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Brook Stephenson helps writers of color fill their pages

Demetria Irwin | 4/30/2015, 11:35 a.m.
This week's Black New York is writer Brook Stephenson.
Brook Stephenson

Like most New Yorkers, Brook Stephenson has a slash-filled answer when asked what he does for a living. He is a bookseller/creative writing teacher/non-profit co-founder/freelance writer/fiction writer.

Stephenson, a long-time lover of the written word, currently splits his time between working at a popular Soho bookstore and teaching creative non-fiction writing to uptown youth for college prep. This summer, Stephenson will be hosting his second annual Rhode Island Writers Colony. It’s a two-week immersion into an uninterrupted writing process, with the benefit of fellow writers and an editor from a major publishing house.

“The purpose of the Rhode Island Writers Colony is to work on current projects from writers of color,” explained Stephenson. “We need diversity. Publishing is a white male–dominated industry. It does not reflect the readership. So the colony serves that purpose of reflecting the viewpoints and experiences of the readership. The important thing is giving the writers the time they need to work on their projects. You don’t you have to be a published writer to apply, but I do want to see what you’ve done.”

The application process calls for (among other things) a 20-page writing sample. “I’m not looking for something that’s totally polished, but something that has potential,” said Stephenson. “By the time you leave the colony, you can promote it towards a grant, scholarship, other residency stay or some other next step. When I was in an artist residency, I just needed the time and that’s what I want to provide to these writers.”

The Rhode Island Writers Colony is an arm of the non-profit known as Third Floor Studios, an entity founded by Stephenson and his brother in honor of their late father. The senior Stephenson was a visual artist who used the third floor of the family’s well-appointed Detroit home to house his works. Eventually, Stephenson hopes to be a resource to artists of color in numerous fields, not just writing.

As for as his own writing, Stephenson has completed his debut novel (a book featuring a young Black male protagonist in his hometown of Detroit) and will be publishing the work later this year.

“Challenges and benefits of being a writer in New York are the same,” said the 41-year-old. “There’s a large writing community here. There are playwrights, filmmakers, novelists, whatever you want, and a lot of those circles overlap. There’s a lot of opportunity to immerse yourself in your field of choice. But at the same time, you have to work to earn a living, and for many writers that means having multiple gigs. Once you have a great idea, developing it in that same setting is very difficult. You basically have to remove yourself from those very same settings in order to actually do the work.”

This Crown Heights resident is also an active partner in the Clever Agency, a multimedia marketing company that serves as a one-stop-shop for creatives and nonprofits. Of course, Stephenson has utilized the services of the firm for his nonprofit. Clever Agency hands were on deck for the inaugural run of the Rhode Island Writers Colony last year to capture the experience in photos and video.

Stephenson has some advice for his fellow writers in New York City. “Seek out events in the communities that most interest you,” he said. “As one example, Time Out is a great resource for finding activities. Go to readings and gatherings. Get online in the public and private Facebook groups. No matter what your day job is, your night hustle is waiting on you. You’re at the well—just drink.”

Applications for the Rhode Island Writers Colony will be accepted through May 10. For more information, go to http://riwriterscolony.tumblr.com.