Rushing toward the ocean tongue
Along the lip of land
I am what my friends feared
Grit traded in for grains of sand
My city soil scattered in Northwest winds
Twice despised for behavior unbecoming—
Unable to leave the cascade light
Unwilling to claim the shadowed coo of pigeon’s songs as my only note.
Busy day here, at the Seattle Review of Books. First, we published a piece by Laurel Holliday, Library Board scrambles for special meeting on rebranding issue; City Hall reacts, looking at the board's apparent cold-feet over the rebranding effort.
Then, we talked to the man behind the rebranding effort himself, City Librarian Marcellus Turner, and made sure that he had a chance to defend his work, in his own words (which, to our ears, read like little more than corporate-esque non-speak).
Finally, we published our own open letter to the Seattle Public Library Board, about our alarm, after talking to many SPL employees, that they feel the direction their leadership has taken actively opposes them and their interests.
Assuming no meeting happens before, on Wednesday, October 28 at 5:00pm on the 4th floor of the Central Library, the board will meet. Show up, if you agree with us. Show up, and before then write to the board and let them know your feelings on the matter. Let them know if, like us, you want the library to be clear in its mandate of supporting librarians and books. Let us make sure they hear us loud and clear.
President Fujiwara and the Seattle Public Library’s Board of Trustees,
As Laurel Holliday reported for the Seattle Review of Books last week, public response to Seattle Public Library’s proposed rebranding campaign has been overwhelmingly negative. In fact, Holliday reports the response has been so negative that the board appears likely to kill the rebranding plan at or before their public meeting on Wednesday.
This is for the best. The rebranding was ill-considered, and it was presented to the public in an arrogant, unprofessional way. SPL librarians were not warned about the rebranding effort in advance, so they were unprepared when the angry public demanded answers. Curiously, the rebranding survey was only available online, so low-income patrons and the elderly had limited access to it. (Why would a library with branches all over the city not make printed copies of the rebranding survey available to the patrons who use libraries most? Do they not care what those patrons have to say?) Further, it was only available in English, which kept thousands of patrons’ voices out of the discussion. This last point is especially egregious because immigrant populations rely on the library for support as they make Seattle their home. They were given no voice in this discussion.
But the rebranding is not the reason for this open letter. As we have previously mentioned, we are not opposed to organizations spending money on their branding. Branding is important; it’s how organizations explain themselves to the world. The problem is, this botched attempt at rebranding perhaps honestly communicates more about the state of Seattle Public Library than the Board may have intended. The reason the response to this rebranding study was so visceral is that the city of Seattle was horrified to learn that this rebranding campaign might possibly identify the true spirit of SPL management—its incompetence; its tone-deaf corporate speak; and its utter lack of respect for patrons, librarians and literature.
Over the last two weeks, we have interviewed a number of your employees — librarians, management and support staff — about Seattle Public Library. All of the employees requested anonymity for fear of retribution. This is obviously not optimal, because it means we can’t use the personal details they gave us in this letter. But taken in aggregate, these many individual stories meld into a portrait of an organization that has completely lost sight of its mission.
They told us about an SPL that is freighted down with many layers of unnecessary middle management but which still somehow doesn’t communicate with its ground-level employees. They told us about an SPL that creates a hostile work environment for librarians; that narrowly focuses on white, middle-class patrons at the expense of minorities and underprivileged populations; that is at best uninterested or at worst openly hostile to its role as a champion of literature and culture on the behalf of the people of Seattle.
Worse, SPL employees have indicated to us that they have absolutely no confidence in City Librarian Marcellus Turner. More than one employee described Turner to us as actively “anti-book.” On the few occasions when Turner was made available to librarians for discussion, we were informed that Turner often could not identify which book he was currently reading, at least once demurring that he was more of a magazine person.
The fact is, not every librarian loves reading. That’s okay. We talked with several SPL employees who admitted to reading much less than what the public would expect them to. But the City Librarian position is generally expected to be an advocate for books and reading. For the figurehead of our city’s library system to be visibly uncomfortable when asked about books is an untenable situation.
What happens when you get an at-best tenuous supporter of literature to run a library? You’re handed anti-book policies like Turner’s “Service Priorities” for SPL, which are as follows:
Youth and early learning
Provide Library services that support youth and families in academic success, career readiness and life.
Technology and access
Serve as Seattle's primary point of access to information, lifelong learning, economic development and creative expression through innovative use of technology and digital resources.
Offer Library programs, services and collections that reflect community needs and interests, feature community voices and create meaningful experiences.
Seattle culture and history
Connect our community with our diverse local culture and history through compelling collections, expert assistance, innovative partnerships and engaging programs.
Adapt and energize Library spaces for new uses in keeping with changing services, programs, interests and needs of Library users and the changing way that they use Library spaces.
Did you count all the references to books and literacy and reading in those five priorities? No? That’s because there are no references to books and reading. The closest the Service Priorities come to referring to books is in the reference to preserving Seattle culture and history with “compelling collections.” This is not enough. The people of Seattle want their libraries to be stocked with a vibrant and growing collection of books; anyone who has tried to reserve a popular title from the library only to wind up in the triple-digits on a waiting list understand that SPL does not have enough books to meet demand.
