An Open Letter from New York City Literary Arts Organizations to Members of the New York City Council

To New York City Council Members Van Bramer, Gjonaj, Moya, Cumbo and Borelli

We write to you as literary arts organizations in New York City committed to fostering the well-being of the city’s community of writers and other literary professionals struggling with the COVID outbreak. -19. We ask that you include writers and the literary community, recognizing the essential role they play in the cultural vibrancy and social bonds of our city, as you allocate resources to foster a new New York City in the next budget.

We deeply appreciate your commitment to the arts in New York City, demonstrated in your respective roles as leaders of the City Council’s Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations Committees. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs is a leading cultural agency with numerous programs and grants that help ensure New York City remains an extraordinarily vital center for the arts.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on arts economies, and we commend Councilor Van Bramer recent petition calling on the mayor to ensure that a portion of federal relief funds is directed to artists and arts organizations. The petition is a timely call to action that recognizes the crucial importance of the arts in the life of the city, including in times of crisis. We are, however, struck by the omission from the text of a key element of this artistic community: novelists, non-fiction authors, poets, essayists, playwrights, translators and other writers who enrich the dynamism and stature of the city, and the literary groups that support and highlight them. New York City’s publishing industry employs more than 50,000 people according to a comptroller’s report, many of whom are literary writers themselves. They also need your support.

We, the undersigned literary groups, seek:

  • Designating the literary community as a recipient of aid in the upcoming New York City budget, including through funding provided to the city through federal economic stimulus packages.
  • Specific inclusion of “literary arts” in legislative language for the Department of Cultural Affairs and earmarking 10% of all FY21 departmental funding for this sector.
  • Creation of an advisory committee, made up of artists from all disciplines, including the literary arts, to advise officials of the Department of Cultural Affairs on the strategic use of relief funds.
  • Established a New York City All Business Tax Credit for charitable donations to literary arts organizations, as well as other arts groups.
  • Commercial rent relief for literary arts organizations unable to use their premises during the closure.
  • Development of a COVID-19 narrative project in New York that would pay writers to document the effects of the pandemic on the lives of New Yorkers.

In times of national crisis, we have long looked to writers for inspiration, understanding, solace and enlightenment. The writers who call New York home helped this country and the world make sense of the global depression and war, and the societal impact of racism, inequality, and hatred. They brought joy, beauty and escape to readers by offering a rich palette to explore the human condition, even in its darkest hours. Our city cannot afford to let this literary legacy down by ignoring the needs of our writers and the literary organizations and performing spaces that support them at this critical time.

Many writers have already lost significant income due to COVID-19, whether due to conference cancellations, declining book sales due to bookstore closures, lost publishing opportunities, teaching in schools and other institutions, or other jobs that suddenly disappeared. These losses follow dramatic declines in revenue in recent years. A 2018 Authors Guild survey found that average writing-related earnings fell by more than 40% in 2017, compared to a decade earlier. New York writers and the organizations that promote and elevate their work need your support as much as other artists.

We hope that our Council representatives will meet the financial and health needs of those who provide the city with its essential services, including our first responders and medical professionals, and that they will continue to fund programs that provide the sick, without -shelter, disabled, undocumented, marginalized communities and young people with the care and attention they need. But as you consider how best to use relief funds to support the arts, we call on you to recognize the vital role the literary community will play in bearing witness to these troubled times through support from the upcoming city budget via the reforms described above.

Sign,

Poetic Ars
Asian American Writers’ Workshop
Authors Guild
Canem Cellar
The center of fiction
CLMP
Association of Dominican Writers
Met
Fordham Political Review
Harlem Writers Guild
Kundiman
Literary Lambda
Morningside Writers Group
New York Writers Club
New York Writers Coalition
Nuyorican Poets Cafe
PEN America
PEN America Translation Committee
PEN America Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee
house of poets
Pratt Institute Book Club
Slam! NYU
The Literary Freedom Project
The Poetry Project at St Mark’s
NYC urban word
Metro Wendy’s

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