The Head & The Hand recently opened up shop in a storefront on Frankford Avenue near Norris Street – actually, in a space below that storefront – creating a new outpost for the talents of local writers, fitting right in to the River Wards' increasingly creative mix of artisans, makers, and do-it-yourselfers.
Nic Esposito, the brain behind The Head & The Hand, is well known around town for his work with community gardens, urban agriculture, and public landscape design, but these days he is also cultivating a decidedly more literary enterprise. Starting a publishing house may seem like a leap, but for Esposito agriculture and culture aren’t really so far apart: The red thread running through his work is building greater community sustainability from the ground up.
When Esposito was looking to publish his book Seeds of Discent last year, he noticed that there weren't many options for small-batch publishing in Philadelphia, and he recognized an opportunity to fill that void. The Head & The Hand, he says, started out of the utilitarian desire to share what he’d learned through self-publishing and to help other writers navigate the publishing process – from manuscript editing to distribution and marketing - while taking a handmade, craftsmanlike approach start to finish.
To get things rolling The Head & The Hand raised $5,000 through a kickstarter campaign this summer, which enabled the fledgling company to take a short-term lease on a workshop of their own. It is a simple but cozy basement space at 2031 Frankford Avenue (below the vintage shop Two Percent to Glory) warmed up by handmade and vintage wooden furniture. From here Esposito hopes to build a sense of community around The Head & The Hand, by inviting writers in to work in the space.
Starting this month there are open workshop hours on Tuesdays from 6-8pm for co-writing and then from 8-10pm folks are encouraged to hang out and talk shop. [The next Workshop Tuesdsay, is December 18.] Someday Esposito hopes to inhabit a larger (less subterranean) office where writers could purchase coworking memberships that give local talents room to grow.
Big cities like New York or LA are, in Esposito’s estimation, are wrongly seen as the only places for culture. “Everything else is local," he said, mocking the dismissive attitude. But “local” doesn’t have to take a cutesy or provincial tint. It can be an expression of craft, quality, care, and empowerment, and that’s what The Head & The Hand hopes to capture.
The Head & The Hand is collecting pieces for its first publication, an almanac appropriately called Rust Belt Rising which will share stories of renewal in cities like Philadelphia through fiction, essays, and images. It's the first of what Esposito hopes will be an almanac series, a new take on an old form.
“The whole point of almanacs were to give a really good picture, get a really good pulse, of what it’s like to do a certain profession or live in a certain area,” Esposito explained, taking inspiration from 18th century works like Poor Richard’s Almanac. “How can we snapshot life in a Rust Belt city?”
In particular, he's hoping to showcase the work of people who are creatively reshaping resurgent neighborhoods like his own East Kensington - and shedding light on all of those makers and doers striving to renew their corners of old industrial cities like Philadelphia.
Unlike the craft movements that have swept other, often wealthier, places (see: San Francisco, Brooklyn), Esposito sees the potential for Philly’s artisan/maker movement to be a bit less precious and more about establishing productive, self-sufficient systems for everything from food to art. It's about building a new future on old foundations.
In addition to two almanacs planned for spring and fall, The Head & The Hand plans to publish three books in 2013. The deadline for Rust Belt Rising Almanac submissions is February 15, 2013. For more information and submission guidelines check out The Head & The Hand on submittable.