For 20 years, Eve Bridburg has been helping writers to become compelling storytellers. As the founder and executive director of GrubStreet, the largest creative writing center in the country, she oversees hundreds of workshops and classes each year, and her literary orbit now includes thousands of students. She spoke with the Globe’s Janelle Nanos about the surge in public storytelling, and the organization’s efforts to use writing exercises to help shape the political debate.
1) Bridburg started GrubStreet in 1997
“My friends and I were graduates from the Boston University MFA program and we thought, what if we brought the rigor of the university to the streets and did this on our own? Right from the start we were astounded. There are a lot of people who don’t fit into the traditional MFA model who are serious about their work.”
2) From podcasting to self-publishing, Bridburg is thrilled that storytelling seems to be having a moment. But she’s working hard to make this new publishing era as inclusive as possible, by creating groups for writers of color, bilingual workshops, and hiring instructors that reflect a range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
“I think the marketing of storytelling has been really important. We’re trying really hard to become a more inclusive organization. The publishing industry is very white and upper-middle class. An industry-wide survey recently found that 80 percent of it is white. That needs to change because it means that the tastemakers are not reflecting the reality of American life now from a cultural perspective. The big priority for us is breaking down financial and cultural barriers and trying to include as many peopleas possible in this community with the hope that we get their perspective in the world.”
3) After years of advocating for more cultural literacy in the public sector — including the creation of Boston’s Literary Cultural District — Bridburg took a more outwardly political stance in May when she hosted Grub Street’s first Write-In event. From the steps of the Boston Public Library, she invited the public to share stories in support of the rights of refugees and immigrants.
“We wanted to do some things to show the relevance of the narrative arts to the cultural moment that we’re in. The country is so divided and people are screaming at each other online. Individual stories remind us of our common humanity and dignity. We wanted to bring this promise out into the public square.”
4) Perhaps not surprisingly, when she’s not working, Bridburg enjoys digging into good book.
“I obviously love to read. I don’t feel good when I’m not in possession of a book, I feel guilty and generally less healthy. I really like to keep up specifically with GrubStreet books and it’s hard these days. This year alone we have 12 authors who are publishing out of our community. I secretly also love nonfiction. I’m surrounded by a lot of fiction writers, but I try to sneak in my nonfiction when I can.”
5) She acknowledges that while Boston may no longer be the publishing center of the universe, the city’s literary community is robust, and growing.
“We were the mecca, but we lost out to New York. All of Washington Street used to be Magazine Row — it was the center of the country’s intellectual life. But what Boston has over New York from a writer’s perspective is it’s warm, connected, and accessible writing community. We’ve had parties where Richard Russo and Margo Livesey are pouring drinks. It’s connected and generous and it’s easier to tap into. I’ve had people come to events and tell me. `The range of writers in this room is really amazing.’”Janelle Nanos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.