Compare Turner’s Service Priorities to the Strategic Plan instituted by former City Librarian Susan Hildreth, which served as the guiding statement for SPL from 2010 to 2015. Number one on their list of goals and objectives called for SPL to “Fuel Seattle’s Passion for Reading, Personal Growth and Learning” and to “Build community around books.”
By comparison, the contortions that Turner’s SPL will twist itself into in order to not mention reading would be comical if it weren’t so embarrassing. As one SPL employee we interviewed told us, “you wouldn’t expect a business to forsake its top product,” but that’s exactly what Turner’s SPL has done. Last summer, SPL’s popular summer reading program for area children was rebranded as the “Summer of Learning” program. Instead of books, children were presented with iPads. Parents were livid, and understandably so; a program intended to promote literacy was transformed for seemingly no discernible reason and — this is important —without public input.
The unwanted focus on iPads evokes another problem with Turner’s leadership. Our city librarian is trying to frame himself as a forward-thinking technologist who has a vision for SPL, but his policies are hopelessly outdated. Unlike other city government agencies, the library still does not have a mobile-friendly website, for instance. And on any interface, its website is embarrassing, a morass from the bad old days of 2003, a site that obfuscates information rather than disseminates it. This is a situation where Turner’s supposed vision would seem to be useful; why has he not led on this?
Based on the conversations we’ve had with librarians, Turner is too busy actively devaluing the librarians in his employ to do anything useful. Turner’s SPL has continually used volunteer or non-librarian employees to do the work that librarians used to do. (According to librarians we talked with, SPL has even hired some people with library science degrees for non-librarian jobs, which pay roughly a quarter less than librarian positions.) SPL is right now in the process of removing librarians from their role as moderators of book clubs and handing those moderator positions to non-librarian employees, for example.
Perhaps the board and Turner will point to de-escalating circulation numbers as a reason why all these changes are happening. That’s a false lead. The truth is that SPL leadership has modified their collections policy to penalize users: higher interlibrary loan fees, fewer materials allowed for withdrawal at any time, higher late fees. SPL employees believe these changes were made to discourage use of materials, to further the anti-book policies we’re seeing under Turner and the board.
So here’s a riddle for you: if a library is anti-book and anti-librarian, is it still a library? We think the answer is no, and we bet a lot of Seattle agrees with us. The anger you’ve seen in response to the branding survey is evidence that Seattle is not happy with Turner and the Board's leadership. The rebranding issue is a symptom of a much larger problem, and Seattle is slowly coming to realize exactly how deep that problem runs.
Everyone we interviewed said that morale at SPL has never been lower than it is right now. Many of them believe it’s only going to get worse. The worst thing for most of these employees is the sheer feeling of powerlessness that pervades their workdays. They’re trying to introduce their neighbors to resources that can help make Seattle a better place to live, and they’re being thwarted at every turn by the bizarre choices of management — a management that they believe is trying to undermine their very mission statement, to undo all those decades of hard work that they’ve put into SPL. These are good people who are on the front lines — librarians who help kids learn to read and help adults find jobs and help immigrants get the resources they need to become proud Americans. They work on a daily basis with homeless populations, at-risk youth, and people who feel as though society has forgotten about them. And now they feel that their own organization has forgotten about them.
We believe the reaction to the rebranding survey was so vehement and so passionate in part because the people of Seattle, finally, have become aware of what SPL management has done to their library. We believe the people of Seattle, too, feel powerless in the face of all this change. And they’re responding with a raw and righteous anger.
As we understand it, Turner answers to the library board and the library board, basically, answers to no one. The mayor institutes members of the board — we still have a member from the Nickels administration — but aside from some poorly scheduled meetings that are open to public comment, SPL leadership has not really been accountable to the public for years now.
The library is supposed to support and encourage the free dissemination of information, but it’s right now fighting against transparency. Turner is generally not available to his librarians, the public, or the press. Management does not invite or welcome comments from ground-level employees. In the past, SPL Director and Public Disclosure Officer Andra Addison has asked Paul Constant to reveal the names of librarians who spoke to him under condition of anonymity. SPL leadership appears to be encouraging a culture of silence and fear among its employees. This is antithetical to the idea of a public library.
We believe that the people of Seattle would be outraged if they heard just a quarter of the stories we’ve heard over the last two weeks. If these allegations are true — that Turner and the board have propagated an anti-book, anti-librarian agenda in Seattle Public Library — we believe the people of Seattle would demand immediate changes in library leadership. We are pro-information. We are pro-technology. But we love our books, and we love our librarians, and some awkward corporate-speak is not going to convince us otherwise.
Seattle does not want to lose its libraries because a few mediocre managers failed to lead at the moment when their leadership was needed most. We demand change — transparent change — at the top of the organization. If Turner and the Board are not willing to supply that change, we demand new leadership that understands the wishes of the people and knows how to implement our agenda.
