City Spotlight : Philadelphia: Publishing 'Wit'May 2013 By James Sturdivant
Throughout the month of June, Hidden City Philadelphia, a website devoted to writing, photography, and the city's "dormant and hidden places," is holding a series of artistic happenings at derelict or under-appreciated urban locales. An abandoned city hall becomes a lending library; an old swimming pool hosts a tea room; knitters take over a century-old synagogue; gun emplacements become dwellings. The events, designed to get people out of comfort zones to experience their surroundings in a new way, represent a grassroots effort to engage culture, creativity and place.
In a sense, this is what publishing in Philadelphia is all about. In this city of 1.5 million, once a publishing powerhouse to rival New York, literary and artistic efforts often have a decentralized, grassroots feel, despite the presence of major universities and cultural institutions. People come to Philadelphia to attend school and, because they can afford to, stick around to start magazines, websites and small presses.
The Painted Bride Quarterly started this way back in 1973, when a group of recent college graduates decided to form a literary journal. "It was run out of people's living rooms, bars, pizza places, trunks of cars, and it was fortunate enough to always find the next willing parties to take it over," recalls Kathleen Volk Miller, co-editor of Painted Bride. "The problem with the lit mag is a bunch of people get together and say, 'Hey, let's start a lit mag,' and then realize how much work it is—or they do it for four, six, ten years and then just get burned out and no one else picks up the ball."
Close to 30 years on, the PBQ was rewarded for its perseverance. Under Miller's leadership, it entered into a partnership with Drexel University, which now houses the journal's offices, provides tech support and uses the magazine as a pedagogical tool, providing a pool of fresh young talent every year. Yet the magazine itself is still an independent nonprofit.
Painted Bride Quarterly, which like Philly-based The American Poetry Review enjoys a national reputation as one of the country's oldest and most successful literary publications, is still very much part and parcel of its host city. The magazine holds two events a month, a traditional reading and a not-too-cutthroat interactive writer's competition called "Slam, Bam, Thank You, Ma'am" at the Pen & Pencil, the nation's oldest press club.