Something different in our Lit Crawl coverage this year. Instead of grouping together in an inconvenient cluster, we split up. Paul Constant, Martin McClellan, and Dawn McCarra Bass all attended different readings in venues around the city, thus tripling our ability to cover the amazing variety of events. Even with that, we had to make hard choices, and missed things we wish we hadn’t. But this is the bargain we always make. Lit Crawl comes but once a year, and you will, by design, always see less than you hope, no matter if you split yourself in three or not. But for what we could cover, here’s what we saw.
Robots, Ray Guns, and Self-saving Princesses at Saint John’s Bar and Eatery
Starting LitCrawl with science fiction is always a good idea. We, sadly, missed SFWA President Cat Rambo delivering a story about a Valkyrie coming to escort a clown to Valhalla during a children’s party, which sounds like a bang-up way to start any night. We were thrilled to see Eva L. Elasigue read from work that she publishes on bonesofstarlight.com, and after her, Caren Gussoff Sumption who read from her novel Three Songs for Roxy, about a character learning to sex chickens as a job— the kind of detail that pulls you into the writing while leaving you curious to see where she could possibly take it — especially given that she takes it to deeply nerdy and human science fiction place. All the while, on a television behind the readers, Nick Offerman drank whiskey and stared at camera.
Seattle Urban Book Expo Author Showcase at Hugo House
As is custom during the first big autumn rain in Seattle, the city’s roads were shut down on the night of Lit Crawl. Why, after all, would anyone expect Seattleites to know how to drive in rain? (In fact, one of our correspondents wound up missing the first phrase entirely due to traffic woes; we are just as mortal as you, dear reader.) So this first Lit Crawl event featuring authors from the Seattle Urban Book Expo started out poorly attended, but gradually filled up as audience members, presumably, abandoned their cars and made their way to Hugo House on foot. Eventually, it was a full house.
The latecomers missed out. Host JL Cheatham II, Kristin Alana, and Natasha Rivers read from their childrens’ books. Alana’s beautiful baby daughter was so proud of her mother’s reading from Cerulean and the Snake that she clapped all the way through.
The last person to arrive at Hugo House due to the atrocious commute was the final reader, Kamari Bright. She was worth the wait. Bright read poems about senility and soul food, and about the difference between fresh orange juice and concentrate (the latter is the result of “trying to make something last longer than it should.”) A natural spoken-word reader, Bright dominated the room’s attention with her poems and closed out the reading in style.
Fragmented Transmissions: Lyric and Hybrid Essays at Zoë Events
This collection of non-fiction writers read memoir and personal essays to a full, rapt room, even though they had to speak loudly to be heard over the driving rain pounding down on the metal roof of Zoë Events.
The standout here was Molly Thornton, who read the first twelve short pieces from a collection of one hundred 100-word vignettes about embarrassment. Thornton read about her childhood desire to grow to be six feet tall in adulthood, and her disappointment at falling about five inches shy of that mark. (“I have always wanted to be a grand, visible thing.”) She also discussed imagining the children she might one day have, who are “not yet born, but already endangered.”
When regarded singly, each of Thornton’s vignettes was a burnished little gem of economy. Taken in aggregate, they formed something much deeper and complex. If they are eventually published in a collection as beautiful and unique as Thornton’s prose, this book could really prove to be a delight.
Made at Hugo House Fellows Alum Reading at Barça
You may have heard that Hugo House's move into a permanent space has been delayed. While there seems to be no question that they'll ultimately land on their feet, last night's Made at Hugo House reading at Barça was a good reminder of why we should all keep pushing to make sure they get there.
The reading was unmiked, and first reader Ross McMeekin (editor of Spartan) suffered through a certain amount of chair shuffling as the room crowded closer. The excerpt he read from The Hummingbirds (forthcoming in 2018) — a story of teenage lust peeled naked under a preacher's eye — was excruciating and funny, easily reclaiming everyone's attention. Laura Da' read a too-short selection of poems about the mapping of the American West and its consequences for the Shawnee. The poems were rich with detail, powerfully narrative, and delicate in reflection, and her quiet voice carried.
Anca Szilágyi followed with a section from Daughters of the Air, her debut novel arriving next month. She's a lucid and thoughtful writer, with a strong viewpoint and an impressive range (we've been proud to publish her here). Like Da', her interests are both historical and human, and we're excited to see what she does with the space that a full-length manuscript offers.
Quenton Baker closed, and he owned the space, noting that Lit Crawl is like Valentine's Day in elementary school ("waiting to see how many cards you get") then blasting into a set of poems that blurred then tore right through the line between harsh reality and letters on the page. Maybe there's no difference between the two. This is the kind of work we need Hugo House to help Seattle's writers keep making.
