The Rabbit Room began as a place for friends — who happened to be musicians, writers, and artists —to encourage each other in their pursuit of beauty, truth, art, and expanding the borders of imagination. Like the Inklings of last century who gathered at the Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, the original Rabbit Room contributors needed iron-sharpening-iron friendships to strengthen them in their respective crafts and infuse them with the courage to keep working.
A decade later, the Rabbit Room blog has outgrown anything its founders imagined, with a respected publishing enterprise, popular annual conference, and international fan base. It has also helped its fans to pursue creativity and find community with kindred spirits in towns, suburbs, and cities around the world.
A Place for Art Without a Place
Andrew Peterson was already a critically-acclaimed author and singer-songwriter when he asked a group of his friends to join him in creating a blog so they could encourage each other in their creative pursuits. Among those he asked were his brother A.S. “Pete” Peterson, Jonathan Rogers, Eric Peters, and his then-pastor, Russ Ramsey.
Andrew imagined a virtual space akin to the room at the back of the Eagle and Child pub where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others met regularly to read each others’ work and share meals. The room in which the Inklings met was called the Rabbit Room.
Some of the original bloggers already had fans from their music or previously-published books while others were still slaving over their debut works. The works of Rabbit Room artists rarely fit into narrow Christian marketing categories so few of them secured contracts with major Christian recording or publishing companies. But as the Rabbit Room blog attracted more readers, it introduced the contributors’ works to new audiences.
In 2009, Rabbit Room Press began with the publication of Pete Peterson’s novel “The Fiddler’s Gun.” In 2010 Pete also became The Rabbit Room’s first employee, and he continues to serve as the director of operations.
To date the Rabbit Room has published 25 original works by 10 authors and five new editions of out-of-print books. Most of those books occupy what Pete calls the “middle space,” works that have clear Christian themes but are not overtly Christian works.
“A lot of what we love in art, literature, and music tends to fall through the cracks because it doesn’t neatly fit into sacred-secular divisions of modern publishing. We don’t recognize those as divided,” Pete said. “We serve books that can’t find their place or have had trouble finding that place.”
The Inspiration that Fuels the Perspiration
Before meeting Andrew Peterson in 2005 Jonathan Rogers had published two-thirds of his fantasy Wilderking Trilogy and a nonfiction work on Christian themes in “The Chronicles of Narnia,” but he wasn’t sure how much more writing he had in him.
The Rabbit Room filled Rogers’ creative reservoir to the brim. Behind the virtual Rabbit Room space were flesh and blood friendships that provided Rogers with the encouragement and inspiration to keep him working.
“[The contributors] reminded me that what I’m doing is important,” Rogers said. “It’s hard to make a living as a writer. To be around people also struggling was encouraging, but it wasn’t just that we all know what we’re going through – they reminded me that it was worth it.”
Since joining the Rabbit Room Rogers has published a novel called “The Charlatan’s Boy” and biographies of Flannery O’Connor and Saint Patrick.
A lot of what we love in art, literature, and music tends to fall through the cracks because it doesn’t fit into the sacred-secular divide of modern publishing.
Creating art that occupies this middle space between secular and Christian marketing labels can be hard. The Rabbit Room contributors struggle with the tension of wanting to produce something they were proud of and the need to earn a living in order to keep producing art.
Russ Ramsey sees this struggle all the time in his congregation. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA)’s Cool Springs location and also pastored Midtown Fellowship (PCA) in Nashville, where he and the Peterson brothers, Jonathan Rogers, and other Rabbit Room contributors all worshipped together for a time.
“There are few vocational lanes I can think of that are as focused on a person’s identity as the creative field,” he said. “You’re trying to create something that people will like enough to buy so you can keep doing it. A lot of my ministry is to people who are going through identity crises about who they are, what they do, are they any good, can talent be measured by popularity or sales.”
Ramsey believes that to effectively minister to artists, pastors need to understand their context. Participating in the Rabbit Room helped him stay connected to the culture in which he serves.
The Rabbit Room was Ramsey’s first foray into blogging, and through it his friendships – and writing skills – grew. Soon he and other contributors were sharing articles and book drafts with each other as well as meeting regularly for Bible study and fellowship.
That fellowship and encouragement helped Ramsey move beyond blog posts to actually writing a book. In 2011 Rabbit Room Press published his first work, “Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative.”
“I would not be an author if it wasn’t for the Rabbit Room,” he said. “I wouldn’t have written or published my first book without the Rabbit Room and its creative community and support.”
