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.

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


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.

art-and-social-change-flyerOn Sunday, May 19th in Portland, OR, I’ll be presenting my poems and joining a panel discussion about the role of art in activism. From the press release:

On Sunday, May 19th from 5:00-7:00 pm Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) presents an evening featuring artist stories and readings, discussion, and inspiration from the unique exhibit Particles on the Wall. This interdisciplinary exhibit explores elements of the nuclear age, science, and Hanford history. The exhibit, created by Washington based curators Nancy Dickeman, Dianne Dickeman and Steven Gilbert, interweaves visual art, poems, and science with history and memorabilia to address issues of radioactive contamination, nuclear weapons and technology in the Pacific Northwest, and their roles in the regional landscape as well as impacts on local and global communities. Oregon artists have now joined this important and timely exhibit currently showing at the Ecotrust Building in Portland, Oregon until June 14, 2013.

Join us in welcoming Particles on the Wall curators and contributing artists from Washington and Oregon to hear them speak about their work, tell their stories and read their poetry. Artist presentations will be followed by a discussion led by artist activists Renee Mitchell and Chisao Hata on the role of the artist in social change.

What: Art and Social Change Presentation, Readings and Discussion with Curators and Artists from Particles on the Wall

Where: Billy Frank Jr. Conference Center, Ecotrust Building (721 NW 9th Ave, Portland)

When: Sunday, May 19th, 5:00-7:00 pm

Participants include:

  • Exhibit co-founders and curators Nancy Dickeman and Dianne Dickeman
  • Contributing artists Anna Daedalus, Leah Stenson, Chelsea Bolan, Colleen Clement, Doug Gast (invited), and others
  • Grant High School Senior Twyla Malchow-Hay, winner of the Oregon PSR Greenfield Peace Writing Scholarship for her poem about Hanford
  • Moderated by Chisao Hata and Renee Mitchell

Sponsored by: Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility in collaboration with Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders

 Particles on the Wall is dedicated to William Witherup, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility’s first Artist in Residence, who passed away in 2009.

“Particle and wave shimmered over the river stones.” ~ William Witherup 



Particles on the Wall makes its Oregon debut this Friday, May 3rd, at the Ecotrust Building in Portland.  It’s a scaled-down version of the Richland exhibit, so I’m honored that my poems made it in. Opening night features an awards ceremony for the 5th annual Greenfield Peace Writing Contest for Oregon high school students who wrote about why Hanford matters. There will also be food, music, and wine in the house—do come by if you are in the area.

The Columbia River, with Hanford over the bridge

Driving towards Hanford Nuclear Reservation from Seattle on some of the smaller highways, rolling green hills rise up around the Columbia River. Green because of spring, with patches of purple flowers, and I could forget that I was in Washington State, that somehow I’d been transported to a more arid Ireland.  Along this route there is a place where the river is so placid and wide it’s a lake rather than a river.  Along the way, there are small raised ridges in the river that mean dam—glass-smooth on one side, agitated on the other.  It’s hard to imagine what the river was like before its power was “harnessed,” though I’ve read many accounts of its pre-dammed vigor, its force of life.

Closer to Hanford, the landscape browns out a bit.  It looks more like a commonly known Eastern Washington: dry desert, sage, straggly trees that have not even budded yet, sand and rock.  Still, the green hills are in the distance, over the road and over the river, should one need to look at them for reassurance.

My friend and I stopped for a picnic lunch by the Columbia, in sight of a boat launch that seemed to be popular with the fishermen by the number of trucks with empty boat trailers.  We were across the bridge from the beginnings of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.  Here, when water levels are high, muddy water covers the rocks—when the water drops, the mud dries, coating the rocks a cracked, parched white.  Here is where the wild onions grow, pushing up through sand and rock, their muscular, bright green tubes crowned with plum-colored buds, still in teardrop formation.

wild onions near Hanford

Wild onions near Hanford

I stepped through them carefully to wash my hands in the river.  I eyed Hanford to the east.  This isn’t Hanford water, is it?  I noted the flow of the river; the current was moving toward Hanford. I wondered about all the fishermen, none of whom I could see, but who were out somewhere on these waters, presumably catching fish.  I thought about swimming in the Columbia as a kid.  I thought about the hundreds of gallons (and counting) of radioactive waste leaking just over there.  Then I bent down to wash my hands.


