AT the end of a steep driveway, perched above the shops and restaurants of Silver Lake’s Hyperion Avenue, author Janelle Brown stands at the entrance of a cantilevered Midcentury Modern building, its glass walls cross-hatched with metal sash windows like a translucent Rubik’s cube. It’s the kind of tucked away, casually stunning piece of L.A. architecture that looks art-directed, like the set of a Tom Ford film, and not, perhaps, where one might expect an ad-hoc collective of freelance writers to have taken root. Yet here, alongside the bamboo growing in a central courtyard, is Suite 8, a unique co-working space shared by novelists, essayists, screenwriters and more, of which Brown is a founding member.
She is joined by two other founders, Erica Rothschild, who is quite tall, her hair pulled back into a no-nonsense ponytail, and Carina Chocano, shorter, who wears hers thick and loose and wavy. The longtime friends can barely suppress their amusement at witnessing one another lead me on an informal tour. Designed by Arthur Wolfe, a student of Richard Neutra, in 1955, the building originally served as his personal office, although today a number of businesses — including a film trailer agency called Big Science, and BRKLY, a too-cool-for-vowels branded content and design firm. Suite 8 is in the northeastern corner, an L-shaped office divided into modest, shared rooms. “It’s not a glamorous space,” Annabelle Gurwitch, the actress whose collection of personal essays, “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Stories About My Family You Might Relate To,” comes out in April, chimes in from a corner desk, and a couple of other women working in the so-called bullpen chuckle.
“We always have broken lights hanging from the ceiling,” Brown says with a laugh, pointing to a dangling entanglement of electrical cords just above her head. She has a broad, warm smile; her clothes are sharp. Behind the building’s imposingly chic facade, the Suite 8 offices appear functional and somewhat familiar: “Star Wars” figurines and miscellaneous stacks of paper — hallmarks of cubicle life everywhere.
There are better known co-working spaces in for “creatives” in Los Angeles — the Unique Space, Soho House — and even some devoted solely to writers, such as the Hatchery, but Suite 8 is tightly knit.
So whom do we have to blame for the stereotype of the lone and lonely writer, cloistered in a stark room, looking up only briefly from her ink-stained manuscript to gaze through a rainy window, martyred and forlorn? Is it William Wordsworth? Lord Byron? Henry David Thoreau? It’s not only men — Virginia Woolf fiercely defended a room of one’s own too.
But under the influence of Hollywood, where cafes are crowded with aspiring screenwriters and television writers often work together, these literary writers have gravitated toward a shared space.
What’s more, almost all of the long-term regulars are women. “Somehow the women last longer — it’s like lifespan,” says Gurwich.
There are exceptions to the rule. On the day I visited, there was one man in the office, an original member. A corkboard covered in notecards flanked Josh Zetumer’s desk — the building blocks of an “X-Men” spinoff. He took a step back to examine the structure. “It’s too many beats,” he said, and Rothschild, whom he met during the writers strike, agreed with him. Because Suite 8 opens its doors to writers of different genres, there is opportunity for cross-pollination.
Writers also share professional resources. The ins-and-out of publishing — and of negotiating business — are openly discussed. Brown might ask an office mate of her book, “How many [copies] did Barnes & Noble order?” explaining that “because we’re so far away from the New York literary scene, which is competitive, it’s more collaborative [here]. We don’t hoard information.”
Rothschild initially worried that the scope of Suite 8, which houses 16 desks occupied by roughly 24 people, “was a crazy thing to do. If it failed I would have been on the hook for a lot of money.” Fees range from $140 to $425: Suite 8 allows writers to share a desk, splitting both the rent and the actual space, like a time-share. In many ways the setup is not only practical but humane — the contours and expenses of family life are not always predictable, and having a more flexible schedule makes sense.
“We all have these days ‘I’m gonna give up,’ ” said Brown, and having another writer there, quietly working with her head down, helps to keep her going. Lauren added, “There’s something magical about my productivity here … my attention is much more focused.”
Brown put it in less mystical terms. She called the group mentality “guilt by proxy.” Gurwich agreed: “I don’t know if you’re on your Facebook page, but it sure looks like you’re working to me.”