Makerspace ideas

Still turning over the idea of the Oak Park maker space in my head. The problem is that I want to put everything in, which is probably not feasible. Components I keep thinking about:

Makerspace itself:
– tech studio — focused on video game design, coding, etc., maybe we can get a tech company to partner with us on this part, get funding from them so we can offer free classes for low-income folks, partner with organizations in Austin (Kel Bachus, if I do this, you have to come to Oak Park and teach at least one game design course for us…)

– soft textiles — with sewing machines and a plethora of knitting / crochet supplies, yarn, and fabric available for use, free classes for low-income folks, esp. classes on things like mending, making home textiles and clothes, practical sustainability, re-use; an ecologically-friendly focus

– metalwork / welding / etc. space? I know almost nothing about this part of it, honestly, but it seems like it could teach some useful skills that could apply to home improvement projects as well as artistic endeavors

– writing / publishing classes — Oak Park has a kind of startling lack of writing classes. (This part I could kind of do in my sleep, so I haven’t bothered writing up anything detailed about it, but I should do that at some point.)

– urban garden — partner with Deep Roots Project and other local groups to teach gardening and eco-friendly choices

– cafe + books & art, featuring work of locals but also including some popular and kids’ books, perhaps + small performance space suitable for readings + outdoor garden space (ideally could connect the two to make a larger space — I’m picturing big garage doors that open or some such).

– co-working & class space

Artist apartments:
– low-income loft rental spaces above the maker space reserved for artists (I was taking to someone knowledgeable about this last-night, and it should be feasible, if complicated)

Artist residency program:
– Modeled on Ragdale; I kind of think this goes in a separate building; it’d be ideal if someone owned a Frank Lloyd Wright or otherwise architecturally significant house and wanted to donate it for this usage. Except I’m not sure if the upkeep / preservation costs on a FLW house would make it cost-prohibitive. So maybe just a less important, but still fairly large and characteristic of the region Craftsman house?

Dream for the makerspace: a public good

Can I tell you what my secret dream for the makerspace would be? That we build this amazing thing, making as much of it free as possible, where people can build and create and learn. And then at some point, we give it to the village of Oak Park, the way the Ragdale folks gave their residency program to Lake Forest, so it becomes a true public good. Of course, even if you’re giving away the building, there’d be ongoing upkeep and staffing costs, so it’d need to be something really worthwhile, that added tremendous value to the community. Or you’d need to also build a foundation with an endowment to fund it. But still, something to dream on.

That might be a 20-year process, or more, but it would be amazing.

Too buzzed to sleep, too tired to daydream

Too buzzed to sleep, daydreaming about the Oak Park makerspace that I have no time to create. I want it to be SFF-themed, at least somewhat — kind of a Meow Wolf vibe. I want a room dedicated to soft making, to textile art, with sewing machines and looms, and the walls and ceiling are hung with fantastical knit and crocheted creatures for inspiration. I bet if I put the word out requesting that people knit those for us, I could get a few hundred creatures sent here by Christmas, no problem.

I want a coding studio, but also one that teaches video game design, and stop-motion animation with Legos, and making geeky fan vids. I barely know what fan vids are, but I know they’re a thing, I know there are entire conventions dedicated to them, and it’s an entire art form that has no current place in the academy and someone should be fostering it. Also, I want Google and/or Apple to sponsor it, so we can extend extra services to low income folks, including things that might lead to jobs.

I want a bookstore cafe / wine bar, a lot like Volumes’s current space, actually, that wouldn’t have a ton of books but where I and my friends make sure that all the books that are there are good AND there should be a way that you could buy ebooks and audiobooks through us in the store, in case that’s the format you prefer, and we get a cut. I don’t understand why that isn’t more prominent in bookstores these days.

Go to sleep, Mary Anne. You already have four jobs (professor / writer / parent / politician), and you aren’t willing to give up any of them to do this right now, so you can’t do it yet. You just can’t. Hush.

