As we talk over coffee and browse through local bookshops, one thing is abundantly clear: Maureen McDole is passionate about literature.
In August 2013, she founded Keep St. Pete Lit in order to build community around that passion. The non-profit organization fosters and promotes greater St. Petersburg’s literary scene with approachable arts and educational events for local lovers of words.
“I wanted to help create a vibrant literary arts scene in what was already a vibrant arts community,” said McDole, a St. Pete native. “There was already fertile soil here.”
Collaborations have been—and remain—essential to the growth and visibility of her grassroots organization. From the LitSpace writing classes and pop-up bookshop at the Morean Arts Center, to a book club housed at the Museum of Fine Arts, Keep St. Pete Lit programs take root in partnership.
“We all [as partners] have the same intention of wanting to make the city a wonderful place to live in,” McDole said. “We also want to create a community for our children to grow up in and thrive. Plus, it’s fun to make art with your friends. What’s better than that, really?”
LitSpace testimonials reveal the impact as students talk about how they are “tapping into a new kind of creativity” or “finally identifying as being a writer.”
Much of what the organization does travels beyond the printed page. Popular events like literary walking tours, held in collaboration with St. Petersburg Preservation (now called Preserve the ‘Burg), highlight the importance of finding narrative in different settings.
“Writing about local landmarks gives you a sense of place, and creates a connection with that place,” McDole said.
A turning point for Keep St. Pete Lit came in 2015, hinging on the launch of their LitSpace classes. “That same year, in February when we moved the book club to the MFA, those were two key moments of alignment,” McDole said.
That book club continues monthly, drawing connections between the visual and literary by theming reading selections around artworks in the MFA’s collection or exhibitions.
Looking forward, plans are being laid to reach a larger youth audience, and expand some writing classes from single afternoon sessions into more intensive 3-day workshops. McDole said she’s also talking with the ArtsXchange, a Warehouse Arts District venue and studio space, about bringing in more literary programming.
As Keep St. Pete Lit grows, McDole hopes to establish a permanent home for the organization where classes and performances can be housed all under one roof.
In April 2018, the fourth annual SunLit Festival brings an array of bookish collaborations to venues around the city. It begins with a kick-off party April 5 at the Chihuly Collection, before rolling out two weeks of lit-themed movies and tours, typography and printing arts demos, author readings, a countywide high school essay-writing contest, and more.
A published poet currently enrolled in the Executive Program in Arts & Culture Strategy at University of Pennsylvania, McDole keeps doing her part to spread the literary love, one story at a time.
Learn more by visiting www.keepstpetelit.org.