Image from the C&P Coffee Company website.
For the entirety of its four-year existence, the Words West Literary series has been housed out of an independent West Seattle coffee shop called the C&P Coffee Company. Words West cofounder Susan Rich tells me over the phone that “C&P was the obvious place for us to hold these events because it's the heart of the community of West Seattle —not just the literary community, but the music community, the political activism community, the small business community.”
“That place is [Words West’s] heart,” Rich says, “so it has been really upsetting to get the news.” For 15 years, C&P has operated out of a cozy house on California Avenue; earlier this month, C&P’s landlords put the property on the market for 1.2 million dollars. The owners of the coffee shop were taken by surprise by this development, and they have started a GoFundMe to raise the down payment.
Rich says that C&P has been a “fantastic,” generous host for the series, graciously housing a bookshelf full of books from every author who has attended a Words West reading through the years. So now Words West is trying to return the favor. At tonight’s event, Words West will be collecting donations to add to C&P’s GoFundMe campaign.
“Once a neighborhood loses it soul, it's impossible to get it back again.”
“[C&P owners] Pete and Cam [Moores] have given so much of themselves to their neighbors,” Rich says. They’ve raised money for neighbors who lost their homes to fire, and Rich says that in addition to the readings and live music and community conversations, C&P has hosted “weddings, birthday parties, funerals and book launches.” For a neighborhood-specific reading series like Words West, which bills itself as a celebration of West Seattle literature, Rich says protecting C&P is more than just the right thing to do—it’s a call to arms. “Once a neighborhood loses it soul, it's impossible to get it back again,” she tells me.
Tonight’s very special Words West reading features Seattle-area librarian, literacy advocate, and novelist Nancy Pearl. Rich says she paired Pearl with another venerable Seattle literary figure: “Susan Landgraf is a poet, and a fiction writer, and a former journalist” who has recently become a published author for the first time. Rich can’t contain the wonder in her voice when she talks about Landgraf: “Without giving away her exact age, she's over 70 and she's publishing her first full book of poems and then a book of writing exercises. So, you know, 70 is the new 30.”
What should people who haven’t attended Words West before come to expect from the series if they show up tonight? “Okay, so I'm biased, but I do believe it's the best reading series in the city,” Rich says. The format is a little different from your standard reading: “We do what's called a living anthology, where instead of one writer reading her work and then going to the next writer, we ask them to, in some way, go back and forth between their work.” It’s a more “collaborative” approach, putting the authors in conversation rather than keeping them in silos. Tonight’s theme is on New Year’s resolutions, kept and broken.
You don’t have to be a West Seattleite to attend Words West, Rich says. “I think sometimes people are a little afraid of getting to West Seattle, and I'll say that there's a [RapidRide C Line] bus stop directly in front of C&P Coffee from downtown. It's really accessible.” Seattle is one of the only cities in the country — maybe the only city in the country — that can sustain reading series in every one of its neighborhoods. But for those readings to thrive, they need independent places like C&P Coffee Company to house them, to give them a place to live. I hope you’ll consider supporting C&P’s GoFundMe if you can.