Organization That Houses Exiled Writers Finds New Home

May 10, 2016

City of Asylum board member Toi Derricotte speaks during a press conference announcing the new office space on the Northside.
Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

  A few blocks from where City of Asylum writers live and work during their residency, is the former Masonic Building. The organization is redeveloping that building into a permanent home for staff. The 9,000-square-foot building will also serve as a venue for the artists’ events.

For the past decade, writers exiled from their native countries have lived in housing on Sampsonia Way. Board member and poet Toi Derricotte said that street became a sanctuary for writers to continue their work.

“Sampsonia Way has become a space of wonder where art and poetry are central,” she said. “Open to all of us to enjoy, to pause in and think, to pass through and be inspired.”

Derricotte said the new headquarters will also be a space where art and freedom are celebrated.

Tuhin Das is the newest writer in residence at the City of Asylum. The poet moved to Pittsburgh about a month ago from Bangladesh.

Co-founder Henry Reese said they’ve never had a permanent space for programs, so events for the artists are often held on closed streets, parks or vacant lots.  

“Now with the opening of City of Asylum at Alphabet City in this September space, everything will be coming together in one place.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto celebrated the redevelopment of a building he said residents have hoped to be made into a community asset.  

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

“Today doing so much more than what many thought would be a great bagel shop or maybe some apartments that would be high end – no," he said.

The building will include eight apartments – two deemed affordable housing – a bookstore, restaurant and office space. The $12.5 million project is expected to be completed by September. The organization still has to raise $2 million to fully fund the project over the next three years. Local foundations granted $3.2 million. 

Through the New Market Tax Credit allocation, the Urban Redevelopment Authority contributed $8 million to the project.