SPL cannot keep going down this road to ruination. We love our libraries, and we demand that Seattle Public Library carry the torch of knowledge for generations to come.
Paul Constant and Martin McClellan
Co-founders, the Seattle Review of Books
We're sponsored this week by a very unique book, by a very unique Seattle writer. Esther Altshul Helfgott kept a journal full of insight and poetry, as Alzheimer's first showed its affects in her husband Abe. Her book Dear Alzheimer's is a startling, humane, and insightful look into a difficult time.
You may know Helfgott from her long standing (25 years!) writers reading series It's About Time, held every second Thursday at the Seattle Public Library's Ballard Branch. The list of past readers is a who's-who of Seattle poets and writers, and exactly the sort of Library we're advocating for: one that works with the community to make reading and writing more vibrant.
Of course, sponsors like Helfgott are what allow us to report on issues like the Library, and keep reviews and updates coming your way. It's part of our campaign to make internet advertising 100 percent less terrible. Take a look at Helfgott's moving work excerpted on our Sponsorships page — and judge for yourself.
On Wednesday, October 21, I conducted an email interview with Marcellus Turner (interlocuted by SPL Communications Director Andra Addison), and I asked him three questions about the rebranding effort.
Who first proposed rebranding SPL? Why did you come out so strongly in favor of rebranding rather than some other means of obtaining your ends?
I know that once I arrived at The Seattle Public Library, I recognized some areas that needed review, our look and brand being one of them. Libraries around the country are and have been rebranding and refreshing their look and work in relation to the changes that are occurring in our industry and we (SPL) would be remiss if we, too, didn’t look at what is happening with our usage and the impact that these changes are causing.
Rebranding is one element of a comprehensive effort that helps us better serve our vastly diverse city. We also are focused on providing a robust collection and a high level of customer service with our knowledgeable and helpful staff. We have five service priorities guiding us: Youth and Family Learning, Community Engagement, Seattle Culture and History, Technology and Access and Re-imagined Spaces. Collectively, this work helps us reach our goals – providing excellent Library service for the people of Seattle.
How does the proposed new name, logo, and brand statement convince library non-users to become library users? Why not just change programs and services and where and how they are advertised?
Glad to have this question, because in fact, we’ve undertaken many innovative programs and partnerships over the last few years. We are hosting more workshops and events off-site, we’ve carried our materials (books and technology) out into the community through our Books on Bikes and Pop Up Library programs, we’ve revamped our Summer Learning Program and we’ve collaborated with community partners to provide important services to our public, such as Tax Help and Health Care Enrollment. We are also re-imagining our physical libraries to reflect the needs of each community.
This new work allows us to present ourselves differently to a segment of our population that may not be aware of the new resources and assistance we offer. While our traditional role has always been access to information (and mainly through books), technology and innovative programs have broadened access in new ways. The proposed logo, name change and brand statement capture this new direction and reflect our commitment to serve the next generation of users.
Do you think you will have the confidence of the SPL Board of Trustees, patrons and benefactors that might enable you to lead the public as suggested in this comment in a letter from Hornall Anderson Director of Strategy Nory Emori to you: "The public is not able to envision the future. They must be led.”
My job is to show our city all that The Seattle Public Library is and can be. And to that end, we will continue to evaluate and improve our services and seek all opportunities to communicate our value to the public.
Update: 10:57am. Following the post is an email update from Seattle Public Library's Director of Communications, Andra Addison.
The Seattle Public Library Board of Trustees appears to be responding proactively to the barrage of criticism the SPL rebranding initiative has received from patrons, the public, library donors, and the media over the course of the last month. Board members have called for a Special Meeting to vote on the rebranding initiative before their Wednesday, October 28th regularly scheduled meeting which has the branding initiative on the agenda.
On October 17, Trustee Dan Dixon said in an email to Trustees President Theresa Fujiwara:
…I propose that we call a Special Meeting on either Tuesday or Wednesday to resolve the issue. Notwithstanding our published meeting of October 28, we can proceed by giving notice of our intent to meet and the subject. It's my intent that we put this issue behind us quickly for the benefit of all parties and the Library. I believe that we all concur for various reasons that moving forward with a branding campaign is not in our best interests. I also believe as noted in my earlier message that we have heard enough from the public that this decision will be appreciated.
With over 400 comments sent to SPL and the SPL Foundation (not counting social media) about the proposed rebranding, the majority of them highly critical of it, Dixon’s characterization of the public response is understated, but he did go on to propose a specific course of action:
I would propose a motion in three parts to accomplish our resolution of the issue:
- That we formally indicate that we are not moving forward with a branding campaign.
- That we intend to utilize the data derived from our survey and other preliminary work to inform and extend our general Library marketing efforts.
- That we draft a message from the Board of Trustees to Library patrons (and staff) that thanks them for their amazing support and affection for the Library and for their helpful comments during our survey; and that we will not be moving forward with the branding campaign.
Dixon seems very confident that this three-pronged resolution will be passed by the BOT in the proposed Special Meeting, and he has plans for a statement that he wants disseminated shortly after that meeting. His email to Fujiwara continued:
The messaging would go out soon after our special meeting so that our patrons will know and that with respect to the branding campaign it may not be necessary to attend the October 28th meeting.
