(Photo by Flickr user Sam Greenhalgh, used under a Creative Commons license)
Literacy is an issue that impacts Philadelphia in myriad ways.
According to the Center for Literacy’s 2014-15 annual report, 37 percent of adults are considered low-literate. The problem is so dire that Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP announced at a press conference last December that its focus for the next two years would be to address literacy in Black and Brown communities.
“To have individuals reach adult age with little or no literacy skills is inexcusable and should have been detected long before people are expected to become part of the larger workforce,” said Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of the NAACP Philly, as reported by the Philadelphia Tribune.
Lori Tharps, an associate professor in Temple University’s journalism department, believes she can help by bringing the literary community — what she likes to refer to as a “community of word people” — together under a platform to be a part of the solution. That platform she’s creating is called QWERTY Philly, a website that covers and connects all things literature in the city through editorial content, events and services.
“I felt that Philadelphia has a really rich literary community but it’s very disjointed, disconnected,” said Tharps, who’s coauthored her own books, such as Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. “If we brought the literary community together as a group under this platform, that energy might work to address the illiteracy community.”
[Editor’s note: Check out our interview with APIARY Magazine for another glimpse into Philly’s literary scene.]
If the platform’s structure sounds a bit similar to something like say, Technically Media (Generocity’s parent company), that’s because Tharps said she was directly inspired by the “self-sustaining platform” the company created. She was initially planning to create a print magazine, much like fellow journalism professor George Miller’s JUMP Philly which covers the local music community, but she felt going online would be more influential in impacting the local literary scene.
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“It went from creating a publication for the community to being a resource for the community,” Tharps said.
Tharps has the editorial content nailed down — whether it’s about a book festival in the Caribbean (“Who wouldn’t want to go to a great book festival and meet authors, then go to the beach at a beautiful paradise?”) or a library in South Philly that doubles as a health center — for which she relied on the help of Temple students to report and write.
For events, she plans to promote those you’d usually see around Philly, like poetry readings, but she’s also planning to create her own QWERTY-specific events that create opportunities for the community to just get together and talk, something she feels writers, specifically, are sometimes not so keen on doing.
Tharps likens this idea to running, which is often done alone. But as another inspiration for her platform RUN215, an events hub for runners, showed her, it’s about the togetherness that makes it more entertaining.
“You do running by yourself, you don’t need anyone to run with, but it’s so much more fun when you have someone to run with and talk to,” Tharps said. “It’s building community around a single topic and like-minded people, and that’s the same thing QWERTY is aiming to do.”
The “services” aspect of QWERTY is something she’s still trying to figure out, but as she learned from asking a local bookstore owner and the like, she’s confident her platform is something that’s needed in Philly.
“If that need hadn’t been clarified to me, I probably wouldn’t have done this — I would’ve probably just started a blog on my thoughts in the Philadelphia literary community,” Tharps said. “But those comments made me realize there was actually a need here for this type of organization, in whatever form it was going to take place.”
The official launch for the site is sometime this spring, but for a basic idea of what Tharps has planned, check out the blog she’s set up here.