Nov 1, 2017

How We Set the Stage for Our Writers

Here at MailChimp, we’ve been working hard to make sure our hometown of Atlanta is better, weirder, and more human. We also invest heavily in our employees, especially when it comes to being able to embrace and share their personal interests in the workplace.

Our Employee Engagement Specialist Ashley Wilson sums it up like so: “MailChimp allows people to bring their full self to work.”

I’m one of those people. I started in customer support nearly 3 years ago and have since transitioned to the Technical Content team. And for the last few years, I’ve also been involved in Atlanta’s literary community, hosting writing workshops and helping curate events like The Letters Festival, a 3-day event that featured panels and readings from independent and small-press authors.

Keeping MailChimp’s values in mind, I wanted to figure out a way to support the writing community in Atlanta and share how vibrant our local lit scene is with my fellow peeps. That’s how MailChimp’s reading series, Get Lit, got started.

The birth of Get Lit

Shortly after reading at a book release party for my friend and local poet, Molly Brodak, my gears started turning. Molly’s book, Bandit, a memoir about growing up with a father who robbed several banks and was nicknamed the Super Mario Brothers bandit by the local news, was amazing. I wanted to share it with as many people I could.

I reached out to Ashley and Matt DeBenedictis, who, in addition to being my coworker at MailChimp, co-hosts the literary podcast, Lit and Bruised, and founded Safety Third Enterprises, a now-defunct small press that focused on emerging authors. With Ashley’s help, Matt and I decided to host an after-hours literary series at MailChimp which would feature readings from local authors as well as MailChimp employees.

After a few brainstorming sessions, Get Lit at MailChimp was born. Our premier event was held in the spring and featured readings from Molly, as well as Katie Lambert and Rachael Maddux from our Marketing and Communications departments, respectively. The first reading was a big, bustling success, with nearly a hundred folks attending. In addition to sampling an array of finger foods and drinks, each attendee also received a copy of Molly’s memoir.

Since then, we’ve held 2 more sessions of Get Lit, each a different flavor from the one before it. For our second reading, we featured slam champion and provocateur, Theresa Davis, who received our first-ever Get Lit standing ovation after reading from her collection, Drowned: A Mermaid’s Manifesto. For our third outing we hosted Nick Sturm, the author of How We Light, who read a hilarious and surprising piece that reimagined the movie Varsity Blues as an epic poem.

But our employees have really shined as well! An assortment of our coworkers have read compelling essays and poems about topics as varied as the rugged endurance of swiss chard, the creepy-but-sublime nature of bats, and what happens when local access television programming creeps onto social media. It’s been fun to see the talents of the people we sit by every day, not to mention learn about their delightful, unorthodox obsessions.

Paying it forward

Ashley set up a feedback form for peeps to tell us what they thought about the event and ways we could make it even better. And we got tons of praise and practical advice!

But what stood out most were that our coworkers were inspired by Get Lit. In fact, it motivated some of them to explore other literary events in Atlanta. And they were sharing the work they discovered with friends and family. It was working.

That showed me that Get Lit wasn’t only helping MailChimp support Atlanta and giving employees a space to be their full selves. We’d made an impact that continued to reverberate in delightful, unexpected ways outside of our Ponce City Market headquarters in Atlanta. We’d found a new way to support the arts in a small way. And as we approach the fourth installment of Get Lit, I’m more excited than ever about the great work that’s coming out of MailChimp and Atlanta.