Gorgeous floor tiles

Gorgeous, striking floor treatment at the burger joint where we had lunch. Maybe three-quarters of the floor was the dark wood boards, but this erupted from one corner — cool. I think these are maybe tiles (wood? linoleum?), given how they’re laid? But I think this wouldn’t be too hard to do with stencils, with maybe a coat of something afterwards to protect it?

I don’t need new projects, but if we ever do that Oak Park makerspace…

I need help to do new things

Folks, I am having a hard time figuring out the SLF fund drive. Here’s the problem — it’s easy to fundraise for specific programming. New diversity grant, send kids to Black Panther, etc. But essentially, I’ve been donating my time to the SLF for over a decade, and that seriously limits how much the SLF can do. Ditto our other volunteer administrators.

So, essentially, what we’re in most urgent need of is administrative support funding. But I feel like that is a hard and awkward ask. Esp. since I live in a nice house and have a lovely life — it’s not like I’m asking for money for myself so that I can eat or pay medical bills.

It’s just so I can justify continuing to shift time away from writing or other money-making activities, because my family is, in fact, dependent on my income being reasonably steady so that we can actually keep eating and paying the mortgage.

I don’t know. I’m crunching numbers now, and expect that I’ll be able to write up an ask soon that says something along the lines of ‘for over a decades we’ve spent .1% or less of our funding on administrative costs (web hosting + some pins and t-shirts), and we’d like to shift that to something perhaps a little more reasonable and sustainable going forward.’

But that also translates to — ‘pay me and my staff if you want the SLF to keep doing what it does, and grow.’

I’m feeling wibbly about the whole thing, and I can’t quite tell if that’s a sign that I just shouldn’t do it at all, let the SLF keep existing in the crevices of what time I can spare for it, or if it’s just something I need to get over.

Eventually I’d like to build up to a residency program. I’d like the SLF to buy a building and create an Oak Park-based makerspace with regular writing workshops. There are all kinds of projects that I think we could do, and do well, but I’m afraid they start with paying staff, including me. And that feels really weird to put into a Kickstarter somehow.

(Even though I was perfectly fine with doing it to fund writing The Stars Change. Ugh, this is probably all in my own head.)

CONCEPT: Maram Arts Center

I spent an hour or so today doing a VERY rough draft of what an Oak Park arts center (and its budget) might look like, if we bought a small (about $400K) building. Thoughts welcome.

(Oak Park has a thriving arts scene, but this would be designed to fill in gaps; I spent a while last summer visiting and talking to the other players in the area, and I think I have a good idea of what we could do that doesn’t just overlap with their turf.)


CONCEPT: Maram Arts Center

Arts spaces serve as social justice crucibles; they bridge gaps between ethnic communities and economic classes, bringing people together to build understanding in a vibrant, high-energy environment.

While Oak Park does currently have a thriving arts community, it is surprisingly lacking in some areas – writing classes, affordable co-working space, an approachable and teen-friendly artspace, and artistic collaboration with Austin, Berwyn, and other neighboring areas. We’re hoping to create a literary, visual, textile, and musical co-working makerspace in the heart of Oak Park, a vibrant cultural hub for our diverse communities to gather, making exciting art and revitalizing the area around them, serving the entire village and neighboring areas.

The arts center would have four major elements:

• Writing Residencies: Writers would engage in a competitive selection process to be awarded a 2-6 week writing residency in Oak Park. They would be provided with a private bedroom in a beautiful shared Arts & Crafts apartment (max of three residents), with common spaces geared towards quiet, productive work. Writers would initially be charged $200 / week, with some scholarship funds available. (Our current available residency spaces are not wheelchair-accessible, and are on the second floor.)

• Classroom / Meeting Space: We would teach regular writing classes in a variety of genres: memoir, poetry, fiction, nonfiction, as well as the business of writing. Classroom / meeting space would also be available for rental, either for a flat rental fee, or a percentage of student tuition. The Brooklyn Brainery offers a model for this — accessible, community-driven, crowdsourced education: Take a look at their quirky list of classes: If we assume one classroom that is available for classes or rental meeting space, and charge $25 / hr for the space, and that it’s available day and evening, that could eventually be around $200 / day, perhaps $1000 / week?

