You may or may not have heard of Wendy’s Subway, a newish, collectively run reading space and non-circulating library housed inside an old industrial building in Williamsburg, just above the country’s last remaining umbrella factory. Most of the time, it’s open to members only and is a quiet place to write and read or discuss. But an increasingly large part of Wendy’s existence is now devoted to being a lively meet-up space where writers, poets, and other creative types gather for readings, film screenings, panel discussions, and workshops.
“We didn’t want to call ourselves the Brooklyn Writers Place To Write Space,” Macgregor Card explained.
“There’s a major debate amongst the founding members about who’s a Wendy’s person and who’s a Subway person,” said Gabe Kruis.
Two of the founding members and I agreed: We’re in the Wendy’s camp, for sure. We also decided our menu item of choice is most definitely the Frosty. Despite the wacky name, Wendy’s is actually about relieving writers and poets of their duty to post up at cafes and bars, which often double as offices and event spaces.
“I find that I spend a fifth of what I used to spend on alcohol that I would buy just to attend an event,” Macgregor laughed. He said that Wendy’s provides a comfortable work environment for the writer who can’t write at home.
Right now Wendy’s Subway is very DIY. The main room is drafty and makeshift shelves bend under the weight of books. The lamps and seating look like they were pulled straight from apartments, basements, and thrift shops. “I wouldn’t say I learned how to build walls,” Gabe said. “But I imagined how to build walls.”
“Actually I helped build that wall,” Macgregor pointed out. “It’s a little warped, but…”
Currently, the collection is mostly comprised of members’ books. “But we’ve started asking small presses to donate their catalogs to the library,” explained Macgregor. Ugly Duckling press is among them. But Wendy’s biggest windfall yet is the 2,000 volume collection they’re set to receive from Laurin Raiken, a founder of the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study. Gabe explained that Raiken’s assistant happened to attend a workshop at Wendy’s and told her boss about the place.
“[Raiken] was looking for a place to donate his entire first collection of books and he didn’t want to give the books, for various reasons, to either NYU or Columbia,” Macgregor explained.
The expansion of Wendy’s programming and Raiken’s donation have driven the collective to give the place a makeover. Wendy’s members are hoping to raise the necessary funds for remodeling via Kickstarter. “We really need to redesign the space, we can’t have that stuff be out when we’re having events and stuff,” Gabe said. “It has to be very secure and also we want to be able to respect the materials.”
Wendy’s is one sprout in a crop of new brick-and-mortar spaces for lit scenes throughout Brooklyn. Many of these spots serve multiple functions as libraries, book shops, bars, and event spaces, see: Bushwick’s Molasses Books and Mellow Pages Library. Much like the latter, Wendy’s supports itself at least partially with member fees.
For $75 a month, members have 24-hour access to Wendy’s, and can use the space for readings, rehearsals, and events of their choosing. The members get together in various committees to plan programming, initiate fundraising efforts, and lay out plans for publications. “We were very idealistic going into this, and I think we still are, we didn’t want any type of hierarchy,” Macgregor said.
“It sounds very Politburo,” he added. “But it’s not.”
Gabe and Macgregor estimated that about half of the members are poets. The rest are fiction writers, novelists, critics, journalists, and performance artists. “We really wanted to have not just the same poetry crowd or specific group of people we might ordinarily find ourselves in conversation with,” Macgregor explained. “So far everyone who’s applied, we’re happy to have as members.”
And each member has brought their unique skills to the table. “That’s the interesting thing about being at Wendy’s, is that there are so many people with so many different skill sets,” Gabe said. “But it’s a very casual sharing of experience.” Members head writing workshops and teach classes. So far there’s no compensation for teaching, but Macgregor said payment is on the horizon.
The organization is also set to expand the types of programming they offer. By early next year Wendy’s will have its own reading series. There are plans for residencies in conjunction with lit publications, the possibility of expanding their press, as well as scheduled film screenings and panel discussions. In November, Wendy’s will feature an event hosted by the Center for the Study of the Drone.
Most of Wendy’s events are open to the public, including their workshops, a few of which they’ll be offering each season. But if you’re interested in becoming a member, Wendy’s is still accepting applications.
“We’re trying to make Wendy’s into a community of people drawn from other communities that might otherwise be sequestered or don’t often overlap,” Macgregor explained.