I do not believe it is hyperbolic to say that a little piece of Seattle died on the day that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stopped publishing a daily print edition. The Seattle Times publishes some wonderful journalism, but a single newspaper cannot accurately portray the entire soul of a city. In the years since the P-I print edition died, though, we have seen some significant online publications grow to fill that void. To name just three of those publications: the Seattle Globalist has tracked Seattle’s growth into a world-class city with world-sized problems, Seattlish has become a beautifully vulgar Bible for City Hall-watchers and Washington polcy wonks, and the South Seattle Emerald has given voice to the city’s south end.
The Emerald is an especially significant publication because it gives voice to a part of the city that has always been underserved in the media. For decades, local television stations, daily newspapers, and alternative weeklies portrayed a Seattle that, geographically speaking, started at Pioneer Square and spread only northward, past the ship canal and into Ballard and Fremont and other lily-white neighborhoods. The Emerald isn’t the first publication to cover south Seattle, but it’s quickly developed a voice that feels uniquely like the south end: proud, loud, and smart. The Emerald carries none of the 90s-era detached snark that dominated alternative media in this city for way too long: it’s unafraid to talk about race, it’s eager to advocate for the voiceless, and it’s thrilled to promote art as a participant and not just a bystander.
This week, the Emerald is launching an anthology in conjunction with Third Place Books’ in-house publisher, Third Place Press. Emerald Reflections: A South Seattle Emerald Anthology collects poems, visual art, and prose originally published on the Emerald’s website. Edited by the Emerald’s publisher, Marcus Harrison Green, the pieces provide a mission statement for the Emerald, and for the city that it represents.
The Emerald’s enthusiastic institutional voice is Green’s voice, and his introduction is a characteristic love letter to the south end of Seattle:
The richness of culture and ethnic diversity bursting from its borders is unparalleled anywhere else in America. From restaurants where Tagalog hums over the sounds of street cars along Rainer Avenue to coffee shops where Ethiopian baristas serve a blend of Harrar, its powerful aroma of blueberries drifting up the nostrils of passersby, who will later on flood into music lounges, adding their personal hue to a mixture of complexions, genders, and creeds; all of them housed under one ceiling, congregated in collective experience.
More than half of the Emerald anthology is made up of poetry. (And each of the three disciplines in Reflections are kept strictly separated from each other: poetry in one section, art in another, prose in the end; I wonder if the flow of the book might be a little more surprising if all the elements were intermingled.) The book really begins with a wonderful barbaric yawp from Paul Nelson, a long tumbling breathless monologue that opens with the sentence “& yes he was from Seattle.” From there, Nelson tags any number of Seattle inflection points, from dog parks to May Day riots to the city’s frustrating eagerness to bellow a thoughtless “no” to anything new. The poems are an atlas of the city’s many fingerprint-unique features, from Koon Woon’s stately tribute to Beacon Hill to Martha Silano’s meditation on crows which extends from one end of the universe to the other to Nikkita Oliver’s ode to Metro’s 7 route as a synecdoche for modern Seattle.
The prose portion of the book is largely interested in race. Sharon H. Chang’s profile of Georgia Stewart McDade begins in the segregated south in 1945 and stretches all the way to the present day, when McDade celebrates her 70th birthday after a long career teaching English at Tacoma Community College. Marilee Jolin reflects on what it means to be white. Amir Islam examines his lifelong friendship with Macklemore to discuss what good white allyship means. Jeff Nguyen examines the complicated generational politics of the Vietnamese-American community. Lola Peters examines the concept of gaslighting, and examines why it’s experiencing a moment of cultural ubiquity.
Reflections closes with a transcription of a speech by Green, addressing the question of whether we’re any closer to the “mountaintop of racial harmony” that Martin Luther King, Jr discussed. The answer, of course, is that it’s complicated, but Green finds small signs of progress right here in Seattle, in the form of people who are trying to make the city a better place. You won’t find any easy answers in Reflections, but you will find dozens of people who want to add to this citywide conversation about space and bodies and history and prejudice. Seattle is a better place for them.
Paul is a co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. He has written for The Progressive, Newsweek, Re/Code, the Utne Reader, the LA Times, the New York Observer, and many North American alternative weeklies. Paul has worked in the book business for two decades, starting as a bookseller (originally at Borders Books and Music, then at Boston's grand old Brattle Bookshop and Seattle's own Elliott Bay Book Company) and then becoming a literary critic. Formerly the books editor for the Stranger, Paul is now a fellow at Civic Ventures, a public policy incubator based out of Seattle.
Follow Paul Constant on Twitter: @paulconstant