Five Questions: Eve Bridburg

Five Questions - Eve Bridburg

Eve Bridburg is the Founder and Executive Director of GrubStreet, the largest non-profit creative writing center in the USA based in Boston, Massachusetts.

Normally I don’t pull info about my guests from their “about” page, but Eve’s is so chock full of lovely tidbits that I have to include my favorite highlights: Eve was recognized by Boston Magazine as one of Boston’s 50 most powerful women in 2010, and by BostInno Magazine who gave her their 2014 Arts and Entertainment Award for driving innovation in Boston. She’s active with the National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program, a group of 200 of the world’s top cultural leaders, which addresses the critical issues that face the arts and cultural sector worldwide. She’s spoken at a bazillion conferences; worked as a literary agent; had essays and op-eds featured in The Boston Globe, Huffington Post, Cognoscenti, Writer's Digest, and TinHouse; farmed in Oregon; and run an international book store in Prague. Whew! 

Eve was kind enough to invite me to GrubStreet HQ for our interview where we talked about different levels of fear, the fragility of democracy, the collaborative process in running a non-profit, and how love changes over 20 years. She also answered Five Questions. Meet Eve.

What is your greatest fear?

On any given day, my biggest fear is usually getting trapped in an elevator. Huge elevator panic. Even if the door hesitates for a moment, I start to panic. The elevator here [at GrubStreet headquarters], you’ve noticed, is tiny and old. What’s kind of great/terrifying about working here is that every day I confront that fear. 

That’s a small personal fear. But my larger fear right now is about the future of the country. I grew up with a sort of arrogance—it is an arrogance, I recognize now—but I grew up with an arrogance about the stability of this country. And I’m just now waking up to the fact that it's all more fragile than I realized growing up in a privileged middle-class, suburban place. 

Me: Did you grow up in Massachusetts?

Eve: I grew up in Connecticut. I had a real sense that America was very solid and I have fears about the future now. But with that fear is the opportunity of many of us linking arms and figuring it out together.

What’s your approach to collaboration?

I love it because this whole experiment that is GrubStreet is nothing if not a community project and collaboration. It’s been collaborative from day one. What I’ve tried to do is be really clear about the principles and values and mission—which have shifted over time, pretty significantly—and then invite people in, many of whom are much smarter than I am, or bring skills that I don’t have. I aspire to listen well and allow others to lead. That’s been a really important part of the process. 

Me: Is it like delegation?

Eve: It’s a little different. It’s more about being clear about what broad vision is and what the mission is—there’s sort of a blueprint there—and allowing people to come in and do amazing things within that framework in a collaborative way. And not feeling threatened by that. Feeling that that’s what makes it all work. 

To me, the thing that struck me the most from the very earliest days at GrubStreet, when I really didn’t know what we were doing, was that our students were so moved and transformed by being together in a classroom and sharing work—a very hard and vulnerable thing to do. They believed in each other and they believed in those of us teaching those early classes, and they were always ready to step up and give us advice or feedback or help out. When GrubStreet officially became a non-profit, our first board of directors were mainly students and instructors. They helped with filling out the crazy and byzantine 501c3 paperwork and on and on. Since then, at every single stage of our development, students or others have shown up with just what we need at that moment we need it!

How do you define being “in love”?

That’s changed over time. I’m going to be 50 in a year and love feels very different to me now as a person firmly in my middle years with two children and a husband I’ve been with for 20 years…

Me: Wow, congrats.

Eve: Thank you. Actually, I think it’s longer. [Laughter] Officially, we met in 1995, so I’ve known him now for 22 years. I think about love with more depth and understanding. Along with all the good things, it can be a struggle, hard, and imperfect. There’s nothing like having children. You love them unconditionally, but they are their own people when they come into the world, and they challenge you in all sorts of beautiful and difficult ways, and they make you a better person. I feel as if my kids have expanded me and so has my husband. They've made me understand that love is sometimes strongest when you're able to forgive, let go, ask for what you need, be open to new ways of doing things, etc.  

What’s your greatest accomplishment?

In my professional life, I feel really proud of GrubStreet. The arts are hard. Literature is the poor step-sister of the arts family. It’s super underfunded as a sector. And on top of that, Boston is a cold, rocky place to build a non-profit. We have more non-profits per capita than anywhere else in the country and less funding opportunities. It’s a really tough climate, so I’m really proud that we’ve managed—and I do say we and not I—to build this community here. Students come up to me and say things like, “I never thought I’d have the courage to tell this story.” “This book wouldn’t exist without this community.” Writers come in and make Grub their own. They find their tribe here. They succeed in putting something out there that might have felt very difficult before. That is incredibly rewarding. 

In life, I am proud of the commitment my husband and I made to raising our kids the best way we can. They’re turning into really good, decent human beings. It’s rewarding to see that happen. We make sure to sit down with them every night and have family dinners and remain a connected foursome without forgetting that we’re part of a larger world. I’m proud of that, too. That comes directly from my parents. 

What will you miss the most when you’re gone?

My husband, my kids, the water, the physicalness of this world. The trees. The breeze. The beauty.