Archives for category: Events

When Storyfort, the literary component of Treefort Music Festival, offered to host me, and then put me on the main stage with the amazing Lidia Yuknavitch, I freaked out. I might’ve even jumped out of my chair and laughed out loud. I just had to tell someone. Right away. The first to be blindsided with the news was a co-worker of mine, just because he sat nearest to me.

“Who’s that? What’s Storyfort?” He shrugged uncomfortably. “I don’t know what any of that is.” He turned back to his computer.

If I was disappointed by his response, it didn’t register. I was too excited. I couldn’t believe that of all people, I would get to read with the writer I most admired in the festival lineup. Lidia Yuknavitch. Man.

By the next day, my excitement made way for another feeling—unease. A voice in my head kept asking me: Who did I think I was, anyway? Who the hell am I to be sharing a stage with Lidia Yuknavitch? I answered with: I’m a writer, that’s who. I’m worthy. Surely I’m worthy. I am. Really.

“Ah,” my friend Suzanne said over drinks that night. “A serious case of imposter syndrome.”

But if there is any place to feel unworthy, to feel like an imposter, it’s in the room with Lidia Yuknavitch, a self-declared misfit. (Read The Misfit’s Manifesto and watch her TED talk. I know it made me feel a lot better.) Being a misfit—or someone who has “missed fitting in,” as she puts it—has been her entire life.

And thank god she’s a misfit. She writes like no other—with raw, honest, brutal and loving intensity. Her writing might make us uncomfortable and it might kill us, but her memoir, The Chronology of Water, is one of those rare books that cuts straight to the heart of what it means to be a human being.

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10974322_922081331157635_4952943626972035777_o-194x300Tonight I’ll be taking a break from book editing and will be reading as part of Old Growth Northwest’s Reading and Open Mic series at the Rendezvous Jewelbox Theater in Seattle at 7pm.  I’ll be opening up for Doug Nufer (check out his self-interview in The Believer Logger) and Michelle Peñaloza (a fellow Poetry on the Busses poet).  Though the poster for the event is reminiscent of a boxing match, I won’t be fighting them.  At least, if they try to fight me I won’t fight back.  We’re just all going to get along instead.

ognwanniversaryCelebrate literary non-profit Old Growth Northwest‘s first year this Sunday, June 8 (yes, that’s tomorrow) from 4-6 p.m. at Vermillion Art Gallery in Seattle!  Created by a group of super-smart, inspiring individuals, we’ll raise a glass to all they’ve contributed to Seattle’s literary landscape:  an array of sliding scale writing workshops across the city, Voices Behind Bars, Gay Romance NW Meetups, a reading and open mic series, as well as two literary journals.  And remember, that’s only been in a year.  What will they do in coming years?  With your help, everything!

At Vermillion tomorrow they’ll also debut Writing on the Wall, a projected installation of over 200 works of poetry and flash fiction (including a dozen or so of my poems); there will also be raffles and reveling and readings.  I’ll be reading alongside some incredible writers:  Andrea Speed, Terra McKeown, Nick Schwarzenberger, Susan V. Meyers, Laylah Hunter, and Katherine Hervey. I’ll present a piece I wrote in response to a prompt they provided when I read back in December—bearing the bad first attempts and wrong turns recorded in my notebook to show how I finally arrived at the poem.

This organization is doing great things for this city.  Help them do more great things.  Give them money.  Buy a ticket to the party.  Bring a book for the book drive for the prisoners in their Voices Beyond Bars program.  Give them more money.  Support them as they support and encourage writers, readers, and the literary arts in the Pacific Northwest.

Ryan Boudinot has announced that he is not just donating all royalties from Blueprints of the Afterlife—he’s donating all his royalties from all his books for the rest of his career to the Seattle City of Literature budget.  He’s also donating any foreign sales to publishers in Cities of Literature to those cities’ organizations.

At the AWP conference on Saturday, Ryan read part of the UNESCO application for his portion of the Hugo House Writers in Residence reading. The opening placed Seattle geographically within the world and traced the long line of the region’s storytelling traditions, reaching back through centuries.  So beautiful was the excerpt that the next reader, the amazing Karen Finneyfrock, thanked Ryan for making her cry over an application.

You can hear more on March 12 at Town Hall.  It’s going to be awesome.

Buy this book and help Seattle become a UNESCO City of Literature.

Buy this book and help Seattle become a UNESCO City of Literature.

Fiction writer Ryan Boudinot is really, really serious:  Make Seattle a UNESCO City of Literature; “focus relentlessly on doing good.”

At the Seattle Public Library last fall, Boudinot laid out on loose sheets of paper randomly spread about his feet, the why and the how of making Seattle a part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.  In short:  it would give Seattle more opportunities to collaborate both within the city and with the rest of the world.  It would introduce the world’s readers and writers to Seattle’s readers and writers.  It would foster conversation, connection, global exchange.  “We get stuck in our little tunnels,” he said.  Stuck in our own worlds, and as writers, also stuck in the worlds we create—and sometimes stuck in our little corner of the Pacific Northwest.

Putting together the UNESCO application is a collaboration in its own right, involving everyone who reads, writes, and loves books in greater Seattle area.  One of the things that struck Ryan as he went out to spread the word was how rich our literary community is.  He already knew it was rich, but:  There was so much out there that he didn’t even know about, he said—for instance, he’d discovered an independent bookstore that he’d never heard of.  And sitting in that room at the library, seeing just a fraction of people who write, read, and otherwise support literature,  I could see that richness of our literary community, too, in a way I hadn’t really seen it before.

