Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Fitting Farewell to a Favorite Literary Haunt

Dear Orlandoans,

As most Orlandoans already know, Urban ReThink is closing its doors at the end of September. These things happen, places shut down, move on, or, in the case of ReThink, evolve. But the closure of the ReThink space hits particularly hard. Because of the diversity of people and purposes the space served, because it meant so many things to so many people, losing the ReThink space feels like a multitude of losses happening all at once.

For me, the biggest loss is that of a literary hub. After all, Urban ReThink is the former home of Urban Think Bookstore. In 2009, when the bookstore, like so many indies across the country, just couldn't make it anymore, ReThink stepped in and ensured the space wouldn't become another Thornton Park "concept restaurant" or Ed Hardy t-shirt outlet.

ReThink thrived without the books there, and yet paradoxically attracted more potential book buyers than the bookstore ever did. For photographers, musicians, painters, filmmakers, dancers, hackers, activists, hacktivists and, of course, writers, ReThink filled important cultural gaps.

ReThink helped fill a huge gap for writers (by which I mean fiction writers, creative writers). Burrow Press called ReThink home from the beginning. We held our book release parties there, and people showed up. I'd had no idea how many talented fiction writers lived in Orlando. Be they complete unknowns or Flannery O'Connor Award-winners, I was thrilled to find them at ReThink.

And because people showed up, more ideas spawned. ReThink hosted Orlando's first Literary Death Match (an internationally touring event). The acclaimed prose reading series, There Will Be Words, was first conceived at ReThink as a counterweight to the ubiquitous opportunities for open mic poetry in the city. Shortly after There Will Be Words got off the ground, the MFAs in Creative Writing at UCF started another monthly reading for works-in-progress called PARCELS. The space hosted a ton of great one-off lit events, too, like Ashley Inguanta's poetry cover night, a David Foster Wallace tribute, and Bloomsday. The latter has since become an annual event adopted by John King under the banner of his fantastic literary podcast, The Drunken Odyssey. And Bloomsday was only one of many booze-infused John King events, all of them held at ReThink. It got to the point where if you were going to have a literary event, the first thing you did was see if ReThink was available.

When Burrow Press created Functionally Literate (a reading series designed to move around the city to different locations) it was a given that Urban ReThink would host the inaugural event. So maybe it's fitting that the last literary event to happen at ReThink is a Functionally Literate reading.

Saturday at 7pm will be the last time you'll get to experience our literary community inside this important literary landmark. There's a strange and fitting symmetry to the two featured readers, as well: Nathan Holic came from Chicago to Orlando, where he's established himself as a prolific fiction writer and, recently, a novelist; Lindsay Hunter left Orlando for Chicago, where she has since released a barrage of startling, innovative (and often hilarious) short stories, carving out a niche for herself as a literary force to be reckoned with. Without a doubt, both Nathan and Lindsay are going to read their assess off for you.

That's just how we do it in Orlando. We work extra hard to create a strong literary reputation because people don't consider us a literary city, they don't think of us as readers, or even particularly smart. Functionally Literate specifically aims to confound these cynics, to see the look on the face of an out-of-town reader when every seat is filled... for them! We also do it because we want to, and we love it. The high-quality recordings we make of each event, that nice moody lighting––hell, even the beer––is all made possible by multi-talented writers who care to invest in their literary community.

That community would have been a lot harder to find, and much slower to thrive, without Urban ReThink, and for that, I am forever grateful.

So, with the closing of the ReThink space, it's important that we don't disperse. Burrow Press certainly isn't going anywhere, nor is our Functionally Literate series. There Will Be Words will be right down the street. Having a single hub made it easy on us, but I'm confident that nothing will change if we remember that supporting our literary community is as simple as showing up.

Ryan Rivas
Publisher, Burrow Press

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Ryan Rivas is the publisher of Burrow Press. His fiction has appeared in Annalemma, Prick of the Spindle, Paper Darts, Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012, and elsewhere.

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