As a co-founder of the Seattle Review of Books, I am proud to publish Donna Miscolta’s piece about minority representation in the Seattle: City of Literature anthology. This piece is a perfect example of why my partner Martin McClellan and I created this site: to engage in conversation with books and with the city, and to help bring compelling pieces of writing to an audience that cares passionately about books.
I wish I could just conclude with that statement of pride and be done with it. But the truth is, I’m writing this Note because I’m a contributor to Seattle: City of Literature, and I have to acknowledge my part in the book’s failure to represent minorities.
Last year, when I was still books editor at The Stranger, Seattle: City of Literature editor Ryan Boudinot approached me to contribute a piece to the anthology. Ryan’s idea was that I would publish a review of the book as an afterword to the book. It was, and is, a very clever idea, one that I’ve never seen done before. So Ryan sent along a mostly-assembled PDF proof copy of the book shortly before the publication deadline. I read the proof and wrote a review of the book, which you can now find at the end of Seattle: City of Literature.
In my review, I didn’t acknowledge the anthology’s nearly 90 percent whiteness that Miscolta pointed out in her review this morning. The truth is, though it's glaringly apparent to me now, I didn’t even notice the whiteness at the time. And I absolutely should have. It’s an important part of any critic’s job to keep representation in mind, by which I mean representation both in which books they choose to review and in the content of the books they review. In particular, a book claiming to represent the history and flavor of an entire literary scene should be intensely scrutinized to ensure that those claims are accurate. As Nicola Griffith told me a couple months ago, it’s vitally important to count voices, every time.
As Martin and I wrote on our About page, the Seattle Review of Books is “actively dedicated to diversity in the books that we cover, and in the reviewers who cover them.” It’s important to us that this is a part of our site’s mission statement because the thing about failures of representation is that they’re almost never made out of malicious intent. Usually, failures of representation happen because people get lazy and fall back on the default societal settings, which, in America favor straight white males. People get lazy when they’re not held accountable for their actions. And what is a critic’s role, after all, if not holding people accountable for their actions? The point is this: I should have counted, and I should have questioned, and I should have advocated for minority writers.
But of course, it’s easy to come forward and talk about what I would’ve done had I known then what I know now. What will I do to make sure I don’t wind up in this situation again? Well, institutionally, Martin and I have already announced our intention to hire an ombudsperson for the Seattle Review of Books once or twice a year to write reports cataloguing the diversity of both the books we cover and the freelancers we hire to write about books. On a personal level, this incident has taught me to count and catalog the diversity of contributors to anthologies I review in the future. And when I make mistakes — because mistakes will always happen — I promise to be transparent in my failures and explain how they came to be. There’s always something to learn by examining your mistakes
Seattle’s literary scene would be nothing without its diversity. Homogeneity does not produce meaningful culture. Members of this community who enjoy great privilege must continually remind themselves that they need to practice tireless vigilance and allyship. Every voice is valuable, and too many voices have been left out of the conversation due to inattentiveness. I’m so grateful for brave people like Donna who are willing to stand up and demand those voices be heard, because the voices that she’s advocating for are the ones that we most need to hear.
Good news! The Seattle Weekly now has a weekly comics column in whch a local cartoonist illustrates an interview with a local band. In the first installment, the fabulous Robyn Jordan illustrates Janice Headley's interview with the band Childbirth. If you don't know Childbirth, they're a poppy punk band that wears hospital gowns onstage and sing catchy, awesome feminist songs like "I Only Fucked You As a Joke."
This is great stuff, and it manages to highlight our amazing comics scene and our amazing music scene, simultaneously. What's not to love?
We love a good book review here at SRoB, and "Donald Trump Reviews The Lord of the Rings," over at the Tusk, is a wonderful book review. This is what we mean when we keep grabbing people by the shoulders and shaking them violently and shouting "BOOK REVIEWS ARE LITERATURE!" This piece employs satire to comment on a book while also addressing current events. Go read it. (Also, sorry about the grabbing-you-by-the-shoulders-and-shouting thing. We just get a little overexcited every now and then, is all.)
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.
The news broke today that Twitter is considering ways to allow users to write posts that are longer than its current 140-character limit. This is, obviously, a bad idea. Twitter with no limits is just blogging. Everyone has problems squeezing words into a tweet every now and again, but the constraint is what makes Twitter magical.
