Car horns blared. The sun beat down. A busker wooed passersby with soft notes from a saxophone. Copley Square buzzed with activity Friday afternoon. Yet through it all came the steady clicking of eight typewriters tapping away.
The typewriters sat in a neat row on the front steps of the
Boston Public Library, metallic keys gleaming in the sun and fresh, white paper awaiting the touch of ink. Behind them, volunteers in bright red T-shirts stood ready to engage anyone walking by who paused long enough to make eye contact.
The scene was set for Boston’s first “Write-In.”
Inspired by the sit-ins of the civil rights movement, organizers hoped that people would take time to type out their own stories — and even deliver a speech — to show solidarity with immigrants and refugees.
The event was organized by GrubStreet — a Boston nonprofit that offers writing classes and workshops — to celebrate its 20th anniversary, according to Eve Bridburg, the organization’s founder and executive director.
“We believe that when people share their stories, a connection is made,” Bridburg said. “People begin to understand each other and feel real empathy, something that’s really lacking in the world.
“So for our 20th, we wanted to do something different that, in this time of such awful xenophobia and hate, would get people to come together, share their stories, and begin to make real connections.”
Alongside the typewriters, volunteers had a soundbooth and clipboards that people could use to write their stories if they felt intimidated by the typewriters, or simply wanted to escape the afternoon’s oppressive heat.
The event started slowly enough. The heat — and Bostonians’ natural instinct to walk past someone offering them a flier — kept most people from doing more than giving the typewriters a curious glance.
But soon, the first key had been pressed and the sight of other people kneeling before the typewriters was enough to lure others.
Some did little more than press a few keys, seeming to enjoy the heavy click each key made as it was struck, before moving on.
Others sat intently before a typewriter, brows furrowed and fingers dancing across the keys.
One such person was Zoe Sherman, a professor at Merrimack College.
“I went to the Women’s March and the rallies against the immigration ban. I like to be in spaces where people come to show support and solidarity,” said Sherman, who’d heard about the event on Facebook.
Sherman took to the typewriter to share an experience that, as someone with Jewish ancestors, was profound to her.
“I was reading a book that, as part of it, showed how America was portrayed as a place of safety to Jewish children before the war, before the Holocaust. Then it compared population numbers in European cities before and after. It was just really powerful. How you never want to forget,” Sherman said.
Yet for others, such as Yoko Marikawa and her daughter, Kaori, who had just arrived from Tokyo, the chance to use a typewriter was a novelty too good to pass up.
“We were just passing by and it called out to me,” Marikawa said with a laugh. “It was like being back in high school again.”
After 45 minutes or so, scheduled speakers took to a microphone. Each touched upon slightly different topics: opposing the forces of hate, working to end xenophobia, acknowledging and celebrating the hard work of refugees.
And then the microphone was turned over to anyone who wished to speak.
After a brief pause, 12-year-old Mahati Bapuji and her mother, Godha, approached.
Mahati read a poem she had written, while Godha talked about her own experience as an immigrant from India.
“It’s really not easy to be an immigrant in this country, and I’ve been really disheartened that we, as a country, have not been doing enough to help refugees,” Godha said afterward.
Maybe, she said, Friday’s event can become an annual happening, with even more children in attendance so they can learn about people different from themselves.
“When you see someone different from you, you get nervous and judge them. But by interacting with them, you learn who they are and dispel that ignorance,” Godha said.
“The more people you learn about and know,” Mahati said, “the less hatred there is.”