In the cool evening air of Downtown Flagstaff, applause erupts from the rooftop patio of Root Public House. It's a din reminiscent of the weekend, but this is an ordinary Tuesday evening at Root Public House. There are no microphones, no red pens and no pretension. This is Juniper House, a weekly convergence of writers who have come to share their work with similarly inclined minds. A year and a half into its run, its community of poets, writers and curious minds remains as strong as ever.
“I said goddamn!” said the crowd collectively. The phrase has become a saying of sorts, an ode to a moving piece of literature and a nod to Juniper House co-creator Ian Keirsey, Poppa as some call him.
Glasses clink, hands applaud, fingers snap, and the poet at the center of it all bows sheepishly, her grin stretching as wide as the sky behind her.
Flagstaff's literary community has thrived for a long time, with Firecreek Coffee’s Pine Stories and poetry slams as well as Uptown Pubhouse’s Narrow Chimney reading series serving as a regular venue for poets and storytellers, but in December 2016, Keirsey decided something needed to change. Along with Tim Leavy, Juniper House Readings came to fruition.
“[Leavy] and I were searching for a venue to start a new kind of literary event for Flagstaff,” Keirsey said. “He talked about the upstairs bar [at Root Public House] and how small and intimate it was. I really liked the idea of a small venue, because it would force people to talk, share and trust.”
When the weather permits, Juniper House Readings is an open-air event that takes place on the rooftop of Root Public House. The ambiance is warm, and the views are awe-inspiring.
“When we get started, the sun is setting, the San Francisco Peaks and Mt. Elden are on display in their full, colorful glory, and then we get to be under the stars,” says Keirsey. “Besides that, the food and drinks are amazing, and the folks at Root always find ways to make us feel special.”
Unlike other workshops or open mics, what make Juniper House unique is that every piece shared by a reader must be new and unpublished. Sometimes the pieces are written just minutes before the reading starts, and if writers are feeling uninspired, a tub at the bar with prompts are available to get them started. Writers are encouraged to experiment with new styles in an environment free of judgment. Whether a writer has read publicly numerous times or never before, every participant is presenting their piece for the very first time, and it's this radical vulnerability that keeps the event going.
“I once had a person read a list of potential baby names!” exclaims Keirsey. “Make it fun, make it weird, make it deep. As long as it’s fresh, I want to experience it.”
Additionally, many poets and writers have found that Juniper House not only inspires innovation, but also serves to jump-start their careers. Murison, Eric Dovigi, Jesse Sensibar, Justin Biggos, James Jay and several other writers and poets have been published during the time that Juniper House has been gathering. Students, mentors and instructors at Northern Arizona University have also become involved. Some writers have also gone on to publish chapbooks, some of which are available at the Market of Dreams on 7th Avenue.
“Our audience continues to grow,” says Keirsey. “We see growth and changes with the seasons, and when NAU is in session. Sometimes people graduate and move away. Sometimes people hear about us through Google searches or word of mouth and become new members and participants. It’s the natural cycle of people in Flagstaff. We embrace it all.”