For fledgling organizations making a positive impact in their communities, achieving stability is of utmost importance. In the case of Punch Bucket Lit, the monthly literary reading series held at Cellarest Beer Project since spring 2022, the quest for long-term success prompted founder Rachel Hanson to seek nonprofit status.
An assistant professor of literature at UNC Asheville, Hanson spoke with Xpress about her passion project, the 501(c)(3) application process and what she’s learned along the way.
This interview has been condensed for length and edited for clarity.
Xpress: What made you want to turn Punch Bucket Lit into a nonprofit?
Hanson: Just over a year ago when I started Punch Bucket Lit in West Asheville, my goals were to offer writers an opportunity to share their work and promote community. To be perfectly honest, I’d not met my people, so to speak, after several years of living here. I was starved for a warm community of serious, talented and dedicated writers who wanted to support and build up other writers. Starting a reading series in my neighborhood felt like a good place to begin.
Of course, there was quite the literary community in Asheville. I just hadn’t found my place in it yet. Punch Bucket Lit allowed me to find that place. The response to the series has been tremendous. I’ve met so many amazing writers through Punch Bucket Lit. I had no idea the series would take off as it has, and I’m extremely grateful we’ve come together.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that we have something special here, so I started thinking of ways to expand. There is so much energy behind Punch Bucket, and I’ve had a lot of interest from established poets and writers who want to read in the series — not only locally and regionally, but across the country from New Mexico to Connecticut. Forming a nonprofit so Punch Bucket Lit could be better situated to bring more writers to Asheville seemed like a natural next step. The organization is very young and officially received its articles of incorporation certification from the state of North Carolina this past Valentine’s Day.
What kind of research and/or preliminary work did you perform prior to applying?
I checked out other nonprofits that I’ve admired over the years to learn about their history, their goals, their struggles and their achievements. It was really important to me to not entirely reinvent the wheel but also create a nonprofit that was very much Asheville-centric. We have an awesome community of writers and literary enthusiasts here, so highlighting and supporting the local community while welcoming writers from all over is at the top of my priority list.
How did you ultimately decide that becoming a nonprofit was indeed the right decision for your organization?
It’s extremely important to me that Punch Bucket Lit get to a place where it can compensate writers for their labor. Writers have to work so hard to promote their work, while also working to support themselves. Most writers don’t survive by their writing alone. In fact, most have to sacrifice precious writing time for a primary job. I don’t see that changing anytime soon — or ever — but I do believe that writerly labor should be acknowledged, and a very necessary and practical way of doing that is by offering our readers honorariums.
So, while our goals at Punch Bucket Lit are, among other things, to expand to include an annual literary festival — which we certainly hope will help support local businesses by an influx of writers and literary enthusiasts — compensating our writers in the monthly series is also a huge priority. Forming a nonprofit makes these goals more achievable as Punch Bucket Lit will be able to apply for grants, fundraise, and accept donations that offer tax advantages to donors.
What about the application process has surprised you thus far?
Filing the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the IRS. The process wasn’t so bad, but the cost and waiting to hear back took me by surprise. I’ve filed for expedited processing so that Punch Bucket Lit can hit that final submit button on grant application drafts, but, for the most part, we are tied up waiting on the IRS. In retrospect, this probably should not have surprised me.
What efforts are you undertaking to thrive and survive while you wait to hear back about certification?
I’m bad at sitting still, and patience is not my strong suit. Bureaucracy makes my head want to explode. I mean, doesn’t everyone [feel that way]? While waiting for final approval from the IRS, we are developing our outreach program initiatives. We want to create space for young writers to create poems and stories, to help them find their voices and to feel proud and empowered by the work they create.
We are slowly but surely recording writers in conversation with our Punch Bucket Lit readers who have performed over the last year. We will continue to record these conversations with writers who perform in the series and are willing to sit down and chat with us. We hope to get our podcast off the ground sometime in June.
We are reaching out to local businesses that might be willing to provide space for our 2024 Punch Bucket Lit Festival. Punch Bucket Lit: A West Asheville Reading Series continues to take place each month, sometimes twice a month, at Cellarest Beer Project. We are hosting book launch events for several writers in the coming months. Other than that, given that Punch Bucket Lit is an organization mostly made up of writers, we are writing and sharing work. It’s important that we support one another — and we do.
If you’re granted nonprofit status, what are some of your short-term and long-term action plans for Punch Bucket Lit?
Short term: Hit the ground running on our grant applications. What a weird sentence. Sit at the desk and hit “submit” buttons is more accurate. Continue our monthly reading series at Cellarest. I can’t emphasize enough how grateful I am to our generous and kind hosts for giving us a home for the series. Harrison Fahrer, co-owner and general manager, has gone above and beyond for Punch Bucket Lit, and I’m grateful. The monthly series is still the thing that gives me the most joy (aside from my dog Blue, of course), and no matter what happens, the series will remain my top priority.
Long term: Grow our annual literary festival, find an affordable office space in West Asheville/RAD, preferably one with space to host small events. Punch Bucket Lit staffers Emily Wilson, Bridgitt Belanger and Alex McWalters gather for our monthly meetings at Cellarest or one of our homes, and both are totally fine for now. However, we are on the lookout for a quiet space where we can meet with potential donors, business owners who might want to be part of our literary festival and meet with our writers to record the Punch Bucket Lit Podcast, among other things. All good things take time, but we are committed to serving our Asheville literary community and the larger literary community long-term.
In the event that you’re denied certification, what’s your Plan B?
I’m not thinking that way. We will get approved.
What advice would you give other literary organizations interested in obtaining nonprofit status?
I think there are better people to ask for advice. Local poet Jessica Jacobs immediately comes to mind. Other than that, though it’s a labor of love, forming and running a nonprofit is still labor. Be ready to work.
To learn more, visit avl.mx/cnu.
Editor’s note: Xpress Managing Editor Thomas Calder is an active member of Punch Bucket Lit.