Seattle’s cultural innovators of 2020

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From the page to the digital stage 

Writers may have a reputation for reclusiveness, but 2020 was all about the literary scene coming together in community — writing and reading all alone, together. 

Washington State Poet Claudia Castro Luna created a web forum called Poems to Lean On for people to submit the poetry that got them through isolation. As Seattle’s Silent Reading Party moved from its Hotel Sorrento Fireside Room to Zoom digs, attendance soared. Ticket sales quintupled in its first online session, according to event founder Christopher Frizzelle, with celebrated guest authors and the New York Times in attendance. 

Hugo House also made a successful switch to virtual literary get-togethers. While its shiny, still-new-feeling Capitol Hill home remained deserted, the beloved literary center helped many writers come out of their shells with writer-hosted Solitude Social Club happy hours. 

Also proven popular at Hugo House: a new Quarantine Write-In series with Rebecca Agiewich (now led by poet Naa Akua); and, in partnership with the Seattle Public Library and Seattle Writes, the hourlong “Write With” sessions, a free drop-in writing circle for all ages and genres of writing. In both cases, local authors tease out a prompt and leave space for solo writing, the result of which attendees can share in “a mutually supportive, welcoming environment.”

Local indie bookstores brought the community together, too. Longtime customers picked up books at curbside (online orders sometimes came with sweet notes of support), attended virtual readings and signed up en masse for literary subscriptions boxes. 

“Authors have been very, very supportive of us, too, ordering books from us and reaching out to their followers on social media,” added Elliott Bay Books’ Karen Maeda Allman recently. She mentioned Jeff Vandermere signing postcards with special messages for customers, Maria Semple giving bookstore gift certificates away on her social media, as well as a long list of authors like Molly Wizenberg, Pam Mandel and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore urging people to order their books through the shop. 

Virtual author events surged in popularity, too. Seattle Arts & Lectures is grateful for the “forced” digital innovation. People with disabilities and homebound bookworms now have access to lectures, along with anyone anywhere in the world. Plus, says Rebecca Hoogs, the organization’s associate director, “We have heard that BIPOC audience members may feel more comfortable coming to a SAL event when attending doesn’t require entering a traditionally white venue.”

One, perhaps unexpected boon: a new kind of intimacy you can’t get in a huge venue. “The viewer and the author are face to face. The audience is a witness to one person speaking, or two people having a conversation. You can see every facial expression. It’s strangely (and wonderfully) almost a more vulnerable space,” Hoogs says. “Though we are distanced, the distance is also removed.”

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