Hutchmoot and Expanding Creativity
In 2010 the Rabbit Room writers and fans met in Nashville for a three-day conference called “Hutchmoot.” With a hutch being a home for rabbits and “moot” the Old English term for a gathering of free people, the quirky term seemed the perfect description for the Nashville gathering that included workshops, lectures, concerts, and shared meals.
The conference has continued every year since 2010. Attendees describe Hutchmoot as a family reunion, as people who have found each other online meet face to face.
When they host live shows or Hutchmoot, the Peterson brothers sometimes hear fans wish they could move to Nashville to be part of the creative action. Pete and Andrew discourage this sentiment. The point of the Rabbit Room was always to encourage artists everywhere to be creative in place.
And it’s working. Artists have met through the Rabbit Room and now support each other and the Rabbit Room. Groups of Rabbit Room enthusiasts get together in Nebraska, North Carolina, and Virginia. The “Rabbit Room Chinwag” Facebook page has over 2,400 members who recommend books and music to each other, share their own work, and even organize Christmas gift exchanges. The Petersons love the way fans have taken the original Rabbit Room concept of art in community and made it their own.
“We want to encourage people to get together on their own and celebrate whatever they want to celebrate,” Pete said. “We want people to practice creativity where they are.”
As the Rabbit Room’s audience has grown, so has its list of resources. Besides Hutchmoot and Rabbit Room Press, the Rabbit Room hosts a podcast network and regular live concerts called The Local Show. All of these enterprises mean more opportunities for creative fellowship. But they mean the community that began online now needs its own physical space.
[For many artists] there’s this underlying feeling of ‘I don’t fit in,’ so when you gather those people together in a region, they feel that they’re not alone in the world and feel encouraged.
In the fall 2018 the Rabbit Room announced plans to renovate a 19th-century farmhouse just outside Nashville and call it North Wind Manor. North Wind Manor will be headquarters for the Rabbit Room with space for offices, storage, and shipping facilities. But the Petersons also hope North Wind Manor can serve as a fellowship and work space for writers, musicians, and artists.
North Wind Manor, Hymnmoots, and Beyond
When Andrew announced the North Wind Manor renovation project, Rabbit Room fans took to Facebook to organize regional hymn sings to raise the $450,000 needed for the renovation. The fans called the fundraisers Hymnmoots, and they hosted 32 of them around the country. In the first six months of fundraising, the Rabbit Room fans had raised nearly $400,000 for North Wind Manor.
Long-time Rabbit Room supporter and board member Laura Preston hosted the Omaha Hymnmoot and welcomed old and new Rabbit Room friends to her house. Many Hymnmoot participants came from around Omaha, but some traveled for hours to support North Wind Manor and spend time with others who love art and beauty.
“[For many artists] there’s this underlying feeling of ‘I don’t fit in,’ so when you gather those people together in a region, they feel that they’re not alone in the world and feel encouraged,” Preston said.
As a music enthusiast, Preston immediately loved the music selection on the Rabbit Room website, but as an avid reader, she also appreciates the curated book offerings in the Rabbit Room store. With Walt Wangerin, Tolkein, Andy Crouch, and Stephen King sitting side by side, the Rabbit Room’s offerings are certainly eclectic.
From there Preston has cultivated her interest in the visual art and theater because of the Rabbit Room.
“I am always meeting and encountering new work because of the Rabbit Room,” she says. “It has broadened my love of the arts.”
Pete hopes North Wind Manor will allow the Rabbit Room to bless even more people the way it has blessed Preston. He said the leadership wants to “maintain the story of the land” and steward the resources already in place by renovating the farmhouse house rather than tearing it down and building a new structure.
It has been 12 years since Andrew first invited his brother and his friends to contribute a website about pursuing truth, beauty, and artistic expression. None of them could have imagined how their blog would turn into a life-changing enterprise for many of them.
For Pete, the Rabbit Room has enabled him to publish his novels and plays, find a life-giving job, develop deep friendships, and meet his wife, Jennifer Trafton.
“It’s hard to overstate how much it has changed my life. It has provided a fertile ground in which these things that are a part of me have been able to flourish,” he said.
And for its fans, it has become a source of life, too.
Pete said the Rabbit Room leadership continues to think about the future and look for new voices to introduce to its readers. And as artist communities grow in places as disparate as Omaha and Charlotte, the Rabbit Room’s greatest legacy might be bringing together art lovers and reminding them that they are not alone.
As artist and Rabbit Room contributor Eric Peters observed, thanks to the Rabbit Room, the middle space between Christian and secular marketing sectors has become a place of refuge.
“Andrew and Pete like what I do, and the Rabbit Room followers support it. To be accepted and seen, I don’t know that it gets a whole lot better than that.”
Photos courtesy of The Rabbit Room