I was still thinking of the leaking containers—as well as the government sequester that threatens Hanford clean-up efforts—when we walked into the Art Center, located on the Washington State University Tri-Cities campus.  In one corner I found Douglas Gast’s installation, 67 Are Confirmed Leakers (2008)—sixty seven (or so I assume; I didn’t count) small silver containers, glowing emerald from the inside.

We often associate “toxic” with the color green—at least I do, growing up with Mr. Yuk stickers all over the house. Green is also often used in comics for any gross—if not toxic—substance. Yet green is also a color that brings comfort and relief, means newness and rebirth, like sprouts in the garden after a long winter, or the hills nearby.  But what color is nuclear waste?

“Uncapped fuel stored underwater in K-East Basin,” US Department of Energy

The greenish color for all things radioactive may have come from Marie Curie, who noted that Radium glowed.  Nuclear waste can be in the form of a sludge (which is what is leaking now at Hanford), rods, or in the form of glass, in a process known as vitrification. The containers of Gast’s installation in fact reminded me of rounds of stained glass, which then made me think of the image I came across on the Hanford website (also included in the exhibit) of spent fuel rods. I found the image striking, beautiful as moldings of old buildings—just as I found Gast’s neat rounds of green beautiful—which is at odds about how I feel about Hanford and nuclear waste.

As a child, I dreamed about nuclear war.  I’m not sure why—perhaps it’s something passed on from my parents, who were children in the fifties and remember well the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. My dad was born just  three days after the US dropped atomic bombs on Japan, an event that seemed to frame his life, just as the Cold War framed the beginning of mine.

At the exhibition, I met my parents and my sister, who had driven down from Spokane. While we absorbed the art and read poems, scientific facts, and personal tales, my parents also shared their own stories.  They talked about bomb shelters.  As a kid, my dad didn’t have one; they were going to tough it out in the basement, which somehow made my dad feel, well, tough.  My mom said her family joked that her dad would forget the can opener, and they’d have no way to open all the canned food he meticulously stored.


It was a great honor for my two poems about fallout to share the walls with so many fantastic works of art.  I was struck by the fearlessness of these artists, and how their work manages to straddle the everyday and the surreal—such is life near the nuclear reservation. There were poems by Kathleen Flenniken, Washington State’s Poet Laureate, who grew up in Richland as a child of a Hanford worker. She later worked at Hanford herself as a civil engineer before turning to poetry. Her experiences surrounding a life both in and near Hanford are the subject of her amazing book, Plume.  Brooklyn artist (and Washington native) Eric LoPresti’s painting Flashhouse (2012) reflects the stark landscape surrounding Hanford and suggests houses near testing sights, used to ascertain the effects of a nuclear blast on a common home. Sherman Alexie’s “The Powwow at the End of the World,” made for a powerful end of the exhibition (or beginning, depending on which way you go).

T-shirt in the drawer of William Witherup’s desk

Poems by the late William Witherup, to whom the exhibit was dedicated, wove through all these works, a thread or undercurrent that pulled the exhibit together.  He lived downriver of Hanford much of his life, and in 2009 died of the leukemia he believed he had developed because of this.  His work focuses on the people living near, and especially downriver from, the nuclear reservation—and the effects that Hanford has had on these lives.

Anything nuclear still seems mysterious to me.  The more I learn, the more elusive it is.  Maybe it has to do with radiation being invisible, odorless, helpful, and harmful—indeed a mysterious entity that can take on many forms or no form at all.  Maybe it’s something in me that refuses to absorb the process of bomb-making.  Maybe it’s fear that keeps me from understanding.

But none of this keeps the city of Richland from embracing its atomic history.  Residents don’t seem to be afraid to be hemmed in by the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States. Richland High School answers to “The Bombers”—and not that long ago, there was the Tri-City Atoms Northwest Baseball League. (This t-shirt was in one of  Bill Witherup’s desk drawers.)  Walking out of the exhibit, the car parked beside ours had the bumper sticker, “Radiate Peace.” And the brewery where we ended up boasted that the radioactive water is what makes their beer so potent.  It’s enough to get one to loosen up about the whole nuclear thing.  Even so, I was glad to begin the drive back west—to let the Hanford Nuclear Reservation go by, and to set my sights on the green hills in the distance.