I'd argue that the constraint is the thing that makes Twitter so appealing to literary types, too. Most of my favorite writers are on Twitter, and they are unbelievably fun. The brevity plays out like a cocktail party: a few witticisms, some chatter about current events, and a little polite conversation. There may be a way for Twitter to handle long tweets that doesn't ruin this magic formula — if photos and links didn't count toward the 140-character limit, that would be fine with me, for example — but they'd better exercise an abundance of caution as they plan for the future. With all the ads and noise and celebrity on Twitter lately, I'm sure I'm not the only person actively looking for a reason to quit the service.
Sorry, that got pretty dark pretty quick. I've just loved Twitter for a long time now, and news like this is disheartening. For a lighter take on today's gossip, you can't do better than Eric Raymond's tweet:
"Haiku eyeing removal of 5/7/5 limits, CEO of Poetry believes the form will 'still hold up pretty good.'"— Eric Raymond (@pontiuslabar) September 29, 2015
This post at Lady Business begins:
This project demonstrates that SFF books by or about cis women are less likely to win awards than books by or about cis men. Trans and nonbinary authors do not win awards at all, and trans or nonbinary protagonists are extremely rare. Overall, there were more award-winning books written by cis men about cis men than there were books by women about anybody...
While of course the news they deliver is bad, it's heartening to see other people taking up Nicola Griffith's charge to count the number of womens' voices in literature. Go read the whole thing and then spread it far and wide.
Marcellus Turner, the City Librarian at Seattle Public Library, has issued a letter responding to public criticism of the library's rebranding campaign, which I wrote about last week. Turner writes that the rebranding has...
...generated a flurry of interest and opinions from media representatives and the public. A recent exchange with a passionate Library supporter got at the heart of the concerns voiced by many around the Library’s proposed rebranding. That supporter didn’t see the need for changing the library name or brand.
Turner says this was proof that "we didn’t do a good job setting the stage for why we need to do this." He then goes on to claim that technology and changes in the publishing industry "are contributing to the decline in the circulation of print materials and an increase in digital use in libraries across the country." He admits that library leadership nationwide is in flux:
Nationally and internationally, our professional organizations are working with think tanks and agencies to understand what is happening in libraries, how our role and value can be strengthened, and how to rebrand the profession accordingly.
This hints at something that I pointed out in my earlier post: libraries around the country are devaluing the work of librarians in favor of an institutional shift to something more like community centers. Librarians argue that those declines in circulation of print materials are happening because libraries are raising fees and reducing the number of titles patrons can check out at any given time. Nationally, they say, library leadership is stripping libraries of the very things that make them special in order to prove their own point. Locally, it's certainly interesting to note that the word "librarian" appears nowhere in Turner's letter, except for his own job title.
There can be no doubt that the role of libraries in American society should change as technology changes. The internet has changed the way we access information. But a smart organization would respond to this information explosion by emphasizing the importance of its highly trained staff. Librarians can connect you with books that an Amazon algorithm simply can't. Librarians can teach you how to filter out the excessive noise of online research to help you find the information that's truly relevant. In an age of information overabundance, we need librarians more than ever. It's a shame that Turner doesn't seem to realize this.
As a response to Turner's letter, I'd encourage you to fill out the rebranding survey with the importance of librarians in mind. And I'd remind you that the next Library Board of Trustees Meeting happens at the Central Library at 5 pm on Wednesday, October 28th. That's your best opportunity to publicly speak directly to the board about what matters. Turner's letter is proof that the library hears public outcry on this matter loud and clear. Now we need to make sure they understand our message: Seattle's librarians are what makes our libraries special.
1. Say No Lame!
Say no lame! Say we care. Terror can’t tell
and bears a crown in the kitchen, may we?
Who cares: cunt can’t battle, key won’t tear.
Ugly decay, care for Pa and tell, we lonely.
So jail men care, met a lavish man, met a landlord.
(Eggpisode loiter ha! Advance don’t at all, assuming mellow)
Me, countless, out to tear. Sane no, lend me.
Say I can’t rain, end me.
At least sit well, we command:
Men say he but tally saying no, lame!
Who can respond. None say none! My wind, way low.
Lie, Egg, more lonely and bare, a callous lock.
Truly true Lass pause and care.
Allow oat to chant:
Let me say align, align,
Titan of Adam, you seem dense.
Let me say in-law, in-law
I won’t lay an eggy egg.
2. Say You Less
Say you less, lay.
Let’s say we yoke you.
You wrote: lard land more, you’re ever less, weep for you.
Epi-sale and jot well, lame.
Leave! Let’s land, she’s none, a lone planet.
Come, have a long life and then glow-glow.
Delete you last.
Kick her trimming.