Dixon’s email is significant for at least two reasons:
In her October 17th email to Dixon, Fujiwara commended him on his proposal and approved his call for the special meeting:
This looks like a good option to me - thoughtful, transparent and deliberate. We are scheduled for both an operations and finance committee meetings on Tuesday so maybe we can substitute or squeeze in a brief special meeting. As long as Gary agrees that we are not violating any public notice procedures, I think we should run this by the other trustees and ask MT to move forward with the logistics.
I truly appreciate the time you have taken to propose these next steps to move us forward and communicate with the public in a timely manner.
Do you want me to follow up with trustees and MT?“
(Gary in Fujiwara’s email is Gary Smith who provides legal counsel to SPL, and MT is Marcellus Turner. The “logistics” are posting the notice of a Special Meeting and its agenda on the SPL website, and notifying the Seattle Times about the meeting twenty-four hours before the meeting occurs.)
Dixon replied with a simple “Yep. That’s why I wanted to run by you first.”
So, if the Board does hold a Special Meeting in advance of their regularly scheduled meeting, what would they stand to gain?
Word about the questionable management of the rebranding project has spread all the way to The City Council and the Mayor’s office. In a meeting with Friends of the Seattle Public Library Board Member Jill Novik and Bill Stafford, member of the Board of the Seattle Public Library Foundation, Chair of the Parks, Seattle Center, Libraries, and Gender Pay Equity Committee, Councilmember Jean Godden raised the issue of rebranding.
According to Novik’s summary of the meeting, Godden “noted that Council is getting a lot of negative feedback from folks about this issue and it is not enhancing the image of SPL.” Novik went on to say, “They also want information from us as to how much full implementation of the rebranding would cost. Although we made it clear that the study was privately funded, Godden's impression is that it might be prudent to table the study for the time being.”
Keep in mind that the Council holds the purse strings for the Library and that the 2016 city budget is so much on their minds right now that they have cancelled nearly all committee meetings for weeks in order to work their way through the decisions they must make about the budget. In the 2015 budget, SPL garnered nearly sixty-nine million dollars of public money. Next year’s budget will likely be amended and approved by the Council in late November. Until then, it remains to be seen if SPL will be financially impacted by the branding fallout.
City Council Candidate Tammy Morales spoke out to Mayor Murray and the City Council on her campaign website where she addressed the rebranding endeavor and The Seattle Public Library’s poor stewardship of library funds:
“What an offensive waste of money,” she called the rebranding project. "Why is the Seattle Public Library approving this kind of spending? And where are the Mayor and Council on all this? …That the money is reportedly coming from the Seattle Library Foundation is no excuse. This effort could not have been started without the explicit approval of the Library Director&hellip. I love the Seattle Public Library and their awesome employees. But their leadership is letting them down.”
On the plus side for SPL, yesterday the Library did an amazing (or an incredibly tonedeaf) thing. They posted this excerpt from Alberto Manguel’s New York Times October 23rd Op-Ed, “Reinventing the Library” on SPL’s Facebook page:
It is in the nature of libraries to adapt to changing circumstances and threats, and all libraries exist in constant danger of being destroyed by war, vermin, fire, water or the idiocies of bureaucracy.
But today, the principal danger facing libraries comes not from threats like these but from ill-considered changes that may cause libraries to lose their defining triple role: as preservers of the memory of our society, as providers of the accounts of our experience and the tools to navigate them — and as symbols of our identity.
“Ill-considered changes” would be an apt characterization of SPL’s rebranding effort. Manguel’s op-ed provides a sweeping view of libraries in history and how their function has changed over time. Now, when librarians, staff, and facilities are called upon for a myriad of social services ranging from baby sitting, to attending to the needs of homeless patrons, to helping the unemployed find jobs, and even providing medical care to some, Manguel asserts that books must remain at the core of libraries’ mission as they have been throughout history.
To their credit, SPL provided a link to the full text of this exquisitely written op-ed. I wonder if posting it on SPL’s Facebook page was a blunder or a beautiful act of rebranding sabotage carried out by a well-intentioned, book-loving librarian.
Today we're dedicating the Seattle Review of Books to the Seattle Public Library, and City Librarian Marcellus Turner's proposed re-branding. We even published Paul's normal Monday Week in Readings post last night, to keep our focus.
We're publishing three pieces today on the topic:
We are strongly committed to the idea that best book city in the world to have the strongest library system in the world. Read along with us today, and take the time to let your opinions be known. Write the library board an email today.
MONDAY Ada’s Technical Books kicks off our week in events with NASA scientist Les Johnson, who will be discussing his book Harvesting Space for a Greener Earth...And Beyond! Press materials promise that Johnson will discuss “how we can use space resources to help solve energy and environmental problems on Earth while simultaneously putting in place the infrastructure to allow sustained exploration of Mars.” Now that you've seen The Martian and you're all stressed about what would happen if you get trapped on Mars by yourself, you should probably start preparing for just that eventuality.
