit that she brought her idea of a creative space for women and nonbinary writers and artists to life. Simultaneously a “political and personal thought,” the Room Project and its creation came at a pivotal time in her life.

“I knew I had a lot of creative energy that I didn't quite know what to do with. I was meeting artists, meeting a lot of women in their 20s with literary or artistic ambitions. And it was so clear that there was an enormous lack of mentorship resources and space. And Me Too happened. So there was a glaring need for a physical space because there is so much literary activity happening in Detroit,” Lee says.

The Room Project recently marked its year anniversary on June 11 in New Center, helping a diverse group of women and nonbinary writers, from an aspiring science fiction writer to a 2019 Kresge fellow find their voice, dedicate themselves to their craft and collaborate with each other. And Lee is serious about primarily serving women and nonbinary creatives.

“Our compromise was all of the events are open to any gender identity,” Lee says. “So workshops, readings, performances, open mics, all of that is open to everyone. But as a workspace it is for women, nonbinary and transgender individuals. And that felt like a pretty easy line to hold. There are plenty of opportunities for men.”

She is the first to admit it’s not the greatest coworking space and that’s on purpose.

“We make a point of saying, take your phone calls outside or far in the back. This is a place where you sit, you really try to get through that next chapter in your novel or your Ph.D. dissertation or simply to come and read.”

Brittany Rogers, a fellow over the winter and current member, appreciates that quiet space to work. The Detroit Public Schools teacher grew up on the east side of Detroit loving libraries. The Room Project reminded her of a library, but warmer. It was also a space for her to focus on her poetry manuscript. With two young kids at home, she doesn’t have a lot of quiet space.

At Room Project, “I can just go here and write in quiet and peace,” Rogers says, adding “it gave me a sense of accountability without being overwhelming.”

Room Project has two levels of membership, including a community membership that entails 24-hour use of the space, printer, and access to podcast equipment on a sliding scale if members volunteer, as well as a desk membership that gives writers an individual desk of their own for $100/mo. Fellows such as Rogers are able to work at Room Project for three months, attend a free class, and put on their own event.

Cherise Morris, who was named a Kresge fellow this year, recently completed a Room Project fellowship that culminated in a performance titled Visions of the Evolution: Revelation 1. The event featured kesswa, bree Gant, Angela Abiodun, and supercoolwicked. She made the connections through the Room Project.

After she got the fellowship, she attended a member dinner where there were 50 other women writers and artists.

“In that space, so much came of that,” Morris says. At the time, people proposed ideas that eventually came to fruition, she says. “There was also just joy and fun. Yes, it was productive and we were networking and we were connecting, but we were also building genuine friendships.”

These connections are at the heart of Room Project. Lia Greenwell, who is doing a reading in August with Jenna Quartararo, says the two met a member meeting and bonded after realizing they were working on similar things.

“I'm not sure how I ever would have intersected with her otherwise,” Greenwell says.

For her, being able “to talk about process, talk about work regardless of how it's going and just keep showing up in the meetings but also to your writing” has been one of the most beneficial aspects to her because writing can be “a slog. I’m just really so appreciative that there's space for the making and that we can talk about that regardless of whether it's going really well or not.”

Lee is also very intentional about programming, recognizing that as a “white woman from L.A.,” she can’t unilaterally decide programming for a creative space in a city that is predominantly black. She says members help her with programming and deciding fellows.

Felix Rucker is a volunteer who has helped pick fellows as well as facilitate a six-week book club in conjunction with the Tuxedo Project in preparation for Elizabeth Acevedo's talk and reading at Marygrove in April. Rucker studied international relations in college and is now taking creative writing classes to pursue their passion of writing science fiction.

As a queer, black, and Mexican writer, “I love going in (Room Project) and seeing other black writers … that makes me feel even more like part of a community, finding out all of these new voices and things that I have in common with people who are a part of this neat little place.”

Read more articles by Dorothy Hernandez.

Dorothy Hernandez is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes about food at the intersection of culture and business. She has contributed to NPR, Midwest Living magazine, Eater, and a variety of other publications. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @dorothy_lynn_h.
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