Kick her trimming.
Some land more. None land far.
Pa, you kill none, paw-paw.
Tad late, sit and read.
Tad late, doubt what you’ve read and ban joints of cliché .
Robin’s yokelet glossary aka cover Ma’s envy.
Epi and phony, view well, limber.
Solely in case, mate more so.
And then hatch later, event very parent.
Come and lay me low.
See your coop jingle and then accept sherry.
Leave! Who cares: bake her.
Who cares: natal and body, discipline is an art of rank.
Who cares: care free epi-power, it is a type of power.
Who cares: a blasé son brags, a technique.
3. None Say None
None say dumb, none say none.
Yoke behind and be fair, only to piss on.
Call Ma, arrive as we care to come and watch you comb.
Save and grin, wee and we, Hen revolts and bets on awe.
Ravine lone mankind, ravine luscious sex.
Duet in-law chills and then blames flan.
He’s dirty, lays share and then cares drawl surface.
Beware-beware girl, might and navel can fray.
Mate and then sing, fate and then fake.
Read louder, only the gruel lacks and swells.
Let me think, say grinning could only cap our way.
Pie pie rye beyond your sale: what do man and planet doubt about?
Fly beyond and land more: domain plan is forgot about.
Fuckingness and then sexy do agree.
Met a jerk and then laid a proper yoke.
Call Ma, discipline organizes an analytical space.
Say we, find an epi-norm, land more, tally more?
4. I said to Me
Me, me, river.
Then Egg, I taught: the key to baggage is tot and tot
and the disciplinary space is always, basically, cellular.
Send mass, send lard, send game, end, let go.
Same, lay me there, I said to me.
Revel in bland night and permit joy, boy.
How can I say for we?
Sac à la King, really, add pinch of salt.
Carry your noun pre-dead!
5. Sac à la, Really
Sac à la, Really, none say none.
Egg-nagged Pa repented: Say very, none say dumb!
Ailing Pa cannot pee, pie pass for all, care for cheese?
Really! Really! land more!
Sac à la King feigning contract, rat trap!
Really! Really! land more!
Beyond day, not yet. Say more aka partly combed Lad
Yes, Pa. Retake mothball. Really. Day more, die more.
Really! Really! land more!
Sac à la King feigning contract, rat trap!
Really! Really! land more!
6. Ah! Pie
Ah! Pie tall and wit-late. Epi-pep, sit well
like Pie, taste and count languid-land.
Lay, care, locate, possess and then
care about land-me, why?
Midday! I solely laid beyond nit for jerk!
Midday! I then read to achieve wifely.
I name lame, kind and lame, recite to fetal bland Man.
Boy. I grin and care, clean later,
recite size to him: The Lonely and the Restless.
(I lament solely coyly to universe and you.)
Say now, say this is a noun for Pa, none Man?
7. Oh Tizzy
Oh tizzy of tame-boy, do vent joy,
oh tizzy come and land more, oh tizzy convey
none on land…?
Oh tizzy rain more, oh tizzy make man thought,
oh tizzy same thought,
oh tizzy lay off thought, oh tizzy layaway thought…?
— I say sac, I mourn, taught by govern and lay.
I say layout the treatise! —
Kind of lone-man? Kind of late sing-along?
Chuck baggage merrily
Chuck baggage and then miss you
I solely lay beyond nit for jerk.
Galleycat has assembled excerpts of the ten most frequently challenged library books of 2015. Seattle's own Sherman Alexie and Ellen Forney are right up at the top of the list with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Go give these books a try, and if you're interested in reading further, please acquire copies of the books from your local library or independent bookstore. Banned Book Week isn't just about celebrating the authors who push the boundaries of what's acceptable; it's also about celebrating the heroes who make those books available for everyone.
Our thanks, again, to our current event sponsor The Seattle Antiquarian Bookfair. If you love books, especially rare, not to mention ephemera, and collectables, you’ll really enjoy the fair. There’s a great video on our sponsor page that shows a view at last years event. Don’t miss it — and be sure to thanks them for sponsoring The Seattle Review of Books.
We love our partners. They allow us to bring you the the reviews, poetry, and notes every day of the week. We don’t do advertising like other websites. Our sponsors work with us directly to bring you a good experience. It’s all part of our goal to make online advertising something that benefits readers and publishers. Take a look at what we’re offering, you might just find something you love.
Published September 28, 2015, at 11:52am
Edward Snowden's revelations changed the world, but we as a nation have done almost nothing to solve the problem of NSA wiretapping.. In a biography of Snowden, cartoonist Ted Rall argues that our inaction is letting a hero down.
