In some ways, the Ace Hotel was never supposed to be a hotel at all: Alex Calderwood, the man who dreamed the place up in the ’90s, imagined that it would be a modern-day salon, where artists–both local and out-of-towner–would hang out and share ideas in a caffeinated frenzy fueled by Stumptown coffee.
Fifteen years later, and only a year after his death, the Ace Hotel is continuing to fulfill that vision by offering emerging writers the space to do their most creative work. They’ve just announced that they are launching Dear Reader, a micro-residency for writers at the Ace Hotel New York.
And what exactly is a micro-residency, dear reader?
“Each month this year, a writer will spend a night at Ace Hotel exploring its edges and insides,” explains Kelly Sawdon, partner and chief brand officer of Ace Hotel. “During their stay, they’ll craft an open letter to an imagined audience of hotel guests. On a surprise date the following month, the letters will be laid bedside in each room–hand-stamped and numbered.” She describes this as a cross between a Dear John letter and a limited edition object that 300 lucky guests will receive each month.
The Ace Hotel invited Alexander Chee, the author of Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night, to select 12 writers. “It’s a kind of living anthology,” Chee explains. “We thought it would be best to give the writers the freedom to write whatever they thought was best, but to limit them in other ways, such as length. Each letter will be 400 words or less.”
The list of 12 Dear Reader writers is as follows:
- Elif Batuman
- Catherine Chung
- Chelsea Hodson
- Saeed Jones
- Kiese Laymon
- Atticus Lish
- Lucas Mann
- Sigrid Nunez
- Chinelo Okparanta
- Daniel Jose Older
- Dale Peck
Atticus Lish was the first author to spend the night at the hotel, but it will remain a surprise when each of the other writers will show up. “The first letter was very funny,” Chee says, hardly able to stifle his laughter. “The novel that Atticus wrote was so incredible and dealt with the hardest things in life and this letter was so lighthearted and unexpected. It turns out he is kind of a goofball, which is great.”
Chee says that there was no science to choosing these writers and it was very hard to whittle them down to 12. “If there were five more of these residencies I could have filled them with writers in an instant,” he says. He tells me that through word of mouth and lots of digging, he found writers in all kinds of nooks and crannies–Emily Books, n+1 magazine, The Asian American Writer’s Workshop, among many other spots.
Some are New Yorkers, while others are from elsewhere. Some have work coming out and others are just plugging away at their craft. Some are people he knows personally, others he has never met, except through their work. This is exactly the kind of commingling that Alexander Calderwood would have loved, had he lived to see it. “I really respect what Calderwood wanted when he imagined the Ace Hotel,” Chee says.
Chee says he is frustrated with the anthologies he reads because they are not as diverse as he would like and he hoped to rectify that with the authors he has chosen. He points out that Dale Peck has 13 books under her belt, while some other authors on the list have not yet published their first book.
There’s also a lot of cultural diversity on Chee’s list, with South Asian, Nigerian, Turkish, and Korean writers among the group. “There was a way in which each of these authors had left an indelible mark in my mind,” Chee says.
In addition to their overnight stays at the hotel, the writers will also be coming together to do readings throughout the year, but the exact nature of these parties, as Chee describes them, is still not set in stone. “We’re still figuring it out and that’s part of what is exciting,” he says. “There are still some surprises ahead.”