Talking with literary dynamo Kate Berwanger about why "it takes a boss-ass hustling queen to make it happen"

Every once in a while a new figure bursts through the walls of Seattle literary scene like some kind of superhero. The most recent shaker-upper, Kate Berwanger, founded the Assembly Literary Open Mic, a twice-monthly cross-town reading event that happens on the first Wednesday of each month at Screwdriver Bar in Belltown, and the third Wednesday of each month at Corvus and Co. on Capitol Hill.

But two readings a month weren't enough for Berwanger. She then launched a twice-yearly DIY show called Spring for Zines! and Fall for Zines! And that's just the beginning: Berwanger also launched a Kickstarter to present an ambitious slate of readings across Seattle all year long. She's interested in hosting women-fronted events that feature DIY and emerging literary artists.

Berwanger took some time out of her incredibly busy schedule to talk about her love of events and what she's working on right now. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our discussion. If you'd like to support Berwanger's work, her Kickstarter is running for three more days.

I know you have your story on your website, but I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your journey as a writer?

I've been writing for two decades — mostly short fiction. And I guess I don't really have a need to play the game. I'm not interested in seeking out a publisher, and being on the New York Times bestseller list and stuff like that. I self-publish my own fiction because I like keeping it DIY and grassroots. I would rather just have a dedicated handful of people that care about what I write, I suppose.

What is it about events that you like? Can you talk about the first event where you realized, 'I want to do this for the long haul?'

I think the first really big thing I did was a zine release party a year ago. I loved getting a group of people together who may not have gotten together on their own. And there are a lot of writers who aren't published who have a lot of really amazing things to say. Seattle has so much fucking talent, and I want to showcase that.

It sounds like for you, hosting events is a way to create community.

Yeah. Writing is solitary. But there's a lot of cross pollinating that happens when you have indie events, because you bring in different artists or readers who have a different following who may not have met each other otherwise. This is how we make friends and this is how we cultivate community — by building together on top of what already exists.

What do you think Seattle could do to improve that spirit of community?

It's not necessarily one cohesive community here. For writers, it's a disjointed Venn diagram where there's a bunch of — I don't want to call them cliques, but there's a lot of small communities and they all bunch together.

Founding Assembly has been a really incredible experience, because there are so many platforms that exist for performative work or spaces for people to share polished pieces. But Assembly is full of people who write, but don't necessarily identify as a writers. What's so special about it is it's an open and inviting space for people to share their work who want to get better. It gives people the opportunity to improve their craft and make new friends and cultivate community. It's like my baby — a really, really beautiful, open group of folks.

How do you see your events relating with, say, Short Run, which also has a pretty strong zine component?

I tabled at Short Run last year. It's very well known, and a huge event. I feel like Spring and Fall for Zines are kind of Short Run's distant cousins. Our last event, we had 30-some vendors. We have 40 this time. And there is some overlap — a lot of the people who table with us have been involved in Short Run, but there are also people who are maybe just getting into zines, too.

Can you think of any examples of the DIY scene in Seattle right now that are especially interesting or exciting? Any new artists who the readers of the Seattle Review of Books might not know about yet?

Are you familiar with Poseurs?


Emily Denton started a pay-what-you-can yoga program. And she puts out a zine — I think monthly, now. My thing is if you want something to happen and it doesn't exist, you have to create it. It's not easy — it takes a boss-ass hustling queen to make it happen. I feel like Emily's done really well at that.

And then on August 26th, you're kicking off a new reading series titled Surreal Storytelling with Strange Women, and the readers include Meredith Clark, Vivian Hua, and Anastacia-Renee. Can you talk about the thinking behind the reading?

I'm really into surreal fiction. Are you familiar with Aimee Bender?

Oh God, I love her. She's a fantastic writer, one of the greats.

Yeah, she's a big reason why I'm doing this. I'm really into magical realism, specifically written by women. I want this to be an evening of weird, strange storytelling fronted by women. The first part of this series is going to be experimental — I don't even know what I'm doing. I'm just going with it, trying to learn from it. But that's okay. It's Seattle, right? Everyone's going to eat it up. It'll be amazing.