Mineral School Resident Reading at Capitol Cider
The event started weirdly, with music playing as Mineral School founder Jane Hodges and Nicole Hardy introduced the event. Even after the music was finally shut off, it became apparent that there was an echoey delay on the mic, and since no one was singing here tonight, it just confused matters in the bustling and overpacked basement of Capitol Cider.
But as soon as Rachel Edelman took the stage, the sound improved and the reading went well. Edelman and Gabrielle Bates read poems. Alumnus Urban Waite read from a thriller, and made the point (or, rather, Nicole Hardy made it on his behalf) that the bathrooms at Mineral School are large, and there aren’t many men, so he had the place to himself.
Putsata Reang — you may have read her devestating and beautiful Modern Love column about coming out to her mother — read from her memoir about growing up in a Cambodian immigrant family living in Corvallis, Oregon, and how everyone picked strawberries during the summer. She remembered how her mother would wash their hands in bleach to make sure they weren’t too brown after a summer in the sun. “We were all locked in the conspiracy of becoming American together.” Reang’s clear, sharp voice, honed by years working as a journalist, centered the listener in her experience in a vital, honest way.
Mineral School has a great thing going on. Writers are advised to apply for a residency.
Seattle City of Literature Presents: Nic Low in Conversation With Willie Fitzgerald at Hugo House
New Zealand author Nic Low is here in Seattle for a little more than a week as part of an indigenous cultural exchange program established by the Seattle City of Literature organization. This was perhaps the only reading at Lit Crawl with an actual, honest-to-goodness elected official in attendance — Lianne Dalziel, the mayor of Seattle’s kiwi sister city Christchurch, came halfway around the world to see Low read.
Low introduced a sly piece of satire disguised as a sci-fi story about the last man on Facebook. The future that Low imagines — in which kids wearing privacy-enabling scarves over their heads scoff at the idea that people used to put their most intimate information online for free — seems alternately amusing and all too likely.
Low was joined onstage by Seattle author Willie Fitzgerald, who led a conversation ranging from Low’s Maori roots to the similarities and differences between Seattle and Christchurch to the white colonialist roots of leisure hiking. The event placed Seattle firmly in a continuum of international literature, and it made Seattle City of Literature’s purpose feel even more compelling.
Joyland Magazine is built on a contradiction that isn’t one: that fiction is both an international movement and grounded in local communities. They have editors throughout the United States and Canada who are responsible for curating stories that define each region's unique character, and they publish by the map — stories are grouped and tagged by location, so readers get to know the flavor of a particular place.
We’re lucky to have the Pacific Northwest editor, Kait Heacock, here in Seattle. Heacock read at the noisy Pine Box with fellow Joyland authors Margaret Adams and Corinne Manning (once of the James Franco Review). Defining the literary character of the Pacific Northwest isn't easy. If Heacock's opening remarks had the hallmarks of a work in progress, that's okay; this community is both diverse and changing fast. And the mix of reverence and playfulness she described bears out, not just for Sherman Alexie and other iconic voices. All three stories read last night carried it: Heacock's "Girl" was headed out of bounds from the line "my lover began as my dentist"; Adams' "Doreen" (coming next issue) takes a woman comfortably padded against unpleasantness into the teeth of the medical system; and Manning's "The Wallaby" stars a sad-clown marsupial who is both heartbreaking and hilarious. All of the authors read well; Manning read with a physical and verbal comfort that pulled both groans and laughter from the chilly (but increasingly well-oiled) crowd.
Lunch Ticket: Saveurs de Poésie at Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar
Meanwhile, at Vermillion, writers published by Lunch Ticket, the literary and arts journal of the MFA program of Antioch University, gathered to read.
“I don’t like white people. Except the ones I’m friends with. And myself” read Meredith Arena, who started with a short poem, then dove into an essay about gentrification, and both the body politic, and the body turning middle-aged (“Of everybody in this house, I pee the most”). She compared her own body to her father’s, and imagining being at her parents house in Staten Island, and running into him on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night, his underwear drooping. “He’d say hello. Hello.”
Sarah Jones, who read second, has a chapbook coming out in April of 2018 from Dancing Girl Press, and her work was vivid and unflinching, and left us wanting more. Her first poem, a lyrical ode and observation of trailer parks, had a staccato cadence, and contained lines that both amused and shocked. She wrote about being a mother, about being sick of the obligations of the world, about the women she meets at a rainy soccer practice. Jones is no stranger to the Seattle scene — she’s a staff member at Poetry Northwest — but we hope to see more of her work in more places on the way to her first publication next year.
