Monthly Archives: January 2015

Ben on the natural history of the collective

To me, the story of the evolution of life on earth is all about increasing complexity. The first organism was a simple cell, comparable to a modern day bacterium, which appeared more the three billion years ago. Scientists found the fossil in the ancient sandstone of Western Australia, one of the only islands above the ocean surface. At that time, the Earth was a nightmare neighborhood. The beginning of the world looked a lot like how we like to imagine the end. Meteors bombarded the face of the planet, vaporizing the oceans, morphing the surface into molten rock. There wasn’t even oxygen in the atmosphere. Regardless of how our universal ancestor came about, the infinitely small creature was able to stay alive, finding food and avoiding poison for long enough to replicate its genetic code. There is no doubt about it; this is a miracle. Yet, to my mind, the most interesting development happened later, in the next act. For a couple of billion years, individual cells like the first went on evolving on their own, becoming different variations of themselves, populating the entire planet. However, suddenly, individual cells started to band together, forming groups. It was truly a great idea, so great that multicellularity has in fact evolved multiple times, throughout many biological kingdoms. Now, almost all of the organisms on earth are multicellular. Obviously, this includes human beings, and this also includes the larger structures created by human beings, the emergent networks of interconnected people around the world. In an increasingly complex environment, the collective would naturally seem more likely to survive.


In the summer of 2011, I had just moved into my first apartment. I was living alone. All I had was a mattress on the floor, two chairs scavenged from the street and staged to face each other closely, for intense conversations, and my grandfather’s old writing desk. My grandfather was a doctor in Washington Heights in the previous century, writing prescriptions to help people from the same desk at which I now felt I would fail to spell my own name. Isn’t writer’s block just another way of saying you are lonely and you just don’t know how to say so? I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood, to explore the outside world. I struck out onto Fort Washington Avenue, weaved into Jay Hood Wright Park and up onto the slate-rock lookout to the George Washington Bridge, back out and up past 181st Street to Bennett Avenue, with all its verdant pleasantness, and even up to Fort Tryon Park before finally heading back down Broadway, those awful thoughts finally stifled by the sound of my heavy breathing. I swear to you that this is exactly the moment when I came upon the empty storefront. It looked just like so many others, ghostlike, litter-bombed, and blacked out. Except that, through the glass exterior, I could see a girl inside. She seemed like the opposite of poison, and so I made my amoeba way inside. The place was empty and in obvious disuse, but there she was behind a folding table with paperbacks spread on top of it like thickset tarot cards. There were some other people around the table. “We’re starting a bookstore!” she said. “Wanna help?” In an abandoned pharmacy, surrounded by strangers, my multicellularity evolved.


Word Up is a creature you rarely find in the wild. We are not a shark, exploiting underlings for the sake of the elite, hunting the waters for prey. We are an organism made up entirely of volunteers, a group of individuals who are diverse in every way. We function as a collective. We have adapted to serve the community, first by the instinct of an individual, a pop-store because the neighborhood needed books to survive, and then as a coordinated movement toward a long-term literacy, education, and arts space. Although these are not the end times, the situation in the city does look dark sometimes. The government has cutting funding from resources such as after-school programs and libraries. Public schools are scaling back the arts. People can hardly afford to participate in mainstream culture. Word Up is a grassroots collective that is trying to help the neighborhood survive in this environment. We have formed a community and are becoming more complex. Right now, we are asking for money to fund the purchase of Spanish-language books and the programming of activities for kids. This is because our environment is predominantly Spanish speaking, with the largest number of youth in the city. With you donation, you can be a part of our unique evolution. Please help support Word Up, collectivism, biological interconnectedness, and the grand sweep of evolutionary history today!


January 31: Projections: Every Mother’s Son


We will be screening Every Mother’s Son and conducting a community discussion, along with a panel of community activists, about the current state of racial issues in this our communities.

Every Mother’s Son, directed by Tami Gold and Kelly Anderson, is a documentary about three mothers—Iris Baez, mother of Anthony Baez; Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo; and Doris Busch Boskey, mother of Gary (Gidone) Busch—who lost their sons to policemen, then united to seek justice. Following the screening will be a discussion about the film and current events, such as the non-indictments in the Eric Garner and Mike Brown murders and the protests that followed and are still going on.