MONDAY It’s not very often that I send you out to Bellevue, but tonight I bring you a very good reason to head east: the Bellevue branch of University Book Store hosts an evening with a number of poets reading from Raising Lily Ledbetter, a compelling anthology of poetry about women at work that I reviewed a few weeks ago. Readers include Carolyne Wright, Eugenia Toledo, Kathya Alexander, Deborah Woodard, Judith Roche, Erin Fristad, and Mary Ellen Talley.
TUESDAY Cartoonist Ted Rall will discuss his excellent comic-book biography of Edward Snowden at Town Hall tonight. He’ll be interviewed onstage by some jerk named Paul Constant, who press materials inform us is the co-founder of a site called the Seattle Review of Books.
So because we here at SRoB have a conflict-of-interest rule that insists we provide an alternate event on nights when we’re taking part in a reading, our ALTERNATE TUESDAY: event is a doozy: Seattle Arts and Lectures presents an evening with poets Mary Szybist and Robert Wrigley. Szybist is interested in what it means to have a body, and Wrigley writes about nature and spirituality in a very interesting way. Expect a smart discussion about corporeality and its limits.
WEDNESDAY We’ve got a two-fer tonight: First up, awesome small press festival Short Run, which is preparing a month’s worth of events in October, presents a Zine and Comix Fair in the lobby of Northwest Film Forum. After the fair, though, you should head down to Vermillion for the 5th anniversary celebration of Seattle’s other great small-press festival, the APRIL Festival. Readers include Stacey Levine, who is one of the best short story writers in all of Seattle and such an incredible reader of her own work that she released a single on Sub Pop, and Don Mee Choi, who is one of my favorite local poets. Think of it as a mini-lit crawl with two stops!
THURSDAY Ravenna Third Place Books hosts Ryan Boudinot, Paul Constant, Eric Reynolds, and Sonora Jha having a panel discussion about Seattle’s literary scene to celebrate the release of Boudinot’s new book, Seattle: City of Literature. Reynolds is an editor at Fantagraphics, which means he works on some of the best comics in America. Boudinot, most recently, is the author of The Octopus Rises. And Jha is the local author of a great novel called Foreign that was for some reason only published in India, but which you can buy at Elliott Bay Book Company.
And because I’m on that panel, your ALTERNATE THURSDAY event is at University Book Store, where the wonderful writer Lauren Groff presents her new and much-ballyhooed novel Fates and Furies, which is described as a “portrait of a modern marriage told with the fury and force of a Greek myth.”
FRIDAY Hugo House hosts a big splashy launch party for Seattle: City of Literature, featuring Ryan Boudinot, Rick Simonson, Jim Lynch, Elissa Washuta, Charles Mudede, and Brian McGuigan.
SATURDAY Elliott Bay Book Company hosts Ian Brennan and Bob Forrest. The authors will discuss Brennan's novella, Sister Maple Syrup Eyes, and Forrest’s memoir Running With Monsters. Forrest apparently has something to do with a show called Celebrity Rehab, and his book includes reminiscences of River Phoenix’s death.
SUNDAY The Beacon Hill branch of Seattle Public Library hosts a free screening of the movie The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 and also hosts a discussion of the book on which the movie is based. The film series is set to conclude this fall, which makes this an interesting time to discuss the final book in the series. Half of the book has already been (poorly) adapted, so what’s the second half going to be like? Is there a chance that the Hunger Games film series can rebound and reclaim the greatness of its second installment? Is Mockingjay even a good book to begin with? These questions, and more, will finally be settled once and for all. (No pressure!)
This absolutely wonderful article by Tiff Fehr, a senior developer at the New York Times (and Seattleite, now once-removed) will delight all word nerds early on. But keep reading, it includes actually non-trivial life-advice. (Also, her tl;dr burn is sick).
I doubt any readers stumbled over the word unlearning. We know negative prefixes (a-, anti-, dys-, in-, ir-, non-, un-, etc) and how they convey the inverse or opposite2 of a concept. Yet there was a time when that was new to “common” languages like English. To make it happen, negative prefixes needed to make their way via translation from the elite, literate world to the written local dialect and then into common speech.