TUESDAY The October Literary Mixer is happening at the Hideout. Here’s the simple premise: bring a book. Buy a drink. Talk to someone about the book they brought. Prepare to talk about the book you brought. That’s it! Book chat and booze is just about the best way to spend a fall evening.
WEDNESDAY A lively week of Short Run Comix & Arts Festival programming kicks off at the Capitol Hill Branch of Seattle Public Library, in the form of an artist talk by East Coast cartoonists Charles Forsman and Melissa Mendes. Short Run organizers say that Mendes and Forsman will discuss “their work and influences, self-publishing, pushing through mental troubles, printing comics on the cheap, and organizing the Oily Comics publishing company and subscription service.”
(And this kind of flies in the face of this column’s mandate to choose one event for every day of the week, but Tavi Gevinson is reading at University Book Store tonight, too. If you know any teenage girls, you should definitely bring them to this event and watch the world open up for them.)
THURSDAY Before you ask: Seattle Arts & Lectures’s Ta-Nehisi Coates reading has long since sold out. If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, you’re out of luck. It’s a shame, too, because he’s written a great book that will undoubtedly be seen as a classic in the years ahead.
Instead, visit the central branch of Seattle Public Library to join a community discussion about gun violence. This is so important. It feels as though we’ve recently turned a corner on gun violence in America; average Americans are fed up at the sickening regularity of mass shootings, and it’s time to take action. We can only do that by talking, and taking stock, and coming together as a community.
FRIDAY Celebrate Short Run Eve at Fantagraphics Bookstore in Georgetown for the Marathon III art show and pre-festival reception. A nice mix of Seattle and national talent will present work, including Jim Woodring, Bruce Bickford, Charles Forsman, and Melissa Mendes. Short Run also presents the recipient of their Dash Grant prize for self-publishing cartoonists, Krish Raghav, at this show. Plus, there’ll be music by Lisa Prank.
SATURDAY The Short Run Comix & Art Festival finally arrives, from 11 to 6 at Fisher Pavillion. Wander around, check out the tables full of books by small-press publishers, cartoonists, and artists. Meet new people, find a new artist to fall in love with, and visit with some old friends.
SUNDAY Hugo House welcomes publisher great weather for MEDIA. They’ll be presenting Before Passing, an anthology of new poetry and short fiction from Toni La Ree Bennett, Wil Gibson, Thomas Hanchett, David Lawton, Richard Loranger, Mary Mackey, Jane Ormerod, and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore. Close out your week by welcoming some new writers to the stage.
George Saunders in the New Yorker on learning to write, and the writing instructors he learned from.
Doug gets an unkind review. We are worried. Will one of us dopily bring it up in workshop? We don’t. Doug does. Right off the bat. He wants to talk about it, because he feels there might be something in it for us. The talk he gives us is beautiful, honest, courageous, totally generous. He shows us where the reviewer was wrong—but also where the reviewer might have gotten it right. Doug talks about the importance of being able to extract the useful bits from even a hurtful review: this is important, because it will make the next book better. He talks about the fact that it was hard for him to get up this morning after that review and write, but that he did it anyway. He’s in it for the long haul, we can see. He’s a fighter, and that’s what we must become too: we have to learn to honor our craft by refusing to be beaten, by remaining open, by treating every single thing that happens to us, good or bad, as one more lesson on the longer path.
We liked Doug before this. Now we love him.
Great interview with Terry Gross in the New York Times:
The interview wish is as old as the form itself. Journalistic interviews in the United States increasingly began to appear in the 1860s. Before that, when reporters talked to people, they typically didn’t quote them. Once interviewing started, it became a craze. It had its own practitioners, often women, who were thought to be better at drawing people out. Henry James’s journalists were almost all "interviewers," and his characters, like Selah Tarrant in "The Bostonians," crave their scrutiny: "The wish of his soul was that he might be interviewed," James wrote.
The Kingston University Archives and Special Collections is revealing some of its gems in advance of its 25th anniversary. Like, Iris Murdoch's notes from a lecture by Jean Paul Satre:
The notebook contains Murdoch’s extensive notes made at the lecture, which are a fascinating insight into Sartre’s philosophy and Murdoch’s views on it at the time. The notebook is also unique as while we know Murdoch made notes on the writings of other philosophers, we are not aware of any others surviving taken from a lecture given by the philosopher themselves. The rear of the notebook is filled with notes that Murdoch made after reading many of Jean Paul Sartre’s books- Murdoch’s copies of which are also held in the Iris Murdoch Oxford Library, one bearing a personal message to Murdoch from Sartre himself.
It must be artifact day today for the Sunday Post. Here's Tolkien's annotated map, found inside a book that belonged to illustrator Pauline Baynes, who drew the maps for Tolkien.
The map was found loose in a copy of the acclaimed illustrator Pauline Baynes’ copy of The Lord of the Rings. Baynes had removed the map from another edition of the novel as she began work on her own colour Map of Middle-earth for Tolkien, which would go on to be published by Allen & Unwin in 1970. Tolkien himself had then copiously annotated it in green ink and pencil, with Baynes adding her own notes to the document while she worked.
