Jaime Fountaine on Philadelphia
Jaime Fountaine describes the literary scene in Philadelphia and it reminds me of people doing amazing projects with rubberbands. In Philly, tons of people work to create a unique and strong literary bond… and then they get to eat giant after-reading pizzas.
Philadelphia is weird and full of mysteries. Yesterday, I saw a woman walking her cat in a stroller she’d constructed out of a grocery cart.
It’s easy to feel comfortable in the sweatpants capital of the United States. Unlike places like New York, which seem sometimes unsurmountable, it’s a big city that feels small. No matter where you’re from, you might run into someone from your high school, your summer camp, college. There are friends everywhere.
Given that, I’m not sure how qualified I am to define the “scene.” Philly is as full of smart people doing interesting work as it is passionate, if fickle sports fans.
For instance, keeping in mind that any list I could compile of poets in Philadelphia would be incomplete and unfair, here are the first five that come to mind:
- Philadelphia Poet Laureate Frank Sherlock
- Future Philly expat and editor of Gigantic Sequins, Kimberly Ann Southwick
- Jenn and Chris McCreary (I believe that folks like this are called “power couples.”)
- And one of my favorite Philly poets, Ryan Eckes, who is also a dedicated union organizer.
But poetry is everywhere. Philadelphia is full of poets and poetry, and things that seem poetic. There are readings in bookstores and bars and Ethiopian restaurants.
Poetry even makes its way into the only dedicated fiction reading series in the city. The Tire Fire Reading Series is currently hosted by Annie Liontas and Sarah Rose Etter, who founded the series four years ago with former Philadelphian Christian TeBordo. Annie and Sarah are amazing writers, friends, and hosts, who both have really great hair.
The series showcases local readers like Lee Klein, Andrew Ervin, Hillary Plum and Zach Savitch (who co-edit the Open Prose series for Rescue Press), and Matt Jakobowski, as well as pretty much everyone else I’ve mentioned so far, alongside amazing writers from all over. Sarah and Annie’s warmth and irreverence make Tire Fire some of the best, most fun you could have on a Thursday night.
Your boy, Adam Robinson, reading at Tire Fire, June 2013
The best way to cap off a reading at Tattooed Mom, coincidentally, is to go to Lorenzo’s for a slice bigger than a human face. There is nothing that makes you feel more like a part of something beautiful than sharing a meal with friends, or, at least, a huge pizza slice on the street with someone whose work you admire.
Photo of Hilary Plum by Sarah Rose Etter
One of the things that’s so wonderful about the people who are writing in Philadelphia is their interest and dedication to the city itself. Philly based literary magazines like the Painted Bridge Quarterly and Apiary Magazine are equally invested in community building and publishing. The Head and the Hand Press doesn’t just publish books, they also offer shares in Community Supported Publishing and writing and publishing workshops. And, perhaps most brilliant of all is Mighty Writers, an organization dedicated to helping the kids of Philadelphia become better readers and writers.
When it comes to community-building, Ann Tetreault is a fucking powerhouse. With her husband Adam, she owns The Spiral Bookcase in Manayunk, which is my very favorite bookstore. Ann organizes readings and book signings at her shop and in her neighborhood, which is in the northwest corner of the city. She also jumps in any time someone needs an official bookseller at a conference or a reading. Even though her shop has only been around for five years, it’s hard to imagine what we did without her.
Oh, and if podcasts are your thing, the Bookfight Podcast is recorded just outside of Philadelphia, in Tom McAllister’s basement. He and his co-host, Mike Ingram, are writers, Temple University professors, and Barrelhouse Magazine editors. They are also funny, insightful, and really fun to hassle.
Philadelphia is an amazing place to be a reader, a writer, a listener, an observer. And the food isn’t bad, either.