February 3, 2020

Philly literary scene is thriving, full of women, features something called The Claw


Still from Liar Liar (1997) Imagine Entertainment

Philadelphia’s literary resurgence has everything: a groundswell of new independent bookstores, a thriving community of readers, MFA programs, independent presses, a growing coterie of prominent writers, a women’s writing group called The Claw. We could go on and on!

But in case you were tripped up by that last element of the list, let us elaborate.

“What is The Claw?” you might ask.

Well, let us quote from Claire Sasko’s article in Philadelphia Magazine:

The Claw is comprised of 19 published and professional fiction and nonfiction writers. Not unlike a book club, it meets roughly once a month, usually at one of the members’ homes. Over glasses of wine, the women ask for advice, offer feedback, and discuss what they’re writing at the moment — or just whatever’s occupying their minds.

The brainchild of Carmen Maria Machado and Liz Moore, the club was conceived of as a way of providing mutual support to women writers in the City of Brotherly Love. (And trust me, I was about to make a truly pathetic joke along the lines of “better change it to sisterly love!” but Philadelphia literally just did that in honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Side note: you know your blogging game is on when your one-liners are both accidentally factually accurate and not particularly funny.)

Other members of the group, which derives its name from the women-only coworking space The Wing, include Emma Copley Eisenberg and Kiley Reid. All told, three members have published books in the last month—so support is very much in demand.

But from whence is the momentum in Philly’s literary scene? One likely answer is that the movement seems to be unapologetically woman-centric. This includes not just The Claw, but woman-owned independent bookstores like Harriett’s Bookshop (pegged as “if ‘black girl magic were a bookshop’”) and “intersectional literary publications like APIARY Magazine”.

Sasko quotes Julia Bloch, the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s creative writing program for more insight into the appetites of their literary community. Bloch notes that students are “hungry for more representation of writers of color, women, and nonbinary and trans and queer writers.”

They might find such writers in bookstores that sound like they are all over the city:

Amalgam Comics & Coffee House in Kensington (run by Ariell Johnson, the first black female comic-book-store owner on the East Coast); pundit and Temple prof Marc Lamont Hill’s Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books in Germantown; Shakespeare and Co. in Rittenhouse (with its steampunk-esque espresso book machine); A Novel Idea on Passyunk; and, imminently, Harriett’s Bookshop in Fishtown.

What fun neighborhood names! Passyunk!

Beyond gender, Claw-member and author of Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid, is also drawn to the demographics of Philadelphia: “Philadelphia is 40 percent black — I would love for my children to see people who look like them and don’t look like them.”

So Philly has a lot going for it right now!

Philadelphia Magazine was perhaps being too polite to mention this, but we would feel remiss to not point out that according to NerdWallet, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia is $1,476 while it is $5,102 in Manhattan and $3,509 in Brooklyn.

But our question is: how can you be sure if you live in a cultural hub if you’re not paying at least twice as much rent as is natural or even desirable? I’ll leave you with that, folks. I’ll take my market-rate unrenovated Brooklyn walk-up and awkward plastic cup of wine in a loft once every four months any day over this thriving, mutually-supportive, female-dominated scene!



Athena Bryan is an editor at Melville House.