Nearly six years ago, professor and Bold Strokes Books author Sheree Greer accepted a tenured position teaching writing at St. Petersburg College.
While she was excited about getting tenure, she also began thinking about her long-term goals.
“I was feeling a bit unfulfilled by my work at the college,” she said. “I love teaching, but I also want to teach what I want to teach.”
This is how she came up with the concept for Kitchen Table Literary Arts, named after a feminist press for women of color founded by Barbara Smith in 1980. Greer’s Kitchen Table would have a similar mission in supporting and building awareness of women of color literary artists in the community. She would continue to teach at SPC, but she’d also focus on her true passions through the organization.
“Kitchen Table is a way for me to create curriculum and workshops based around what my passion is, which is black women writing, period,” she said.
Greer was no stranger to the literary arts community. For years, she ran Oral Fixation, an LGBTQ open mic, in Tampa, and has collaborated with other organizations both in Florida and beyond.
As Oral Fixation began to wind down in 2014, she shifted her focus to Kitchen Table – her “destiny work,” she calls it.
Through the Oral Fixation series, she met numerous writers and performers along the way, including Slam Anderson, who at the time served as president of The Poets at USF.
With the work she wanted to accomplish through Kitchen Table, Greer knew that she couldn’t do it alone.
“I needed somebody who’s hungry to do some stuff in the city, who has a big heart, who has a passion for community, who understands what I’m trying to do,” she said. “I want to do creative writing, but I want it to have a heart and a soul, and I want it to help the community, especially the black community.”
Energetic and talented, Anderson immediately came to mind, and Greer invited her to join the Kitchen Table team as outreach director.
“When she asked me, I was honored, I was scared, I was feeling like, are you sure you want me?” Anderson said. “I wanted it, though, that’s not the question. The want was there. I always wanted to teach – not just teach, inspire.”
The two got to work assembling a board and applying for non-profit status. They launched their programming in November 2014, just ahead of the mid-term elections, at the Seminole Heights Library with a workshop on protest poetry. They followed that up with another presentation at the library, At Our Grandmothers’ Feet.
Since then, they’ve introduced a variety of programming, including a book club featuring black women authors of all genres – classic literature, romance, science fiction, historical fiction – that meets the last Saturday of every month at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Museum in St. Petersburg.
This past fall, Kitchen Table also launched a short story club that focuses on short stories written by women of color that meets at Seasons 52 in Tampa.
“The stories are short, so they’re easy to read,” Anderson said. “We had a running joke that folks were reading them in the parking lot before they come in.”
Additionally, Kitchen Table offers an online Creative Writing Society, which is an interactive online community with coursework and curricula for women writers of color at all levels – beginner, intermediate and master levels.
At the end of 2017, the group went on its first writers’ retreat. They kept the group small – just five writers went – and they rented a home in Treasure Island for a long weekend.
“I’ve never been on a writing retreat before, so it was so amazing,” Anderson said. “The fact that I could wake up and I could just write – I could spend my whole day writing if I wanted – was amazing.”
She said Kitchen Table will look to expand on this retreat this year.
And though Greer has always dreamed of opening a Kitchen Table writing center one day, this year she plans to focus on collaborations with other organizations by bringing more programming to their spaces.
Last year, she and Anderson met with Wally B. Jennings, who runs Heard ‘Em Say Teen Poetry, at The Centre for Girls in Tampa, where he is program manager.
“Wally gave us a tour and said, ‘You all were talking about physical space. Here’s physical space. What do you want to do?’” Greer said. “So for 2018, we want to explore partnerships and get into more spaces.”
In addition to The Centre for Girls, Kitchen Table will bring workshops and other programs to My Sister’s Keeper, a transitional living program for girls who have aged out of the foster care system, charter schools, homeless shelters and other organizations
Greer added, “Part of our mission is about underserved communities. You’re not going to typically get a lot of creative writing in a lot of these places.”