It was because everyone was out of their little tunnels.

All these individuals and organizations willing to connect, willing to bring a little bit of fire.  Just being there, I already felt more connected:  My time spent alone in a room writing had a place out here, in the city, in the world.  That the very reason I write is to forge communication and connection—yet, it can be isolating at times.  But at the library, I realized that we already are a City of Literature, in which every one of us plays an important part.

Most is in place for Seattle to be part of the Creative Cities Network, but we are also lacking some things:  A press that devotes itself to literature in translation, an international literary festival, and a young author’s conference—and more ways for writers to find everything they need to be successful in Seattle.  Many writers still look to New York for representation and/or for publication—and to have that is something that most people, it is safe to say, would not give up.

In one of the email updates a few months after this meeting, Ryan wrote that he fired his New York agent, and told his New York publisher that they should not expect another book from him.  He decided his next book should be 100% Seattle-made, and that in order to make Seattle a thriving literary city, we need to work within it, to expand it with our own breath.

I had to read that email several times to be sure I was reading it correctly.  Then it took me a few days to process it.  A few questions continued to loop through me:  Is he crazy?  How is he going to make a living?  Should I worry about him?  Then:  In his position, would I be brave enough to do that?  I still don’t have an answer to the last question, but I hope that I would be brave enough.

It’s an understatement to say I admire Ryan Boudinot’s drive and sacrifice to connect us to each other and to the rest of the world.  We do have the ability and resources to make Seattle a great literary city, we just need to—well, believe in it.  Invest in it.  Nurture it.  Throw all our irons into the fire.

Here are a few small things you can do to help support Seattle in the quest of becoming a UNESCO-designated City of Literature:

1. Write to the mayor.

Click here to write a letter to Seattle Mayor Ed Murray to declare your support for this bid.

2. Buy Blueprints of the Afterlife.

Ryan Boudinot will pledge all his royalties from his latest novel, Blueprints of the Afterlife, towards making Seattle part of the Creative Cities network.

3. Go to the Town Hall meeting, Wednesday March 12, 7:30 pm.

Tonight Ryan Boudinot and guests will present the contents of the City of Literature bid to the public.  To quote: “Let’s come together to celebrate everything that makes Seattle one of the greatest cities in the WORLD for readers and writers.”

On Tuesday, December 10th at the Rendezvous in Seattle, I’ll be sharing the stage with Evan J. Peterson, Benjamin Schmitt, and whoever else comes in off the street as part of the Old Growth Northwest reading series.

Old Growth NW is serious about local literature.  A nonprofit that fosters creative writing in the Seattle area by offering free workshops to writers, it’s a really great thing for those of us who cannot afford to participate in a workshop otherwise.  Plus, these guys are really nice.

Whether you have something to read or just want to be read to, please come!  Reading starts at 6:30.Image

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Some of my abandoned stories.

I usually give up on my work.  Most stories I’ve written, there comes a point where the story stumps me and I quit, abandon it.  I put all the drafts, notes, diagrams, and drawings into a folder, shut it and put it on the stack of other abandoned stories.  Then I move on, hoping the next story works out.  For a while, it does work out—writing seems to happen on its own, words know where to go.  The writing feels like reading—I’m writing to find out what happens next—which is my favorite place to be.  Inevitably, I hit that wall again.  And I look at the file folders of abandoned stories and feel a kind of panic.  I begin thinking like someone trying to save her sixth marriage (or so I imagine):  No matter what, I’m not leaving this story.  I don’t care how awful this story is, I will make it work.  And so with that in my head like a mantra, I hammer on, pounding the poor would-be story to death.

The thing I forget in those moments is that I usually do go back to those abandoned stories.  I go back sometimes weeks later, and sometimes years later.  The character’s voice returns to my head, or I find out from either life or from another story what needs to happen, and I return. Sometimes I go back and leave them several times until the stories finally feel right, completed.  This doesn’t happen with every abandoned story—just ones that absolutely need to be told.

This isn’t a failure.  It has taken me years to realize and accept that giving up on a story is the way that I work.  It has to happen that way, or else the stories wouldn’t happen at all.  The problem is that I’ve kept an image in my head of how writers should write—and therefore an ideal way of how I should work.

I first met multi-media artist Jenifer Wofford in Prague when I was at that particular point of defeat.  I had returned from an Artist-in-Residence program in South Bohemia to research and finish a draft of a novel, and by the end of the residency, I felt like I’d failed at what I set out to do.  I had abandoned the novel, and though I’d moved on to work on other stories, I felt the weight of that failed novel in my gut—as well as literally in my bag.  Jenifer helped me drag the monster up all those flights of stairs to my room in the hotel where I was staying, and where she was working.  I apologized, as she took one end and I took the other, for the weight of research, books, paper drafts, and whatever else I thought I needed.

A few weeks ago, I saw Jenifer again, as she came to Seattle to participate in an excellent group show, War Baby/Love Child, at the Wing Luke Museum.  Among many other things, we talked about how we work.  I saw myself in her process, how she tends to work on several pieces at once—that is, beginning one, then leaving it, beginning another.  She leaves behind a lot of open doors.  She said that sometimes when she stops working on a piece and is at work on another, she learns something about the piece she left.  Then she can go back to it—and the first piece becomes something that it wouldn’t have been had she not abandoned it first.  Her work informs her work, setting off a sort of conversation between pieces of art.  For this to happen, it’s essential that the doors be open.

Now I think of my file folders as open doors, colorful doors that open into one another, whose inhabitants share secrets with each other—and occasionally with me.