• Co-working Space: We would offer a few small offices and a shared lounge area for co-working space. SuiteSpotte in Forest Park (recently opened) offers comparison pricing ( In the open space, day pass for $25, 10-day pass for $175, unlimited $275 / month. Their private offices start at $675 / month. Their space is much larger, and more professional, so we wouldn’t be able to charge as much. But perhaps $300 / month for a private office, open space day pass for $15, 10-day pass for $100.

• Café / performance space: This could be two separate spaces, or combined – the back garage would make a very cool urban café / performance space, with movable stage, chairs and tables, etc. We could work towards having a once-a-month weekend event in the space, open to the public, ideally with live music, theatre, readings, food, and broad community participation. But before developing that, in the front room, you could set up a small coffee / snack station.

INCOME (optimistic, running at capacity):

Upstairs writing residencies: $2400 / month
Classroom space: $4000 / month
Co-working space: $2000 / month
Café / performance space: ??


Maram would be a 501(c)3 non-profit, so the goal here is to break even, not to make a profit. (If you are interested in donating to this project, PLEASE feel free to get in touch.)

Writing Creativity & Publishing Workshop

NOTE:  Registration for the workshop is now closed.  This page is left up as an archive of the event.

The Speculative Literature Foundation is pleased to offer a creativity / publishing workshop this September.  Novelist Mary Robinette Kowal, New York SF/F editor Diana M. Pho, and author / professor Mary Anne Mohanraj will guide you through a writing-focused day designed to unlock your creativity and ground you in publishing basics, hosted at beautiful Pleasant Home.

Pleasant Home is a Prairie Style house museum located in the heart of Oak Park, and is accessible via public transit (Green line or Metra).


9:00 – 11:30 – Creativity Workshop – Unlocking the Writer Within. A series of exercises and conversation designed both for beginners and more experienced writers looking to jump-start their writing. A great way to get out of the summer doldrums and start writing! Fiction, poetry, and nonfiction are all welcome; no experience necessary.

Intros and Language Warm-ups — A series of language exercises, from Le Guin’s Steering the Craft_ (Presented by Mary Anne Mohanraj.)

Spoken and Non-Verbal Dialog — When people converse, they do so with more than just words. Body language, tone of voice, and societal context all play a role in understanding what a person really means. In this workshop, we’ll use in-class exercises to explore how to get the most out of dialog when you are confined to text on the page. (Presented by novelist Mary Robinette Kowal)

11:30 – 12:30: Lunch break — bring your own brown bag lunch, or step out to one of the many local cafes and restaurants.

12:30 – 3:00: Publishing Boot Camp — an overview of self-publishing (Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Patreon, and more), small presses, big presses, literary agents, and more. Learn what your options are, and how to best approach different avenues for publishing your work.Publishing Boot Camp: Science Fiction & Fantasy
A discussion about the current rise of science fiction and fantasy in popular culture, what tools a writer can consider when delving into the speculative world, and an editorial perspective on strong storytelling from Diana M. Pho, editor at Tor Books.Pitches 101
For writers of all experience levels, a run-down on what an author pitch is and how to create an effective one for your book. Presented by Diana M. Pho, editor at Tor Books.Publishing Panel:  Q&A with Mary Robinette Kowal, Diana M. Pho, and Mary Anne Mohanraj***

Morning session: $50 ($30 student / senior)
Afternoon session: $50 ($30 student / senior)
Full-day: $85 ($50 student / senior)

SLF Writing Workshop: Serendib House 2017

SLF Writing Workshop: Serendib House 2017

NOTE:  Registration for the workshop is now closed.  This page is left up as an archive of the event.