As a rule, the Sunday Post does not self-link to the Seattle Review of Books, but this piece about the public response to the City Librarian Marcellus Turner's plan for rebranding is too important to ignore. The board votes on Wednesday about this plan — if you want to have a say in the future of your library, now is the time to take action and write the board. Get more context in this article we published last Wednesday, by Laurel Holliday.
We think you'll really like his week's sponsor G.G. Silverman's work. It's funny, smart, and we think that after you look at two chapters on our sponsor page, you might even want your own copy. Those chapters will only be up through tomorrow, so go take a look today!
G.G. partnered with us as part of our drive to make internet advertising 100 percent less terrible. We ask that you look at our sponsors each week, and see if they speak to you. That's it! Let's change the future of sponsorship together.
If you have gone, or can't go, to our recommended reading in Bellevue today, come tonight and see Johanna Sinisalo at Elliott Bay Bookstore! She'll be introduced by Lola Rogers, who just wrote about Sinisalo for us earlier this week.
Sinisalo is truly remarkable — a writer of the strange and wonderful. Modern spec fic fans will love her work, and her travelling to Seattle from her home in Finland is a rare occasion worth celebrating. Hope to see you tonight!
Every day, friend of the SRoB Rahawa Haile tweets a short story. She gave us permission to collect them every week. She's archiving the entire project on Storify
Short Story of the Day #289 Some gathered to watch the sky. pic.twitter.com/kOOYEeM8y8— Rahawa Haile (@RahawaHaile) October 18, 2015
Short Story of the Day #290 I'm on a red-eye back to NYC. Strangers spoke to me in Tigrinya every day in Oakland. I am weighing my options.— Rahawa Haile (@RahawaHaile) October 19, 2015
Seattle poet (and Seattle Review of Books contributor) Anastacia Renee Tolbert read as part of the Furnace Reading Series at Hollow Earth Radio earlier this month. She told a story featuring the city of Seattle as a protagonist. Now that reading is available online for free. If you've only ever experienced Tolbert's writing in print form, you're in for a real treat; her spoken word performances are absolutely riveting, and she can turn a room into a party, or a funeral, or church, just with just a few well-placed syllables. Take a listen, and plan to attend the next Furnace live. They do a good job of recording all their readings, but recordings can never quite capture that thrill of live performance.
Yesterday, Slate published this amazing interactive annotated edition of Bartleby, the Scrivener. I'm not a fan of all of Melville's writing, but Bartleby becomes more relevant with each passing year. It's a powerful American myth, and when viewed from another angle it can be read as kind of a forerunner to Office Space and The Office and other comedies about the drudgery of middle management.
Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I just came home from a conference that was inspirational and amazing, and filled with creative people. But when I look at my blank page, I'm feeling nothing but imposter syndrome. You'd think being at the damn conference would be enough to get me going, but apparently not. Can you help me get over myself?
Quenton, Queen Anne
When I'm feeling insecure about my gifts as a writer, I like to hang out with my 11-year-old half-sister, Ana. We eat a snack, she tells me about school and then she plays me a violin piece she's been practicing or reads me some of her poetry. She's a smart kid but these interactions remind me that I'm smarter than her. My poetry is way better than hers and I don't even like poetry. Someday she'll likely be a very successful doctor like her mother and I'll be living in her basement on the cheap because she pities me but right now, I am her role model. It's a job I take seriously. Yet most of the time when she reads me a poem I think, "I can top that," which is why I've begun writing coming-of-age feminist poetry to share with her. For example, here's a limerick I wrote about sexual assault:
There was a young woman from Buhl
Who was assaulted one day after school
She bought a claw hammer
And without a stammer
Raped the man with her oversized tool.
"Police!" Screamed the man down the street
As blood waterfalled to his feet
“I don't mean to be crass
But I've been raped in the ass”
Said the girl, “vengeance truly is sweet.”
“This woman is batshit insane!”
He denied every ounce of self-blame
But police had no way
With no DNA
Of connecting his rape to her name.
Odds are this won't happen to you
But you know how to act if it do
A conceal'd weapon it's not
And if you get caught
Remember: Christ was a carpenter too.
My point is, sometimes it helps to go to an open mic night or hang out with a child and remind yourself (silently, don't be a dick) that you're a better writer than the company you keep. Until you're famous, which most of us will never ever be, you must be your own most devoted fan. Start acting like it.
If you began your Lit Crawl last night at the reading sponsored by Seattle-based literary magazine The James Franco Review, the first thing you heard was a poem by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha that includes this line: “Here, our senses are overwhelmed.” That’s about the most appropriate invocation the evening could’ve asked for.
Lit Crawl is an event that is by definition overwhelming. You’re given way too many options to choose from— almost a hundred readers, spread all over Capitol and First Hill — and audiences spend the night chasing readings around town. You couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful night, either; the air was crisp and relatively warm and the smell of dry leaves was everywhere. Your senses couldn’t help but be overwhelmed, and alive, and engaged.
