Old Town Books is honored to partner with MoonLit DC for a series of workshops in the next two months. We’ll be hosting Storytelling for Parents on March 28th and Making Space: Writing When Life Gets Busy on April 25th (hosted by our owner, Ally!). You can register here if you’re interested in attending: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/storytelling-for-parents-finding-your-words-tickets-56448911213
MoonLit’s founder, Kristen King, kindly answered a few of our questions about the organization’s mission, workshop style, and collaborations with independent bookstores (like ours!).
What is the mission of MoonLit?
MoonLit was founded in 2017 as a way to "creatively connect community through low-cost literary programming."
Can you briefly describe the impetus for starting the organization and your origin story, so to speak?
Sure! I've been involved in the arts for most of my life, as a baby ballerina with the Fokine Ballet Company, a small-town theatre kid and musician, and now as a poet, writer, and artist facilitator. Even my day jobs have always revolved around the arts - I am incredibly fortunate to have worked with literary and arts organizations across the country and to have been consistently surrounded and encouraged by innovative and inspiring artists of all ages and backgrounds.
I moved to DC in 2016 and immediately fell in love. This is an area full of motivated, talented, and creative people and organizations trying to change the world. However, I also quickly became frustrated with things like the high cost of living, inaccessible buildings and spaces, and the often insular nature of many creative programs in the area. At the time, I was working at one of the largest literary organizations in the area where I couldn't afford to take classes. In addition, I saw a lot of programming that was isolating or inaccessible in other ways.
The arts - in particular the literary arts - have always been a way for me to connect with something larger than myself, a world both big and bright. I recognize that I am incredibly privileged to have had so much access to arts programming and find it disheartening that others are denied that connection, that community. It's important that people engage in the arts, and I don't think doing so should break any kind of bank (financial, emotional, creative, etc). So I basically just put out a call to a group of really wonderful artists and teachers and friends and said "hey…if I started offering low-cost workshops, would you teach for me?” And, thankfully, a lot of them said yes!
At first, my view of "accessible" was just cost. None of my workshops or programs are over $20 per session (they're usually less!) and scholarships are regularly available regardless of merit or need. But I am always learning and growing and as the organization and I evolve, so does my view of what makes literary programming accessible. I try really hard to offer exciting and uniquely themed programming in ADA accessible spaces. This is not always possible, but I do make it a high priority. In addition, I really value my teaching artists - 100% of the profits made go back to them and I try and support them and uplift them in any way that I can. They are the cooks that make this kitchen run. (By the way! If any readers see a way that I can make MoonLit's programming more accessible, I'm all ears!)
I’m excited that MoonLit has taken off so quickly. In the first year MoonLit grew from small workshops and writing groups in my living room to 37 workshops and events that served over 325 people! And this spring we'll have our largest season yet, with 34 programs across Baltimore, DC, and Northern Virginia. For more information on that, check us out at www.moonlitdc.com or on instagram, facebook, or twitter.
One last thing - I'm trying to fill in the gaps I see in the literary community and I want to stress that I'm definitely not the only one doing so. There are lots of cool organizations that offer accessible literary programming in the area like Split This Rock, The Inner Loop, Writers & Words, ASAP Arlington, just to name a few. Check them out!
Why did you decide to collaborate with bookstores?
Bookstores are the lifeblood of a community. I believe with my whole heart that the creative arts, literature in particular, does two amazing things: builds empathy and creates community. I also believe that learning to write well is learning to communicate in an effective and meaningful way - and if we need anything right now, it's a little *more* conversation, a little *less* action, baby. Where better to do all of this - community building, empathy making - than in a space where important conversations both internally with oneself and externally with a larger community happen. Bookstores provide safe, progressive, and exciting spaces for people on both sides of the page to explore both themselves and the world at-large, and I am always honored when a bookstore opens their doors to MoonLit and allows us in for workshops or events.
How do you decide the topics for the workshops?
I have certain themes in mind, but outside of that, I let teaching artists pitch what they'd like to teach to me. If the teaching artist is passionate about a subject, genre, etc., it will come through to their students in the workshop.
While MoonLit does offer more general workshops, such as "Introduction to Poetry" or "Advanced Fiction," we really prioritize more "out of the box" one-off workshops that allow both the teaching artist and students to flex their creative muscles in exciting new ways. Some of my favorite workshops with MoonLit thus far have included “Empathy for the Other: Moving Past the Toxic Dynamics of the Writing Workshop,” with Jacob Budnez, “It’s All in the Cards: Using Tarot to Build Narratives” with Sharea Harris, several bookmaking workshops with Amanda McCormick of Ink Press Productions, "Written and Unwritten on the Body" with Natalie Illum, and “Choosing Anger: Rage as a Sustainable Resource in Poetry” with Rose Strode.
What are the backgrounds of your workshop leaders?
The workshop leaders who work with MoonLit come from a variety of backgrounds - from those who have a more traditional academic or publishing background to emerging writers, spoken word artists, open mic hosts, community organizers, and those working outside of the literary field but who spend their free time writing and reading and engaging with the literary arts. My main criteria when I review workshop proposals and bios is passion - early in my career as a writer and artist facilitator, I was fortunate to have people believe in me and take a chance on my ideas and vision, which was monumental in helping me grow as a person and artist. I try and return that favor for my teaching artists, some of whom are teaching their first workshop with MoonLit.
What do you think participants take away from the workshops?
I think creation becomes a little easier when we take the capital L out of Literature or the capital A out of art. It's my hope that each workshop participants leaves with whatever they came looking for, but also with a little inspiration or spark that they will use to creatively bloom.
We are so jazzed by Kristen’s mission and passion, and look forward to a fruitful collaboration in the coming months. Come out and join us for some interesting thinking, writing, and conversation with MoonLit soon.
--The Old Town Books Team