A Million Words Away (i.e. I, Blake) just accepted a marvelously generous offer to become an Artist-in-Residence at the amazing, immersive, overwhelmingly tactile Mansion on O Street & O Street Museum in Washington, D.C. I couldn’t be more chuffed and humbled.
Documented by Norman Mailer through James Patterson; supported by musicians such as Emmylou Harris, Paul Williams, and Jackson Browne; frequented by politicians and writers (who shall remain nameless, as is the rule there, but let’s just say you turn the corner, and a Pulitzer Prize-winner’s making eggs, and a Presidential contender’s strumming one of Dylan’s old guitars or a hand-painted Les Paul); the former home of the grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement, Mrs. Rosa Parks – a Hero-in-Residence at the not-for-profit Mansion for 10 years – will be my second home beginning this winter.
My God. What an honor.
Since I first marveled at it in 1987, I’ve always considered the Mansion – designed in 1892 by the architect of the US Capitol – a special place. Nearly every President since Teddy Roosevelt has schmoozed within its walls. You probably know it from NPR, NatGeo, Netfix, and hundreds of other broadcasts since the 1970s.
As founder HH Leonards (“H”) puts it, “Creativity and artistry – and hope – come together at O Museum, sometimes in ways that we cannot fathom.” Provocative exhibits; thousands upon thousands of books (I found a set of first edition Popes sitting beside a “Friends” VHS set on a shelf next to the kitchen); hundreds of thousands of art pieces, historical artifacts, documents, and memorabilia—from Prince’s Purple Rain tour jacket to a recriminating letter from John Lennon to his dry cleaner, from Shepard Fairey originals to centuries-old indigenous Mexican art, early 19th-Century French clocks, and a Grand Ol‘ Opry dress, replete with pit stains, worn by … Well, you’ll just have to come and see for yourself.
But The Mansion, cool as it is to wander through – no less live in – is not about the stuff. It’s about the vision, the mission, the legacy. It’s about compassion, bonds of empathy, bridging divides, fusing artistic genres. It’s about cultural awareness and scientific discovery, language, literature, and live music (The Milk Carton Kids played last week, and past performers include Grammy and Academy Award winners and legends of all genres including George Clinton, Johnny Gill, Arlo Guthrie, Richie Havens, Jennifer Holiday, Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, Tommy Shaw, Yusef (Cat) Stevens, and Lucinda Williams).
And it’s about the healing power of storytelling—which is where I come in.
The Mansion, with its 100 rooms and 70 secret doors, was once a “rooming house” for J. Edgar Hoover’s goons – talk about stories! – and continues to attract the espionage set. One of the reasons there’s a “no names” policy—except for the Artists- and Heroes-in-Residence.
I’m grateful to H and her husband, Ted Spero, for their offer. I was at first reluctant, fearing I couldn’t provide enough – enough publicity, enough flair, enough readers – to pay them back. But they’ve assured me they believe in my mission, support my project, and “this is exactly what we’re here for. To give you and artists like you the sanctuary they need when they need it.” How incredible is that?
So watch this space for further announcements. A Million Words Away is now bicoastal. We’ll do readings, further collaborations, and book launches at the Mansion. I can’t believe it. So, so cool.