The brakes on Steve Burns’ old Jeep Wrangler went out somewhere past Old City Coffee, right in the middle of rush hour traffic. He jumped out at a stop sign to try and halt the vehicle, but the stick-shift Jeep continued to lumber along.
Eventually, Burns put his physical well-being at risk to bring the car to a halt with his own body. That was when he realized just how dedicated he was to the Philadelphia literary magazine called APIARY.
“It was a crazy day,” Burns, web editor and outreach coordinator at the magazine, said. “Later, I realized I spent most of it nearly dying to distribute the magazine. That’s when I knew how much I really wanted to do this.”
The love affair with APIARY started when Burns first spotted a copy in the Italian Market and was immediately drawn to how “alive” the magazine was. Burns is part of the organization of volunteer staff, writers and fans of the magazine trying to raise $15,000 in order to ensure its survival and to print the next issue.
“The money will be used for two key things,” said Lillian Dunn, executive editor and co-founder of the magazine. “First, we want to create a beautiful new website. Our current website is outdated and it’s not a strong archiving engine for all the literature we’re collecting.”
Different pieces of writing can become “lost in the ether,” Dunn said, and it becomes difficult for visitors to the magazine’s website to search for specific items. Additionally, Dunn said that the current website simply does not “get people exploring.”
Dunn hopes to create a website that operates as both an “archive and a reading room,” and component that Tom Hannigan, the magazine’s event manager, said is integral. Free access to such a large amount of Philadelphia-based literature, Hannigan said, would be an incredible tool.
After a donation from the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, APIARY was able to begin redesign of the website. But there is still a long way to go, Dunn said.
“Now we’re looking at collecting the rest of the funding for the second chunk,” Dunn added.
That “second chunk” is affording the staff some breathing room by getting ahead on funding. Raising the money to print two issues in advance, Dunn said, would give APIARY the cushion it needed.
Without the funding, the magazine would survive in some form, Dunn said, but not the APIARY the Philadelphia literary community knows today. The magazine is currently in print and available for free – and the staff wants to keep it that way.
Dunn said she wants to create a magazine that Philadelphia deserves.
“Instead of saying that it’s really difficult to do print today [and moving online], it felt really important to keep that as part of what we do,” Dunn said. “Because print is such an essential part of it – because it interrupts you, it shows up on a subway seat next to you or gets left behind by a friend.”
APIARY’s co-founder and co-editor, Tamara Oakman, agreed that remaining in print is a huge part of the magazine.
“I love having a physical thing to touch and read through,” Oakman said.
Oakman does not want to compromise between staying in print and charging for the magazine because of her own experience with literature as a young woman growing up in a bad neighborhood.
“Writing and poetry quite literally saved me,” Oakman said. “And if it could save me from being a statistic of the North Philadelphia lifestyle, it can save so many more people. But we don’t want to sell anything, because those people [who need it] might not be able to afford it.”
Though it would ease monetary concerns, charging for the print magazine would also compromise the “APIARY” mission to give everyone a voice – regardless of class, race, economic status, or societal position.
“The emphasis is so strongly on generating connections between writers,” Burns said. “And we give a voice to those who wouldn’t have one otherwise.”
Warren Longmire, the poetry editor, recalled a recent event that pulled people “from every corner of the Philly lit world,” from the successful Denice Frohman to an eight-year-old poet.
Oakman said that including every type of person is central to APIARY’s mission to serve the Philadelphia community.
“The point is that we’re all human beings and we’re afforded certain gifts, like being able to learn from the past and project positivity into the future,” Oakman said.
This ideology allows APIARY to thrive not on competition, but by “bringing Philadelphians together with the power of their own voice,” Dunn said. “Our city is a segregated place – by race, class and age. Writing can offer a way around those barriers.”
APIARY’s strength, Dunn said, comes from the community it creates, something Dunn witnessed when she was very young. She recalled going to a summer writing camp as a child where “all you did was write.”
When Dunn was trying to decide what path to pursue in life, she said she tried to think back to when she was the happiest.
“It was at that camp, making a space where people were writing and collaborating with each other and felt like they belonged,” Dunn said.
And with the partnership of Tamara Oakman, that sense of community through writing is exactly what Dunn wanted to create with the magazine.
“When you invest in APIARY, you invest in the ability to wander, the ability to be surprised,” Dunn said. “And you invest in the voices of Philly.”
Victoria Mier can be reached at email@example.com