Un- is fun among the negatives because it can express both a lack of something (unhappy) but also actions not yet performed (unread) or actions undone (undone). One of the early uses of the English root unlearn was by educated elites when they referred to common people lacking in education as the unlearned. Illiteracy was a huge socioeconomic hurdle—those “unlearned” people had to take oral recitations of translated works on faith, including rather important things like legal documents and mass. Unlearning emerged not long after, within the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was a cultural revolt in Europe, starting in 1517 with Martin Luther’s “Ninety-Five Theses”—in Latin, railing against a corrupt, oppressive church—and concluding around 1617, shortly after “The Tempest” and the final works of Shakespeare.
Brian Merchant talks to Joe Haldeman about his classic SF novel, The Forever War.
As William Gibson notes in the blurb on the front of my paperback copy, “To say that The Forever War is the best science fiction war novel ever written is to damn it with faint praise.” It’s one of the best books about war, period, and it’s telling that the other accolades listed come from literary lights like Jonathan Lethem and Junot Diaz, who calls it “perhaps the most important war novel written since Vietnam.”
Haldeman was a veteran of that conflict—“I was drafted against my will, and went off to fight somebody else’s war,” as he put it—and the book projects the contours of his duty and subsequent return to civilian life into a future marked by what is almost literally forever war. Its power lies in the expert co-mingling of hyperbolic allegory with gritty speculation. It’s about a war that literally damn near never ends, one that spans the furthest reaches of space and time; the fighting can happen anywhere and is potentially everywhere. The protagonist, an almost-anagrammed stand-in for Haldeman named Mandella, is hurled across far reaches of the galaxy to fight a poorly understood, apparently undefeatable foe.
Seattle's own Real Change looks at banned books, and why they get banned. Surprise! It's because people are small minded about differences.
People attempt to ban or bar books from schools or libraries for a variety of reasons, but increasingly, the most challenged books are either written by or about people of color. The top 10 most challenged books in 2014 included novels, comic books and picture books. Half of them are written by or feature prominent characters who are people of color. Others deal with same-sex parents, personal sexuality and abuse.
Friend of the SRoB Rahawa Haile wrote this lovely piece this week about losing her grandmother, Florida, Eritrea, refugees, and how one person can hold all of those things inside at once. Such a thoughtful, honest, and beautiful piece of writing.
My grandmother was born to the Italian lira, grew up under the British pound, revolted against the Ethiopian birr, lived under the American dollar in order to raise me, and died, finally, buried under her country’s first currency, the Eritrean nakfa. She was home to me, my link to a land generations had fought for and to the sand in Florida on which I played. A reminder of how far and against what odds my blood had traveled for the promise of autonomy. And now she was gone.
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 #263 💫✨There is a place for weird and wondrous fiction. There is a place for me. (And you.)✨💫 pic.twitter.com/dtQp8StDsA— Rahawa Haile (@RahawaHaile) September 20, 2015
Short Story of the Day #267 Tomorrow I fly to Miami and Monday I come back, but in that time I will have found a way to free myself forever.— Rahawa Haile (@RahawaHaile) September 25, 2015
This month's Humble Bundle features a whole passel of comics that have been banned. (In case you're not familiar with the premise, the Humble Comics Bundle offers e-book editions of comics for a single low price, with a set-your-own-amount of that price going directly to charity.) A lot of the books in this Bundle are first volumes of great series — Bone, Barefoot Gen — and others are wonderful standalone comics from artists like Julie Doucet, Leah Hayes, Chester Brown, and Jim Woodring. At least one of them is outright terrible — Garth Ennis's The Boys was an awful dirty joke of a comic that unjustly tied up artist Darick Robertson for way, wayyyy too long. Still, if The Boys is the worst book in there, I like them odds.
Published September 25, 2015, at 11:57am
Seattle author Adam Rakunas did something very interesting with his sci-fi noir novel: he made his main character a labor organizer. That installed his book into a long (but largely forgotten) tradition of fiction about unions.
Dear all literate adults of drinking age in Seattle: The Seattle Public Library is hosting a happy hour at the Diller Room on Monday, October 19th. Why more libraries don't encourage drinking, frankly, is beyond me. This happy hour is part of a new program that's running next month. I'll let SPL explain:
Throughout October The Seattle Public Library brings you Booktoberfest, a celebration of books and beer at venues all over the city. Check out additional events, including Librarians’ Revenge Trivia Rounds, Bookish Happy Hours, ‘Ales from the Crypt: Spooky Stories ‘n Suds and more. Come join us, grab a pint, and get bookish!
I'd also encourage you to go and meet your librarians and tell them how much you love them and then buy them a beer because librarians are magic people who deserve all the beer you can throw in their general direction. (Related: Have you commented on SPL's brand survey yet? Please do and then tell your friends to do the same; this is important.)