On Saturday, Heidi Groover at The Stranger reported that Seattle Times book section editor Mary Ann Gwinn was accepting a buyout and leaving the paper. Gwinn is one of nearly two dozen reporters who are being laid off or bought out.
There will be plenty of time to reflect on Gwinn's career in the weeks ahead; she confirmed that she'll sit for an interview with the Seattle Review of Books to discuss her nearly two decades as books editor at the Times. Personally, I'm very sad to see her go; she's always treated me with warmth and respect, even when I was a bratty young schmuck starting out on The Stranger's books page.
Right now, the question is: what's going to happen to books coverage at the Seattle Times? Rumors have been circulating for months that the Times is going to severely cut its readings (and other arts) calendar in print. This has led many to speculate that when all is said and done, the Seattle Times will no longer have a dedicated books beat. Gwinn has confirmed in a statement on Facebook that she will "continue to contribute regularly to the Lit Life column" at the Times and that she and Times management are "working on a plan for continuing books coverage, and I will let you know the particulars when I am able."
This is an important moment for the Seattle literary scene. When public radio station KUOW drastically cut back on its local coverage a couple years back, that meant fewer authors were getting interviewed at the station on a daily basis. And with fewer publicity outlets available to them, New York publishers became less likely to send authors to town on their book tours.
If the Seattle Times doesn't have a staffer dedicated to the book beat, that means they may publish fewer book reviews and author interviews, which means that publishers will very likely cut their Seattle-area touring author schedules again. The Times is the only paper in town that had the resources to cover a wide variety of books every week through freelance pieces. Many Seattle outlets run occasional book reviews, but Gwinn was the last dedicated print outlet book section editor in town who provided book reviews and author profiles on a consistent basis.
In the weeks, months, and years ahead, the Seattle Review of Books will do its best to fill in the blanks left by print publications. But we can't do it all; the co-founders (Martin McClellan and I) both have day jobs and a limited freelance budget. We need more Seattle-area outlets to provide consistent books coverage to keep our vibrant reading culture alive.
Of course Seattle would still have a lively scene of local authors to keep things interesting even if publishers never sent another author to town. But visiting authors provide perspectives and experiences that our own community cannot. Sometimes authors on book tour will collaborate with local authors to produce new work. And of course touring authors sometimes head up group readings with Seattle writers, which provides exposure and experience to lesser-known names. We cannot afford to lose this very important aspect of our literary life.