Porchlit is a yearlong site-specific literary installation founded by Yonnas Getahun, Campbell Thibo and Omar Willey. The idea is a relatively simple one: every day of the year, they record someone reading a piece on the porch of a particular Little Saigon home. Then they post a Soundcloud embed of the reading on the project’s website. When they started the project, they operated under the assumption that the building attached to the porch was abandoned. Then, when the owner of the house left the building during a recording session, they realized their mistake; after a brief explanation, the owner gave her blessing and the project continues.
Getahun lives near the house and says that for months before Porchlit began he was “intrigued” by it. He says he "initiated doing an artistic daily reading ritual at the porch." As he drew in more people to develop the idea, the project became centered around, as Getahun describes it, “the sharing and the love of literature with the study of the city.” The team invited Willey to incorporate a historical element, which took the form of a podcast titled Beyond the Porch. They’ve been at it religiously ever since.
Porchlit began on April 23rd, 2015—the 399th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It will run through April 23rd, 2016. On November 22nd the final phase of Porchlit begins, as the readers will record one of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets every day through the end of the project. But before the sonnet portion of the project begins, the organizers realized they had an opportunity to develop other themes, and so the month of September became a celebration of local literature, in which Porchlit authors only read work by Seattle writers.
Getahun explains, “there’s a rich history of writers in Seattle and an active literary culture in Seattle and so we said okay, let’s celebrate that.” Lit Crawl Seattle helped them procure talent for the project. Organizers told all their readers, “we want you to cover authors who lived here, were born here, or worked here in some way or another.” The month has been a resounding success, with authors like Chelsea Werner-Jatzke reading Stacey Levine and Elissa Washuta reading Laura Da’.
When asked if he learned anything about Seattle’s literary history this month, Getahun comes clean: “I know in the arts, my experience is that people want to seem cooler or more knowledgeable than they are and I’m not going to play that card. I’ve learned a lot.” Getahun says he knew big names like Theodore Roethke and he’s a self-professed “ big fan of Karen Finneyfrock,” but he said the project directly introduced him to the work of Tess Gallagher. Getahun still sounds a little shocked by the quality of her “incredible poetry. And I had never heard of her until that day!”
By the time the year is through, Porchlit will represent a fantastic resource: part literary performance piece, part historical document, part snapshot of literary life in Seattle in the years 2015 and 2016, part appreciation of Shakespeare’s sonnets. It's an entire year in the life of a city, an entire revolution around the sun, but it never once moves from a single welcoming porch. Instead, the readers serenade the street with words as the whole world passes by.