Category Archives: Indiegogo

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!


Help spread the word: our campaign is extended till January 30th!


Students from M.S. 302 in Longwood, the Bronx, visited Word Up on Tuesday with the City Year program, to select books for their classroom library, which we’ve helped build from donations.

This afternoon, with still a little ways left to go before meeting the target for our Word Up Community Bookshop Para Siempre campaign by today’s deadline, we heard news from Indiegogo that they will extend our campaign till January 30th! This extension will give us more time to try to reach our stretch goal of $40,000, which includes—in addition to all our earlier stated goals—funding to expand Story Time for Kids to select weekday mornings, expanding our hours in general; funding the Spanish-language portion of a library that a Word Up volunteer is building at New York Psychiatric Institute; fulfilling various classroom library requests from uptown and Bronx schools; laying the groundwork for further sustainability; and so much more!

Thank you so much for all the support you’ve shown our volunteer-run bookshop and arts space thus far! We are on firmer footing each day thanks to you.

Now that we have this special opportunity to go further, we would love your help in spreading the word about the campaign. We know many of you have already contributed, and your contributions can inspire others to do the same. And for those who aren’t in a position to contribute but would love to help, there are surely other people you know who would be interested in Word Up! Please let them know about our campaign by sharing it:

And for those who haven’t looked at the campaign page in a while, note that we have posted LOTS of additional perks: a Word Up recipe zine, music lessons, photo walks, curated book lists, local author books, spoken word tickets, and the Shepard Fairey/Antonio D’Ambrosio poster Let Fury Have the Hour. . . . We’re sure there will be even more popping up on the page between now and January 30th.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Cerealsly Sunday & a note from Sandy


Today is Cerealsly Sunday, a day to celebrate the now-defunct ritual of gathering at a set place (in front of the tube in your PJs) at a set time (historically, Saturday morning) to be entertained by the antics of cartoon characters borne of the minds of creative animators over the past half century. I.E. This morning, WE’RE GOING TO WATCH CARTOONS AND EAT CEREAL AT WORD UP!

Suggested donation: $5. All proceeds will go toward our Indiegogo campaign, which ends today!!!

And with that exclamatory remark, here is a note from Sandy Jimenez, one of Word Up’s founding volunteers and co-organizer, with volunteer Jen Leach, of Cerealsly Sunday:

Word Up Community Bookshop is nearing the final hours of an Indiegogo campaign that targets some of its most important goals and attempts to realize some of the most crucial aspects of its mission: serving children with innovative programming and literature; and expanding the bookshop’s Spanish-language offerings.

I am asking for you help, today—at this linkright now.

Many of you know the story of how the idea of a pop-up store bookstore that Veronica organized on Broadway in 2011 exploded in a matter of weeks into a community arts space supported by a collective of diverse volunteers united by little more than a love of books and a desire to see something else take hold in Upper Manhattan aside from commerce and runaway rents.

Three years later, Word Up is still going strong in a dedicated facility that its volunteers, patrons, and yes—its community—made possible.

Word Up Community Bookshop is an outpost in what is in danger of becoming a cultural desert of sorts. Don’t get me wrong—Washington Heights has historically been home to generations of artists and musicians, and today it boasts one of the greatest concentrations of writers, poets, and storytellers in the city. But there is no mandate from God or the government that it remain this way. Supporting Word Up Community Bookshop is one way you fight for the kind of world you want, starting with this neighborhood, and hopefully continuing with the surrounding borough and city.

Transient commercial establishments can be a kind of pollution to a neighborhood like Washington Heights. I know that may sound radical, but consider the chain-store businesses that do nothing but further the compulsive consumer mindset: they bring nothing but their own profit-making to a neighborhood and remain unconcerned with what happens in that neighborhood. Small businesses attempting to feed the conspicuous consumption that has become a culture of its own in our nation are little better.

Word Up, among many things, is a line in the sand drawn by your impassioned and neighbors. Word Up is storefront and enterprise whose business is the enrichment of a community.

Word Up’s idea of a profit is the education of future generations.

As a Hispanic American writer and artist of Dominican descent who has been bounced out of every neighborhood in Brooklyn by skyrocketing rents, waves of hat stores and coffee shops, I ask you to fight for the kind of world you keep saying you want by taking the 20 dollars or so you might spend at a local fast food chain, drugstore complex, or latest pop-up neighborhood bar with a funky name and send it here right now.

Support Word Up Community Bookshop.


Para Siempre.

—Sandy Jimenez

Word Up para siempre: #GivingTuesday@Indiegogo


Two years ago, you helped bring back Word Up Community Bookshop by helping our all-volunteer collective raise over $60,000 to find a permanent space. Six months after exceeding our target, we signed a lease on a new home, renovated the space, moved everything out of storage, and began distributing books and programming events once again. We held our grand reopening at 2113 Amsterdam Avenue on July 26, 2013.

Help us embark on our next phase: to raise $25,000, in order to significantly increase Spanish-language, bilingual, and youth-oriented inventory and programming support. 

With the help of crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, the groundswell around #GivingTuesday, and a special opportunity at GivKwik, we hope to meet our goal. By making these resources more available to our neighbors and for each other, we can best allow for full participation from everyone in our neighborhood, in which a majority of residents are of Latino and/or Hispanic descent, including many who speak and read primarily in Spanish, and where there are more youth under 18 than in any other district in Manhattan.



1. INDIEGOGO—OUR ONLINE CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN. Please check out our Indiegogo page for WHY you should contribute now, and all the great perks you’ll get—books, hoodies, prints, T-shirts, tote bags, a cocktail fiesta, original art, the satisfaction of concretely building our infrastructure . . . and many surprise perks throughout the campaign! Many of these perks are by authors, artists, and artisans in our own neighborhood, and by supporting us, you’ll be supporting them. Because we are nonprofit, all Indiegogo contributions will be processed through First Giving, and are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

ALSO: If you VOTE for us on GivKwik on #GivingTuesday—December 2—then we’ll have the chance to win a $5,000 grant!

2. CHECK/MONEY ORDER. If you’re too cool for the new school and want to pay with a check or money order, we take those too: payable to Seven Stories Institute and send to Word Up Community Bookshop, 2113 Amsterdam Avenue, New York NY 10032. As we are a program of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization Seven Stories Institute, your donation will be tax deductible to the extent allowed by law.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email us at, or to call us at (347) 688-4456.



PROMOTE our Indiegogo! Consider posting news about our campaign to your blog or website, posting to Facebook and Twitter, writing about us for your publication, or co-hosting an event.

VOLUNTEER! We are, always have been, 100% volunteer-run. Join us in making Word Up happen. Email to get involved.



THIS IS IT! Today is the last day of our Indiegogo campaign, which we launched to raise money to bring back Word Up Community Bookshop/Librería Comunitaria to a physical storefront in Washington Heights. We’ve gone on a great journey with you here on the Internet—reading and writing . . . making and sharing videos . . . walking the wagon . . . dancing. But, what we really want to do is sit down with you in a space all our own—yours, mine, ours—’round the corner from where we both live, and share our past, present, and future, with books as the gravitational pull but hardly stopping there. Please join the Word Up story on this last day of our Indiegogo campaign. With the end of this campaign, we start anew.