The James Franco reading was end-to-end entertaining. Founding editor Corinne Manning introduced one reader as “the nephew of a serial killer.” Aaron Counts introduced Seattle’s first Youth Poet Laureate Leija Farr by saying the young poets of Seattle are so talented that "it just makes you want to retire.” Farr read a poem titled “The Walking Dead” — “You looked at me and swore up and down you were alive,” she read — and another poem about a woman who names her lovers’ skin. Her work was mature, meaningful, confident. Counts was slightly wrong; Farr was so good that she didn’t make you want to stop writing; she inspired you to start writing.
Poet EJ Koh was the highlight not just of the James Franco reading but of the whole night. She explained that in Korea, authors introduce their readings with a plea to the audience that can be translated to something along the lines of: “even though I shame myself, please be kind to me.” On the contrary. When Koh read, it was the audience that wasn’t worthy.
Koh read a fierce poem titled "Doom" about not getting what you need from a relationship on a sexual level. And then she read a poem responding to a New York Times story about South Korean women and plastic surgery. They were both angry, those two poems, but they were crystalline in their voice and perspective and place in the universe. It’s hard to describe exactly what Koh brought to the poems except to say that when she read, every word felt important and every word led directly to the next word, and when the poem ended there was a split-second where every throat in the room gasped for oxygen.
Up at Ada’s Technical Books on 15th Ave, four cartoonists presented new work. Short Run cofounder Eroyn Franklin read a piece about Bikram yoga that began as a story of self-empowerment but which then turned into a meditation on the sexual assault charges that have been levied against Bikram yoga founder Bikram Choudhury. Franklin’s moral inquiries led to some fascinating places: if a bad man creates something that helps the world, isn’t it still possible that his creation is tainted in some way by his corruption?
Over the course of the reading —the tense travel comics of Natalie Dupille; Mita Mahato’s beautiful cut paper comics, and her portraits of the “monsters” who plague her dreams (including the man in the bear suit in the photo above); and Gina Siciliano’s heavily researched comics about art history and feminism — the scope of local readers at this Lit Crawl became apparent. Over the course of the night, I heard poems about Afghanistan, Korea, Mexico, and Nicaragua, as well as comics partially written in Nepali. Seattle’s literary scene is opening up to the world. If there was such a thing as a Lit Crawl Seattle in the year 2000, the readers would have seemed embarrassingly provincial when compared to the authors who read last night; our writers are interested in being in the world, and hearing other voices, and figuring out our place in the world. It’s perhaps one of the best indications that our literary scene is growing up, and expanding, and growing comfortable in its own skin; our poets and cartoonists and novelists are bringing the world to Seattle, and they’re introducing Seattle to the world.
My final reading of Lit Crawl, the Poetry Northwest celebration at Sole Repair, delivered two wonderful performances. Clare Johnson read a few lovely, hesitant poems from her upcoming collection, Will I Live Here When I Grow Up?, and then she read two looser poems, one praising Quentin Tarantino for “having the guts to kill off history,” and a melancholy poem about motherhood and mortality that begins with the brilliant line “I wish I hadn't wasted Jane Austen on the spring.”
The final reader of the night, Emily Bedard, praised the audience for surviving another Lit Crawl, joking that the stress of the evening was starting to show on the crowd, “with your body knuckles and your torn pants.” She dazzled the room with a suite of poems about stuntmen and mustaches and the Gravitron ride at state fairs. Since the night began with an ode to sensory overload, it’s appropriate and good that Bedard’s ode to erections — making tents in bedding, lifting the roofs off of rooms, popping out of pants like geese — concluded the night. It was positively orgiastic.
Finally, at the afterparty at Fred Wildlife Refuge, the staff of Lit Crawl Seattle was getting drunk. Someone was doing a shot off someone else’s breasts. There was a lot of screaming: “Six months! We worked on this for six months! We did it!” That sort of thing.
This enthusiasm was totally warranted. As people compared notes, it became obvious that this Lit Crawl was hands-down the best Lit Crawl ever. The readings were diverse and lively. Everything started and ended on time. The venues were excellent hosts. Everyone was gushing about their favorite events of the night: the Instant Future reading won a lot of new fans for the e-publishing imprint, the VIDA reading impressed the 150 people who crammed in to listen, and a few tipsy attendees gushed over the Seattle Public Library’s pairings of books with cider flights at Capitol Cider House.
Previous Seattle Lit Crawls were fun-but-amateurish affairs. This one felt tightly coordinated and rigorously planned. Details were thought out. Every reading reportedly felt full, whereas in the past a few superstar readings drew the majority of people while other readings were sparsely attended. These things don’t just happen on their own; a lion’s share of the credit has to go to Brian McGuigan, who took over Lit Crawl operations this year. He and his staff transformed a fun annual event into a carefully orchestrated and deeply considered celebration of what makes Seattle great. Who can blame McGuigan and his staff for getting a little drunk and giving a funny, sloppy, love-filled speech at the afterparty? Who would possibly deny them their swagger? They ended the speech with a shout of “LIT CRAWL SEATTLE 2015, BITCHES!” and they vacated the stage to the beginning of a Drake song that felt highly appropriate:
Started from the bottom now we're here/Started from the bottom now my whole team fucking here
The party was just getting started. Poet Robert Lashley was up on the balcony looking over the room. Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and Corinne Manning were getting the dance party started. Steve Barker was celebrating the signing of his very first book deal. People promoted their brand-new literary magazines. Someone was talking excitedly about the Seward Park Third Place Books opening up next year — finally, a big bookstore for the south end of town!
