My picks for Seattle Arts and Lectures' 2016-17 season

Last night, Seattle Arts and Lectures unveiled some of the authors they’re bringing to town for their 2016-17 season. You can see the full announced slate on SAL’s site and buy tickets for most of the authors right now. It’s a big, splashy, ambitious list; all the authors are worth your consideration, but I’d like to highlight a few personal favorites that you might consider checking out when they come to town.

SAL’s Poetry Series is staying at the Nesholm Family Lecture Hall at McCaw Hall next year, which is an intimate venue that sells out pretty easily. The poet I’m most excited about in next year’s series is the legendary Alice Notley. At a SAL event a couple years ago, Dorothea Lasky read a short untitled Notley poem that I loved so much I printed it out and tacked it right in front of my writing desk, where my eyes always land when I pause in the middle of writing. It’s the kind of poem that burns itself into your memory with its rawness. You can listen to Notley read that poem right here; it will only take fifteen seconds of your life.

Another poet in the Poetry Series who I adore is Ross Gay, who writes haunting, sometimes heartbreaking poems. I especially love this passage from “For Some Slight I Can’t Quite Recall,” a reminiscence from Gay’s early teens:

I leaned the boy’s head

full force into the rattly pane of glass

on the school bus and did so with the eagle of justice

screaming in my ear as he always does

for the irate and stupid

Meanwhile, SAL’s Literary Series is making a huge, possibly risky move: it’s heading back to Benaroya Hall. Not too many years ago, SAL had to move the Literary Series from Benaroya to the much-smaller Town Hall because the organization was suffering from sinking audience attendance and a lack of creative leadership. Now that Town Hall is closing for renovations, and now that SAL is enjoying a creative renaissance—their curatorial artistry is better than its ever been, and the organization has been resuscitated from top to bottom, thanks in large part to Executive Director Ruth Dickey and Associate Director Rebecca Hoogs—they’re taking a shot at the big tent again.

Two of the Literary Series authors are guaranteed blockbusters: journalist and historian Timothy Egan is one of Seattle’s very best writers, and he actually doesn’t make that many appearances in town, so this event is surely special enough to pack the hall. And Ann Patchett is so roundly beloved — she demonstrates that rare blend of critical success and instant-bestseller status — that the only question is how many times the sold-out crowd will offer her a standing ovation.

But I want to call your attention to two smaller names on the Literary Series marquee. Ben Fountain has only written one novel, but it is an absolute doozy of a book. Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk knocked me off my feet when I reviewed it a few years ago. It’s one of those novels that leaves you reeling with the way its portrait of contemporary America changes the world around you. (It’s also being adapted into a film by Ang Lee, which is either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you feel about adaptations.)

And British novelist Helen Oyeyemi is a literary voice on the rise. Her novel Boy, Snow, Bird blew me away with its reappraisal of the wicked stepmother trope, and she’s earning the kind of glowing critical praise for her books that indicates she’s got a long career ahead of her. If I had to choose one SAL reader out of this season as the kind of event you’ll be reminiscing over for years to come, it would be hers.