New Hire: Sarah Glidden doesn't believe in the Seattle freeze

For as long as Seattle has been a city, people have come to town and people have left town. Earlier this year, the Seattle Review of Books introduced a feature called Exit Interview, in which we talk with an author who recently left town about their Seattle experience. The natural pair to that feature is New Hire, an interview with an author who’s just arrived here. (If you have any suggestions for a subject of an upcoming Exit Interview or a New Hire, please drop us a line.) Our second New Hire is cartoonist Sarah Glidden, who moved to Seattle last month. Her excellent first book, How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, is a conversational and honest account of Glidden’s birthright Israel trip, which challenged her progressive beliefs. Her next book about traveling the Middle East, titled Rolling Blackouts, will be published in fall of 2016 by Drawn & Quarterly. Glidden’s comics are exactly what good journalism should be: curious, transparent storytelling with strong perspective and a solid moral center.

What brings you to Seattle? Where are you coming from?

This move is a bit of a big deal for me, because for the past four years I've been semi-nomadic. I had moved from Brooklyn to Angoulême, France, for an artists residency in 2012, where I lived for a year. Then I met my current partner, Fran, at a comics festival in Colombia, and, after some more time living out of a suitcase, ended up living with him in his hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina for a year and a half. We talked about moving to the US, but we weren't sure where to settle down.

For years, Seattle was always a city I considered moving to. Some of my closest friends when I was living in New York were this group of people from Seattle, and a bunch of them decided to move back in 2006 to start a non-profit journalism collective (now known as the Seattle Globalist). My mother and stepfather also moved to Vancouver, BC around the same time, so I started coming out to the Pacific Northwest for visits. Seattle started growing on me, especially its natural beauty. When Fran and I came out here for a visit together, he fell in love with it too, and we started talking seriously about moving here.

We considered some other cities, but in the end Seattle just felt right for us. We have friends here, my family is close by, it's green even in the winter. This is the first time since I moved to New York at the age of 22 that I’ve come to a new city with the intention of staying. It’s pretty exciting and also terrifying in a way.

What do you think Seattle can do for you as an author?

It can give me some space to think. This is a great city for taking walks, and walking is pretty important for me; it’s how I resolve writer’s block or even just get ideas. If I don’t have a space to do that, I can end up staying in my studio all day, which isn't very healthy. There are so many incredible spots within the city that feel like an escape to someone from the east coast: parks with incredible views of the mountains, giant trees, beaches...and these are things that I can visit without taking significant time out of my work.

I'm also excited to see what kind of work I can do here once I'm finished with my current book. I work in non-fiction, and usually the comics I make are inspired by the things around me that make me curious. I already have so many ideas for stories based on what I'm being exposed to in Seattle, issues that are unique to this city but that I also think would resonate with people anywhere.

What do you think you can contribute to Seattle's literary scene?

I’m really excited to get involved with the literary scene here in whatever way I can, although I don’t really know what that will look like yet. I’ve recently started teaching comics, and I would love to do more of that here.

I’m also just looking forward to meeting other writers, getting to know their work, going to events. I even signed up for a class at the Hugo House, though I really shouldn’t be doing that right now (I should be finishing my book!)

Seattle has a vibrant and fast-growing comics community. Can you talk about your experience with the community here? Were you already familiar with the scene?

The comics community here was definitely a factor when we decided to move here. I remember visiting the Fantagraphics store during my very first visit to Seattle and feeling like I was making a pilgrimage. I think I even had a friend take my picture in front of the shop window. I had just started making comics at that time and Fanta was putting out some of the work I loved the most, so the whole city felt a little more extraordinary because of that.

During my visits I started meeting other cartoonists who are based here and in Portland, and I started getting a real sense for how special the community was. I got to know Eroyn Franklin pretty well, and then watched from afar with admiration as she and Kelly Froh started Short Run and turned it into one of the most talked-about indie festivals in the country.

It didn't take long to get involved with the scene once I moved here. I've already taught a workshop through Short Run's Summer School series and I'll be helping out with the festival at the end of the month (you can find me helping out at the bake sale table). I'm pretty busy for the next couple of months, but after that I'd really love to get even more involved.

If you could add one feature to Seattle's artistic community, what would it be?

I don't really have an answer for this one! So far, I have everything I need here. I guess I wish public transportation were a little better so it would be easier to get to all the different neighborhoods where so many of the studios, galleries, event spaces, art supply shops are. But from talking to people who have lived here for a long time, its clear that the state of public transportation in Seattle is not a new gripe to have.

Has anything about life in Seattle surprised you so far?

People are incredibly friendly. I heard so much about the “Seattle freeze” before we moved here, and I had prepared myself for a kind of cold city. I was actually really nervous about that! If you're a person who loves people but you work from home, the interactions you have when you go to the grocery store or run errands start to become very important to you. New York is full of people who are ready to just start talking to strangers at the slightest provocation (to the extent that some people find it invasive and annoying) and I was sad to leave that behind. But people here seem to be very warm and genuine and happy to chat. I don't know where Seattle's chilly reputation comes from. Maybe its a defense to keep more people from moving here. It's also possible that I'll see a different side to the city once winter sets in. For now I'm still in the honeymoon phase of living here and its still sunny out, so I'll enjoy it while it lasts.