This story appears in the July/August issue of ESSENCE, available on newsstands now.
Throughout her 30-year career, Mara Brock Akil has prioritized making her workspace feel serene. So when the screenwriter and producer, who recently inked a lucrative deal with Netflix, finished designing her dream office in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles last spring, she decided to open the oasis-like space up to other writers, so that they could tap into their creative energy as well.
With the opening of her Writers’ Colony through a pilot program launched last summer, Akil is offering artists a haven in which to work on projects, find their voice, connect with peers and receive mentorship from her and Susie Fitzgerald, who is president of production and development at Akil’s company, Story27 Productions.
“We live in a day and age where everything is distracting,” Akil says, noting that she struggled to work from home when the pandemic shuttered public workspaces. “It can be hard to maintain the focus needed to devote to getting the work done and completing that script. The Writers’ Colony offers an inspired, beautifully designed space that encourages the creator to stay in the chair and get what is in them out of themselves and onto the page.”
Akil strove to make an office for other scribes that is as welcoming as the space that she and her creative team occupy. Crafted by Tiffany Howell, founder of interior design agency Night Palm, the 2,300-square-foot building’s decor is inspired by the 1970s. Doused in warm tones of ivory, camel, rose, cognac and chocolate brown, the area offers a sense of tranquility and calm in the fast-paced city. It’s also filled with predominantly vintage pieces, as sustainability was a top priority for the screenwriter.
Since launching her invitation-only writers’ residency in July 2021, Akil has hosted three cohort groups of budding talent in her three-month program, during which participants focus on writing scripts. On a monthly basis, she also invites veteran talent from many different disciplines to work at the Colony, including singer-songwriter Alice Smith, author and TV personality Elaine Welteroth, and commentator and political strategist Angela Rye.
She views the Writers’ Colony as an opportunity to continue lifting others as she climbs—a mission she has held on to throughout her years in the industry. “That’s how I was served in this business,” says Akil, who received guidance from people like Ralph Farquhar, Sara Finney-Johnson, Debbie Allen, Stan Lathan and Vida Spears early in her career.
“Our program has an emphasis on community, sanctuary space and process,” she explains. “It is different from a lot of other programs in that the transaction is not about appealing to an outside entity. The only requirement at the Writers’ Colony is for the writer to transact with their own voice. From my own experience, I believe that once a writer knows their voice, they can then navigate their career from a place of confidence and clarity.”