Lectures + Lunch, which will encompass the following:

12:00 – 1:00 (DongWon Song lecture: pitching to agents)
1:00 – 2:00 – light lunch at house
2:00 – 3:00 (Richard Chwedyk lecture)

12:00 – 1:00 (Lori Rader Day lecture)
1:00 – 2:00 – light lunch at house
2:00 – 3:00 (pro panel Q&A)

12:00 – 1:00 (Michi Trota lecture)
1:00 – 2:00 – light lunch at house
2:00 – 3:00 (Mary Anne Mohanraj lecture)

DETAILS BELOW FOR THE MAIN WORKSHOP (registration now closed)

Oak Park, IL
June 30 – July 2, 2017

GENERAL: Mary Anne Mohanraj will be running a neo-pro workshop out of her house in Oak Park, which is 7 miles from downtown Chicago. She expects it to be primarily SF/F writers, but mainstream, romance, mystery, etc. writers are also welcome.  It will be limited to 25 attendees total.

– Dongwon Song (literary agent at HMLA – Howard Morhaim Literary Agency)
– Jed Hartman (senior fiction editor of Strange Horizons for over a decade)
– Lori Rader Day (mystery writer; winner of the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel and the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award).
– Richard Chwedyk (Nebula Award-winning writer who teaches science fiction writing at Columbia College Chicago)
– Michi Trota (Hugo Award winner, Filipina-American essayist, speaker, firespinner, and the Managing Editor of Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

WHO CAN ATTEND: This is aimed at neo-pros, people who have published 1 or more professional publications, or who have been through one of the other major SF/F writing workshops, such as Clarion, Viable Paradise, etc. Other similar qualifications (acceptance to an MFA program, for example) would also be fine. If in doubt, ask! We may add a more beginner workshop in future years.

STRUCTURE:  There will be two tracks, critique (16 spaces available max) and retreat.  Registration for either track includes lectures from each of the guest pros.  Registration for the critique track comes with critique by one pro and 2-3 participants of either a short story (up to 10,000 words) or a novel excerpt (up to 5,000 words).  During crit sessions, retreat track participants can have quiet writing time, or explore the neighborhood.  There will also be some scheduled free time for all.

SCHEDULE:  Final schedule will be determined once we know how many participants there will be, but loosely:

8:30 – 10:00 — arrive and meet other participants, continental breakfast
10:00 – 6:00 — critique / lecture / retreat
6:00 — pasta and salad dinner

8:30 – 10:00 — continental breakfast
10:00 – 6:00 — critique / lecture / retreat
6:00 — Sri Lankan dinner

8:30 – 10:00 — continental breakfast
10:00 – 3:00 — critique / lecture / retreat
3:00 – 5:00 — socializing, tea, and goodbyes

LOCATION:  There are multiple restaurants, coffee shops, boutique stores, and a large library in walking distance.  Oak Park is the home of the Hemingway Museum and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio, both worth exploring, as well as landmarks Unity Temple and Pleasant Home.  Downtown Chicago is a short subway ride away, featuring the Art Institute, Navy Pier, and much more.

HOUSING: There are multiple hotels and B&Bs in the area, including a lovely one (the Carleton) two blocks from the house. There are also quite a few AirBnbs.

ACCESSIBILITY: The house is an old Victorian, so there are eight steps up to the front door.  All main workshop activities will take place on the first floor, and there’s a restroom there.  Please note that there is also a small and gentle dog.

FOOD: Mary Anne will be cooking one big Sri Lankan dinner, and will also provide breakfasts, simple lunches, and a pasta & salad dinner; if you’d rather, there are also many places to eat out within walking distance. She is happy to accommodate vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and other dietary restrictions, but cannot guarantee that the house is entirely nut-free.

TRANSIT:  Oak Park also has taxi or ride share services for motorized transport.  Please contact us regarding parking if you are planning on bringing a private vehicle; there is street parking, but you may need to park a block or two away.  We are roughly equivalently close to both O’Hare and Midway airports, and both are accessible via public transit (though it’s a bit of a long ride).

COST: $250 (critique track) / $175 (retreat track).  Currently enrolled college or graduate students may enroll at the student rates below ($100 / $50).

NOTE:  A limited number of discounted registrations are available at the same rates as students; to apply for need-based aid, please send a short note to, with the subject line: SLF Workshop Aid Application, stating that you are applying for aid, BEFORE you purchase a registration.  

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis, for both registration and aid.

QUESTIONS:  If you have questions, please e-mail Mary Anne and ask —