CityLit Project

CityLit Festival Postponed Due to the Coronavirus Outbreak

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Staff and Volunteers   |   Board of Directors   |   Mission Statement and Organizational History

Mission Statement and Organizational History

CityLit Project nurtures the culture of literature in Baltimore and throughout Maryland. CityLit creates enthusiasm for literary arts, connects a community of avid readers and writers, and opens opportunities for young people and diverse audiences to embrace the literary arts.

In 2008, board chair Dan Fesperman and board member Andrea Jones (left) helped draft a new strategic plan with guidance from the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations' Heather Iliff (center, talking with board member Carole Evitts) and founding chair Chic Dambach (right).

CityLit’s origins unfold like a good story, literally starting with a dark and stormy night.  Well, actually a dark and stormy weekend.  When Hurricane Isabel washed out the Baltimore Book Festival in 2003, the literary arts community rallied around the motivation that two whole calendar years should not pass without a celebration of literature in Baltimore.  So, the community organized a pared down one-day event at Enoch Pratt Free Library for a Saturday in December.  Since CityLit Project was just incorporated as a nonprofit, an original board member suggested calling the event CityLit Festival.  It was to present authors, poets, workshops, open mic, and panels on the writing life and about issues of importance to the community.  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the season’s only snowstorm fell on that day and cancelled the festival. 

In 2003, Hurricane Isabel washed out the Baltimore Book Festival, which led to a revamped celebration of literature the following spring and the creation of CityLit Festival, CityLit Project's first official program. The festival has grown to become "a can't miss event on the city's cultural scene" (Baltimore magazine, 2009).

Rain, wind, snow ... and now some lightning.  We finally staged CityLit Festival in April 2004, and ten days before the festival headliner Edward P. Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, attracting a large audience and capturing local and industry headlines.  Lightning struck again when, the following year, guest and Washington Post editor Steve Coll won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction just ten days before the festival.  Dubbed a “Best of Baltimore” by Baltimore Magazine, the joke circulated that if a writer wanted to win a Pulitzer, she should get on the CityLit Festival schedule.

Quality, diverse programs quickly became a hallmark of  CityLit Festival.  With the bar set high, we wondered how to top it for the festival’s third edition.  Although he did not win a Pulitzer, humanitarian Paul Rusesabagina—whose story was the basis for “Hotel Rwanda”—debuted his memoir.  More than 1000 people showed up for Rusesabagina’s presentation on a day that attracted nearly 2500 people to Pratt Library.

CityLit Festival VI presented both 2008’s Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction (Junot Diaz) and 2008’s National Book Award winner for poetry (Mark Doty), attracting more than 3000 people.  The festival has featured poet laureates, Pushcart Prize winners, established authors, emerging voices, and a bustling Literary Marketplace where writers, editors, literary journals, and small presses can share their literary art with the community.

Now CityLit’s signature event, the free CityLit Festival anchors a family of programs that instill and sustain a life-long love of literature:

-- CityLit Stage at Baltimore Book Festival presents the same level of quality, diverse programming over the course of the festival’s weekend, also for free. 

-- CityLit Kids brings writers into elementary school classrooms for a unique reading and creative writing program.

-- CityLit Teens inspires youth to enjoy reading and writing as forms of creative self-expression (participants write, create artwork, and title what becomes a published book of their own work at the end of the program). 

-- Lit’s Not Dead brings younger authors and musicians together for a rock-n-read concert that targets 18-34 year olds, identified by National Endowment for the Arts’ reports as the demographic experiencing the steepest rate of decline in reading.

-- Write Here, Write Now workshops, on-going throughout the year, mix multi-week craft sessions with one-day professional development workshops held at Creative Alliance and other venues around the region.

-- CityLit Press, the organization's book publishing imprint, provides a venue for writers who might otherwise be overlooked by larger publishers due to the literary nature or regional focus of their projects.

CityLit Project also partners with Towson University and Johns Hopkins University to present the annual Baltimore Writers’ Conference; with Baltimore's Child to run the Maryland Young Writers' Contest; and with curators to sponsor both the 510 Reading Series (fiction) and the New Mercury Reading Series (nonfiction).

CityLit Project's new logo debuted in 2009.  It was designed by Mission Media, which also designed and relaunched

To mark its fifth anniversary in 2009, CityLit Project unveiled a new logo, launched a new web site, and worked on its first book under the CityLit Press imprint.  The next year, 2010, proved to be even more momentous as CityLit landed its first grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, earned another "Best of Baltimore" honor for City Sages: Baltimore, and took residency at the University of Baltimore.  Today, the organization is poised for greater sustainability, future growth, and broader impact in the community. 

CityLit’s success rests squarely on presenting lively programs, building dynamic partnerships, corralling an enthusiastic corps of volunteers (including many young people from area high schools and colleges), and cultivating an expert, working board of directors.  Past board chairs include Charles F. "Chic" Dambach, President and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding and a BoardSource consultant; E. Scott Johnson, chair of Ober-Kaler's intellectual property group and past president of the Maryland State Arts Council; Dan Fesperman, former foreign correspondant for the Baltimore Sun and a critically acclaimed novelist; and Adrianna Amari, Inpatient Consultation Coordinator at the Kennedy Kreiger Institute.

Each year, the Mayor of Baltimore proclaims CityLit Festival "CityLit Day" in Baltimore.

Special thanks to Enoch Pratt Free Library, executive director Dr. Carla Hayden, communications director Roswell Encina, and two incredible, intelligent lovers of literature Judy Cooper and Reggie Harris.  Thanks, too, to Baltimore Office of Promotion and The Arts, executive director Bill Gilmore, and Baltimore Book Festival managers Kathy Hornig and Heather St. Clair.  Our appreciation extends to the entire staffs of these two excellent organizations, which help make CityLit Project’s two primary public programs not only of outstanding quality, but free for everyone to enjoy.

Click here to read more about CityLit and the new move to UB.

Click here to download a copy of CityLit Project’s brochure.

Click here to read CityLit Project’s strategic plan.

Click here to link to CityLit Project’s GuideStar entry.

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