As an MFA candidate at the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program, California native Christin Lee began to notice the high number of Detroit creatives who could benefit from connecting with each other. So in 2018 she opened Room Project — a community workspace in New Center that caters to women and non-binary artists and writers. Members and drop-in visitors have access to Room Project’s communal desks, WiFi, literary journals and books, and coffee. Each month, the space hosts readings, writing workshops, and other events that are open to people of all gender expressions. In just over a year and a half, the space has fostered a number of notable collaborations — including live performances and television projects — and, in October, Room Project landed a $15,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to publish its first anthology. Lee spoke with Hour Detroit about the importance of fostering community and why the Room Project concept is necessary in 2020.
Hour Detroit: Why do you think a place like Room Project is needed now?
Christin Lee: [In November], everybody from the poetry workshop read. The poetry was so sharp, and it felt like a shock that there could be so much beauty in such a small space. For me, it balances out so much pain and grotesquery in the world. It doesn’t have to be so heavy for everyone else. [Room Project] can just be some great people to hang out with and a warm place to go where there’s coffee.
Room Project aims to be an inclusive collaborative space, especially for women of color in the city. Why is that important to you?
Eighty percent of Detroit is black, capital “B.” We have an incredible Arab-American community in Dearborn, and in Southwest [there’s] Latinx people. The voices [in Detroit] that are to be celebrated are majority women of color, and that’s pretty inarguable. We have a winter fellowship and a summer fellowship, and we only invite women of color to apply. The panelists who are reading those applications are all women of color — cis, non-binary, trans. We try to make it so that white feminism isn’t repeating itself.
“The people at Room Project have shown a remarkable ability to care for themselves and others.”
— Christin Lee
Why is the type of collaboration that Room Project manifests not as possible in male-dominated spaces?
I have been in other spaces with men where there’s lots of collaboration. It’s not impossible. But what I’ve seen with the women and non-binary people at Room Project is an ability to focus on one’s self while simultaneously thinking of the collective. I don’t know if it’s managing their egos, [or] if it’s something sociologically drilled into women from a very young age about emotional labor. But the people at Room Project have shown a remarkable ability to care for themselves and others.
Room Project is meant for women and non-binary folks. Why do you open events and workshops up to everybody?
I don’t think any community benefits from full exclusion. If I’m saying “women’s voices need to be heard,” then when we do readings, I delight in the fact that there are men in the audience who are there to listen. To have men think, “I’m in a space and there’s an exception being made for me” is something that women have had to go into male spaces and fight for.