Before the summer of 2004, Sampsonia Way was little more than a beat down alley just across from downtown Pittsburgh on the north side of the Allegheny River. Then along came Huang Xiang, a Chinese poet and City of Asylum/Pittsburgh's very first "writer-in-exile", a residency set-up by the organization to "provide sanctuary to writers exiled under threat of death, imprisonment or persecution in their native countries." Xiang both literally and figuratively changed the landscape of Sampsonia Way by creating his "House Poem," a transcription of his poetry on the front of his small, single-family residency house on Sampsonia Way.
Xiang's "House Poem" was an immediate success and influenced City of Asylum/Pittsburgh to open more writer-residencies, turning Sampsonia Way from a beat down alley outside downtown Pittsburgh to a self-described "long, narrow, hodge-podge of an alley" that has become the "sanctuary" City of Asylum/Pittsburgh had envisioned, as well as a popular and inspirational attraction for writers and artists around the world.
Sampsonia Way soon developed into a full-fledged web magazine, looking to accomplish the same things as the "hodge-podge of an alley" that shares its name: "defend[ing] free speech by protecting the people who actually do the writing and speaking." "The homes provide shelter for writers," the website notes, "the magazine provides shelter for their work."