Anthony Baez died during a football game when an officer put him in an illegal chokehold. Amadou Diallo was unarmed when he was shot at 41 times by police in his doorway. Gary (Gidone) Busch was pepper-sprayed and shot to death while holding a small hammer, though witnesses said he posed no threat. Their stories are tragic and the courage shown by the mothers heroic. As one witness says, “As long a there’s a mother, we’ll continue to fight.”

Iris Baez, a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, never meant to become an activist. Kadiatou Diallo never meant to leave her home in Africa and move to the U.S., to fight for justice for her son. Doris Busch Boskey, a Jewish woman from the suburbs, never thought she’d become a spokesperson against police brutality. This film profiles three women from very different walks of life who find themselves united to seek justice after their sons are unjustly killed by police. Their stories are tragic, but their courage is transformative.

Panelists include

Tami Gold

Julien A. Terrell

King Downing

Zulu Nation King Sadiki “Bro. Shep” Olugbala 


Visit these sites for more info:

Every Mother’s Son film screening & discussion
Saturday, January 31, 2015
Word Up Community Bookshop/Librería Comunitaria
2113 Amsterdam Ave. (at 165th St.)

January 29: Manhattan Story Circle—2015 People’s State of the Union


What if the annual State of the Union was not a speech spoken by one, but a poem created by many?

The Five Boro Story Project and No Name, in partnership with the people-powered U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, invite you to take part in the creation of the 2015 People’s State of the Union. Join a story circle on January 29th from 7-9pm at Word Up Community Bookshop, and join neighbors in supplementing the President’s State of the Union with your own stories.

This story circle is a chance to reflect on our neighborhoods’ past and present, and plan for the future. Share your neighborhood memories, tell a story about a moment you felt true belonging — or the opposite — in your community, describe an experience that showed you something new or important about the state of our union, or share about a time you stood together with people in your neighborhood.

Stories will be shared online, and will provide inspiration for a collective “People’s State of the Union Address” delivered in the form of a poem on Feb 1st at the Bowery Poetry Club.

Visit for additional details.

Manhattan Story Circle
Coordinated by Five Boro Story Project
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Word Up Community Bookshop/Librería Comunitaria
2113 Amsterdam Ave. (at 165th Street)

Open Mic Fridays Are Back

open mic flyer updated 2015


Friday January 30, 2015 7-9PM

Word Up Community Bookshop/Libreria Comunitaria.

2113 Amsterdam ave (at 165 st) New York, NY 10032

Starting this Friday, January 30th 2015, we will be relaunching our weekly Open Mic. Hosted by our very own Word Up volunteers, we welcome anyone and everyone who wants to express themselves in any way, and share with your community.

We will have special hosts from time to time for special events so stay tuned! It’s always a blast as we share, learn, and experience together. All ages and persuasions welcome.If you are interested in hosting a special night please Contact to discuss possibilities!

January 24: Mac McGill Multimedia Show


Over the last decade, illustrator Mac McGill has developed a live multimedia show featuring images from his drawings accompanied by narration, vocals, and live music. As he shows slides—such as from his forthcoming graphic novel Song for Katrina—the band plays music that the images inspire, sometimes narrative, sometimes groove, sometimes free and improvised.

Mac McGill’s artwork has been seen from Slovenia to San Francisco, New Orleans to Rome. He has done illustrations and comics for World War 3 Illustrated, the Source, the Amsterdam News, and the Progressive, and his drawings inspired by the 9/11 attacks are in the Library of Congress permanent collection.

The live band consists of singer Breeze, who has recorded and produced numerous dance-music tracks; guitarist On Davis, whose band Famous Original Djuke Music Players has been described as “deep black grooves that lead from jazz abstraction to Afrobeat”; bassist Steve Wishnia, whose history includes the 1980s punk band False Prophets and the squatter not-quite-Americana of Hooverville; and drummer Matt Metzgar, from Hooverville, Fist of Kindness, and more.

Mac McGill
Saturday, January 24, 2015
Word Up Community Bookshop/Librería Comunitaria
2113 Amsterdam Ave. (at 165th Street)