With the fast-paced, always-on, always-connected nature of our modern-day society, what is a week away from one’s daily routine — from the cooking, the cleaning, the kids, etc. — to just write?
Well, all of that is in reach on Drexel University’s University City Campus due to a partnership between The Study at University City hotel and Drexel’s own community-driven literary arts program, Writers Room. The Study x WR Writer-in-Residence program is accepting applications through March 1 to secure a one-week, complimentary stay at The Study with writing space, meals, access to select museums and theaters as well as a personalized hotel robe all included. Drexel faculty, staff and alumni who are working on a writing project — from a scientific article, a family history, community narratives, poetry, journalism or a screenplay — are invited to apply, as well as members of the surrounding community.
And if you ask Andrea Walls, a writer and multi-media artist as well as lifelong Philadelphia currently residing in Overbrook, like we at DrexelNow did, it will certainly be an experience you never forget. Walls was the inaugural writer-in-residence during the week of Dec. 1–7, 2019.
Q: Tell me about your work in general and your life here in Philly.
A: I’m born and raised here, so I have seen the city through a great many changes: politically, artistically and architecturally in particular. I love this city, and I also have been hurt by the city because it’s got a complicated past, as does America. So, I became an artist here, but it’s not a place that historically has been that friendly to artists. Not that it’s been hostile to artists, but it’s not been very supportive in terms of, you know, that capitalistic stress between trying to make a living and to be able to produce as an artist.
So, it feels like a unique moment in Philadelphia, and I think this residency is part of that because I think it has always felt, to me, until recently, like in order to get any of that sustenance, you actually have to leave the city so you can be restored and then come back. And for a long time it was difficult to engage audiences. I went to so many events that would have like four or five people in the audience. And now, in Philadelphia, just everything that I go to is dynamic, standing-room-only audiences.
So I’m not sure what’s at the crux of the change. It might be just this national anxiety that we’re feeling … So it feels like there’s this creative energy that comes from that need to respond.
Q: How would you describe your residency experience at The Study?
A: It’s great to have that luxury in your own city, the luxury of not having to shop, prep, cook and clean up after a meal. That’s a significant thing to do for yourself in the midst of work, life, art and whatever else is going on.
There’s an exhaustion if you went for a residency in some tropical locale. That takes a lot of energy to pack and get ready and travel and negotiate all of that, and then in reverse. So, to be able to stay in your own city and just be able to walk out your door and into such a warm and welcoming space... . This atmosphere is what a writer lives for, right? A room with books, comfortable chairs, a room with a window seat that you can kind of look out on the city. It’s that inspirational thing where sometimes, even if you don’t feel that productive, what you needed was to kind of rest in that space, and do nothing. I read two papers every day, which I haven’t been able to do for a number of reasons. That just felt like a luxury, to sit down with the Sunday [New York] Times in the window seat with coffee, and to do the crossword, you know. It’s the kind of thing that I remember just really enjoying, and it seems like life has gotten so hectic, that kind of small joy that you wouldn’t even have remarked on at the time seems like it gets pressed out of the possibility in a day, just because of the ways we engage with technology [nowadays].
… They gave me the bathrobe — that thing that is just always a comfort and, you know, to be able to have my photographs on display. You know, so you get a solo show to boot.
I did invite some friends from my writing group up. It’s nice to share that luxury, to just sit around, order up some snacks, just sit in those great chairs and talk. We never did get to the writing [laughs]. There’s really nothing more luxurious at this moment in the culture than a restful week — even a day is an amazing thing. But to have a week where you can really sink into it because it really takes a day or two for all of the noise to kind of settle down. All of the to-do lists you’re always trying to stay on top of it, to just let that voice fall away. And I mean, this location is great because it’s easy to just get out and walk around on either the campuses. But I can’t say enough about that experience and hospitality.
Q: What were you working on during the residency?
A: You know, honestly, I have been working on so many things simultaneously. This kind of was a last-minute… the person who was supposed to do [the program this coming April, Danielle Morris,] needed to switch dates. So it was kind of like a rushed switch. So, I had big plans, but I really was not that productive. It’s really kind of all of a blur.
I have several websites that I created and curate. I also had just finished a practicum with the Studio Museum in Harlem around museum engagement and curriculum design for engaging audiences with the art of artists of color. So I worked on some curriculum for that. I also worked on the curriculum for the week that Danielle and I [presented during] the one-week writing workshop we did with the Writers Room. It was really a delightful experience. The people that they work with at the Writer’s Room run the gamut from 17 to 77, members of every different skill level and interest, and just being able to work with visual culture and writing are like the two things that I really love.
Q: Why should more writers and/or artists seek these opportunities and be given these opportunities, or have these opportunities available to them?
I think, honestly, especially thinking of what younger people are up against, I feel like they don’t even know what this type of repose is. And they need a break. People in my generation and older need to reconnect with that way of being and relating that we’re familiar with and perhaps nostalgic for. The current modes of communication, for instance, I might send somebody a text and they say, “Oh, well, I sent you an e-mail” or “We started a GroupMe” and I’m like “Oh, I DMed you on Instagram.” I’m honestly very confused and anxiety-ridden with how to communicate effectively.
Honestly, I don’t think most people even know how pushed to the limits they are. It’s just this mindset, like, “You gotta keep it going.” And I think being under that much pressure all the time is not necessarily the greatest friend to the writing process.
So, I mean, I just think, culturally, we all need a little bit more repose. … We need some thoughtful approaches to language and visual storytelling. I think we need to hear more from people who are not purely reacting and have had the luxury of time to consider what it is the moment calls for. Research is a very deep thing. You can’t just skim through it, if you’re using text to [support] your thinking and your arguments. You really need to engage with it. It’s difficult to do just sitting like scrolling through a screen. You need to be at a clean desk with all your books open. We need that from our deep thinkers and cultural preservationists and artistic narrators. We need more from them, so we need to give them the sustenance, the hospitality, the kindness.
Q: What was the biggest example of hospitality you came across while you were at the residency?
A: Well, honestly, all-you-can-drink coffee that you don’t have to make yourself and you don’t have to do the dishes. For me, that is the height of hospitality. I didn’t even drink as much as I intended to. … I think a stay in a hotel is most people’s idea of a luxurious experience.
Q: Are you glad that the The Study hotel and Writers Room and going to continue to do this? Who and why would you encourage to apply?
I’m thrilled. I would encourage anybody [to apply]. I feel like it’s the kind of thing that will sell itself if people know about it. Well, depending on how intense the application process, and if you can take the week, which is a luxury in and of itself. We deserve it. We’re working hard.
Follow Walls on Instagram @urbanarchivist to keep up with her latest projects. Find out more and apply for the Writer-in-Residence program here.