Sarah Galvin, Robert Lashley, and Timmy Straw at Pine Box
The show at Pine Box started late, but for the poets who ended this part of Lit Crawl, waiting was the least we could do. First up was Timmy Straw, whose poems, laced with liturgy and questioning, are ornate carved boxes that fit snugly. “God built the world in seven days. It took him much longer to leave,” was one resonating line. She said “We’re all temporarily in a band,” about her and Robert and Sarah, and it was true, this night. It felt like a performance.
Robert Lashley continues to be one of the most powerful readers you could hope to experience, and his first few poems were delivered with the kind of aplomb Seattle audiences have come to expect, but more reserved than he often is — those who have seen him know he grows beyond himself on the stage, extending in presence like a man who suddenly gained ten feet of height when in front of a mic. But it was his newest work, from his book-in-progress Green River Valley that provoked the strongest reaction. The poem, “Songs for the Commencement Muralist in Gentrified Neighborhoods” is a multi-part piece, part lament, part prayer, part gospel, that ended in Robert singing, a clear voice, loud and true, evoking something so powerful and immediate that stunned silence and tears was the response from those all around. Then, thunderous applause. It was a stunning moment, and showed the evolution of his form, and the power of a single man, standing alone, and bearing witness.
Sarah Galvin was one of few local poets that could follow the stunned room after Lashley walked offstage, and, as always, she did it with confidence, style, and a wry smile that telegraphed that she was on to the joke before you, and the joke was really goddamned good. She read mostly new poems, one titled “Unlimited Clean Eggs”, brought down the house in abrupt and overwhelming laughter. It undersells her to say she’s the funniest poet around — Galvin is funnier than most professional comedians. But unlike that set, her humor is often settled in uncomfortable skin, with piercing insights amidst the laughter. One thing, however, is certain: her sense of timing is impeccable, and her game, and poems, seem to be getting tighter and funnier and more evocative all at once.
And beyond that, she’s the one who asked these poets to come together, to close out Lit Crawl at Pine Box. The band that she assembled? Mic drop all around.
Seattle Poetry Grid Reading at Vermillion Art Gallery and Bar
It was appropriate to end our night at a celebration of the legacy of Seattle’s first Civic Poet, Claudia Castro Luna. Three readers joined Luna to share their favorite poems from the Seattle Poetry Grid, a map of geographically specific poems created by Luna.
The readers shared poems about branches of the Seattle Public Library, about the eccentrics who make a neighborhood feel like a home, about the Seattle-y autumn moment when you realize that the damp gray blanket on top of the sky isn’t going away for another five or six months. Lynn Miller, Brian Roth, and Shin Yu Pai joined Luna, along with a surprise visit from Seattle poetry star (and Poetry Grid contributor) Quenton Baker.
At the end of the night, Luna discussed her decision to include poems written in foreign language, untranslated, in her grid. In a recent media appearance, Luna was asked if she believed that decision could possibly make some people — presumably, English-speakers — feel excluded from the project.
In the end, Luna announced, she decided to keep the poems as-is, in their own beautiful languages, there on the grid. She made that decision, she insisted, “not so others feel alienated” but rather “so everyone feels included.” There’s no better way to describe Lit Crawl’s celebration of Seattle’s wide-ranging literary scene than that; Luna’s legacy as our first Civic Poet is secure.
True Stories of #FML at Capitol Cider
It was reasonable to expect that the final leg at Capitol Cider — plugged as nonfiction essays with the theme "fuck my life" — would be sardonic, silly, and self-mocking. Brian McGuigan delivered brilliantly on that expectation, shredding his own dignity with a series of stories about online dating as a single dad. His bit was a stream of one-liners ("my texting had all the flirtation of a ransom note"; the good-night kiss "had a sensible amount of tongue") and dating stories as short and delicious as his profile handle ("ilovedembooks").
His fellow readers, Sasha LaPointe and Kristen Millares Young, had darker takes. LaPointe, speaking as an indigenous writer and a victim of sexual violence, opened with an extended and lyrical piece about survival, resilience, and monsterhood. She was barely audible beyond the front rows — too bad, what she had to say deserved to be heard by all — but the room held still and listened hard for as long as she wanted to talk.
It was Kristen Millares Young, though, who brought the evening home. Millares Young is an award-winning (remember Snow Fall?) and broadly published journalist, and she delivered an extraordinarily thoughtful piece about the threat of rape, and the different kinds of violence to which it gave birth — including the threats she made, as a white woman (a "Cuban cracker" as she jokingly called herself), to deter the black man who had her temporarily hostage in a hotel van. The essay is forthcoming from Moss; watch for it.