Your Week in Readings: The best literary events from April 13th - April 19th

Wednesday April 13: Hope Jahren

Lab Girl is a memoir about sexism in the sciences — the STEM fields are still an old boys’ club — and what it’s like to follow a lifelong love of science. To Jahren, math and analytic thinking isn’t the most important part of being a scientist; having a question is what counts most. Town Hall Seattle, 1119 8th Ave., 652-4255, $5. All ages. 7 p.m.

Thursday April 14th: Noir at the Bar

Writers of pulp, noir, and mystery fiction get together in Seattle’s classiest bar to read new work, drink a lot, and celebrate the city’s burgeoning crime fiction scene. Readers include Robert Dugoni, Tom Kelly, Skye Moody, and Jim Thomsen; your host is prolific pulp writer Will “The Thrill” Viharo.
Sorrento Hotel, 900 Madison St., 622-6400, Free. 21 and over. 7 p.m.

Friday April 15: Hugo Literary Series

A cliché can destroy a piece of writing. Case in point: if I were to follow that first sentence with a sentence claiming that “Writers should avoid clichés like the plague,” you would, rightfully, stop reading right there. Clichés are more than just over-exhausted expressions made meaningless by repetition; they’re signifiers that a writer hasn’t put enough thought into their argument. They identify a piece of writing that has not endured any editorial scrutiny. It’s fine for a writer to insert a cliché in a first draft but by the time they get around to the third draft, that cliché had better be replaced with an original thought, stated originally. Otherwise, it’s not writing, it’s just putting words on a page.

It’s interesting, then, that Hugo House, a writing center, has for the last year been celebrating cliché in its Hugo Literary Series events. The Literary Series has always employed the writing prompt, that most classic of writing-class conventions, as its primary conceit. Three writers — a mix of local and nationally celebrated authors — and one local musician create new work based on a theme. Writers like Sherman Alexie, Nicole Hardy, and Kevin Sampsell and musician Rachel Flotard responding to vague-but-intriguing phrases like “While You Were Sleeping” create a through-line for the evening, adding a sense of discovery and play that is not unlike what you’ll find in a particularly good writing class.

But the inclusion of cliché into this year’s Literary Series has added another little kick of drama to the formula. Writers understand that clichés are taboo, and so when they’re forced to incorporate them into the work, they approach them nervously and from interesting angles. The last event’s cliché — “what goes around comes around” — inspired interesting work from musician OC Notes and poet Sierra Nelson, along with a funny, alarming essay by Heidi Julavits about her fears that her son might one day grow up to be a rapist.

This week’s Literary Series event is centered around the cliché “all’s fair in love and war.” Novelist Claire Vaye Watkins, Seattle electronic music stalwart Alex Osuch, novelist Andrew Sean Greer, and Seattle poet and slam performer Roberto Ascalon will all try to embrace the cliché without covering themselves in the stench of bad writing.

These writers should do just fine with the task. Ascalon is nimble and thoughtful and fun. Greer’s writing can be off-putting — a little too polished — but he’s never at a loss for cleverness. Osuch is a founding member of Old Growth Northwest and ran their reading series, so he’s bringing a writer’s eye to the challenge. But Watkins is the one to watch. She’s having a bit of a moment right now; her dystopian novel Gold Fame Citrus devastated readers with its weird beauty last year, and for her next trick, she published an essay titled “On Pandering: How to Write Like a Man” that pretty much burned the publishing industry to the ground. This is a writer who is physically unable to think an uninteresting thought. The clichés should fall like dominoes, or a house of cards, or toy soldiers, or, you know, something else that falls down easily.

Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave, 322-7030, $25. All ages. 7:30 p.m.

Saturday April 16: Chester Brown

Brown launched from the autobiographical comics scene of the late 1980s, but he’s gone on to embrace a very particular cause as his life’s work. In his memoir Paying for It, Brown advocated, through personal experience, the legalization of prostitution. His new book, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus, studies the history of prostitution in the Bible.

Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave, 322-7030, Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Sunday April 17: Eric Morse

Morse’s What is Punk? is a children’s book explaining punk music to kids, from the Sex Pistols to the Talking Heads. Told in rhyme and illustrated in photos of clay sculptures by Anny Yi, it’s probably the world’s first history of punk intended for an elementary school audience. Third Place Books Ravenna, 6504 20th Ave NE, 525-2347 Free. All ages. Noon.

Monday April 18: Shawn Vestal

Vestal is about as Spokane as they come. His short stories, collected in a book called Godforsaken Idaho, are about religion and drugs and desolation. His new book, a first novel titled Daredevils, revels even more in its essential Spokane-ness, throwing in Evel Knievel and a polygamy cult for good measure. Elliott Bay Book Company, 1521 10th Ave, 624-6600, . Free. All ages. 7 p.m.

Tuesday April 19: The Lost Neruda

Last year, literary archivists discovered unpublished poems by the greatest love poet of the 20th century, Pablo Neruda. Tonight, Washington publisher Copper Canyon Press celebrates the publication of those poems in a book titled Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda. Author Forrest Gander hosts an evening of bilingual readings, a panel discussion, and more. McCaw Hall, 925 E. Pike St., 709-9442, . $15. All ages. 8 p.m.