It was one of those moments that felt good and pure and sturdy, a well-earned celebration of something that we all built together, a moment to stop complaining and quit worrying and just appreciate what we have. And based on my view from that sweaty dance floor, where people were double-fisting cans of beer and talking about all the awesome readings they attended, I can assure you that what we have is pretty fucking great.
G. Willow Wilson, and Margaret Stohl, will discuss their work and have a book signing Saturday at University Book Store in Bellevue — a rare opportunity to hear two women talk about the amazing work they've been doing with female superheroes.
Maybe I was just in a bad mood or something, but I didn't find much enjoyment in the comics I bought yesterday. The new issue of Godzilla in Hell is a total bust — a real downer of a serious, clunky monster comic after last issue’s greatness. The 28th issue of Astro City continues a depressing trend with that series; what began as commentary on superheroes has basically become a boring superhero anthology comic. Warren Ellis’s first issue of Karnak feels like the same mainstream Warren Ellis we’ve seen a million times before: some edgy torture and a few lines of absurd, self-aware dialogue. The art by Gerardo Zaffino looks pretty cool at first, until some action happens and you realize you can’t tell what the hell is going on. (If you can explain what Karnak does to the bullet that’s fired at him in a scene late in the book, I’d love to hear it. All Zaffino drew was a blurry finger and some speed lines. I have no idea what was supposed to have happened there.)
It wasn’t all terrible. I enjoyed the first issue of The Astonishing Ant-Man by Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosanas. Spencer is writing the most fun mainstream superhero comics in the business right now, and his word-heavy comics are a delight. It takes time to read an issue of a Spencer comic, as opposed to the breezy “widescreen” approach that Ellis has been taking for a while now. But I’m a little annoyed to be getting another first issue of a comic that launched with a first issue in January of this year. I suppose this relaunch technique is supposed to attract new readers, but it just feels like the story lurched into a bad gear for a moment before correcting itself. It's an unwelcome stutter in an otherwise very funny, very big-hearted comic.
Luckily, my week was saved by the seventh issue of John Allison and Max Sarin’s Giant Days. Every issue of this comic, about three young women becoming fast friends at college, is better than the one before. You don’t have to have read the rest of the series to understand what’s going on in this issue: Esther took a class on the New Testament as a joke, but now she’s in danger of failing; Susan has engaged in a torrid, secret love affair that finds her buying condoms three boxes at a time; and Daisy is busy worrying about everyone else all the time. Allison’s script is simple and funny and character-based. Sarin’s art is cartoony and expressionistic. It’s the most enjoyable comic of the week, and the only clear-cut win in a week full of disappointments. All the bluster and sameness of the new books this week felt like silly kids' stuff when compared to this humor comic about life in college. It's sure to be a high point in your week, too.
The Seattle edition of Lit Crawl is finally here! It starts at 6 pm and continues through 8:45 (although the afterparty at Fred Wildlife Refuge will likely continue until the booze runs dry.) You can find a map and schedule here.
If you need help choosing what to do tonight, here are all eight of the itineraries we've proposed here at the Seattle Review of Books over the last week-and-a-half:
Our Publisher and Literary Journal-minded itinerary sends you from the Capitol Hill branch of the library over to the Raygun Lounge and then up to Ada's Technical Books.
A Poetry-centric itinerary finds you starting at the Sorrento, walking up to Hugo House, and then zipping over to Sole Repair.
The Readings for People Who Hate Readings trail ricochets from Capitol Cider to the Frye Art Museum and back to Capitol Cider.
The White-Dude-Free evening begins at the Frye Art Museum, continues at Sole Repair, and concludes at Fred Wildlife Refuge, which will position you perfectly for the afterparty.
The Edge-of-Your-Seat itinerary stretches from Hugo House to Fred Wildlife Refuge to the Capitol Hill branch of the library.
The Literary Fiction-Free evening begins at the Cloud Room, veers up to Ada's Technical Books, and concludes down the hill at the Pine Box.
The It's All True itinerary starts at Town Hall, heads to Office Nomads, and concludes at Elliott Bay Book Company.
The Local Favorites trail will take you from Vermillion to Still Liquor and back to Vermillion again.
But if I may be so bold as to offer you some advice: don't overthink it. You're obviously not going to see everything tonight. You're only going to see a tiny fraction of what's on offer. And that's great! What's important is that you make the most of what you do attend. Applaud your readers. Compliment them after the readings. Talk to people about what they saw. Ask someone what they're reading. Have fun. Enjoy the night.