Seattle, USA

Seattle became the 28th City of Literature in October 2017 on the same day as Bucheon (South Korea), Durban (South Africa), Lillehammer (Norway), Milan (Italy), Utrecht (Netherlands), Manchester (UK) and Québec City (Canada) joined the existing 20 Cities of Literature in the Creative Cities Network.

Situated on the western seaboard of the United States of America, in the state of Washington, Seattle is one of America’s most populous cities with over 650,000 people, rising to 3.5 million when you sweep in the wider region.

Seattle is a city of both high tech and evergreen aspects. It is fringed by sea, mountains and forests, and has thousands of acres of parkland, rightfully earning the name “Emerald City”. It is known around the world for its thriving tech industry. Microsoft and Amazon.com have made Seattle their home, to name just two.

1. Vibrant Literary Community

Seattle offers a rich literary community with events, libraries, publishers of all kinds, writing programmes and courses happening all year round. The city has some 25 booksellers, six print publishers and small presses and twelve public libraries.

2. Spoken Word Scene

Seattle delivers a spoken word scene for the academic and the aspiring writers of the city. Town Hall Seattle presents lectures on science, culture, and civics as part of its active programme schedule. Long-time local landmark University Book Store hosts and presents more than 500 author events each year. The Elliott Bay Book Company also offers, on average, ten author readings each week in their intimate reading room.

3. Amazon.com

A lot has changed in the bookselling and publishing world since 1995, when a Seattle startup started to sell books online. Love it or loathe it, Amazon has played a central role in the recent transformation of the book selling and publishing industries and is likely to remain a dominant force for a good while yet. Its global headquarters are still in Seattle, but the company no longer needs an introduction to people who ever held a book or kindle. A substantial part have become click-to-buy customers. And that is no mean feat.

4. Independent Bookshops

Photo by Joe Mabel.

But you don’t need to be cloud-based to be a successful book retailer in Seattle. The bricks-and-mortar Elliott Bay Books Company was founded in 1973 by Walt Carr and Peter Arron and celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2013, after an ambitious relocation. The store is home to more than 150,000 titles and hosts over 500 author events each year.

There are many other successful booksellers located in the city.

5. Inspirational Setting

Seattle is well known for inspiring writers with tales of the Blue Moon Tavern, where Kerouac spent time and Allen Ginsberg who wandered through town in February of 1956.

Seattle’s most acclaimed writer is National Book Award winner Sherman Alexie, whose Indian Killer, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven remain some of the best introductions to Seattle and its cloud-covered skyline.

Other Seattle writers who claim Native heritage include popular novelist Garth Stein, known for The Art of Racing in the Rain and memoirist Elissa Washuta with My Body is a Book of Rules.

6. “Libraries for all”

Photo copyright by Bobak Ha’Eri CC-BY-3.0 (cropped).

Seattle was the first library in the US to pass a library bond measure in November 1998. Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved a $196.4 million “Libraries for All” bond measure to double the square footage of Seattle’s neighborhood libraries and build a new Central Library on the existing site.

7. Youth Programme

Encouraging the next generation of writers from Seattle, youth writing programmes are a central part of the literary community programming. Learning centre Hugo House has a strong teen programme offering drop-in writing classes, writing camps for more intense development and open mic night, Stage Fright, helping young performers get over the first time jitters of reading their work on stage.

8. Hotbed of Publishing

In addition to being the home of amazon.com, Seattle has a thriving publishing scene with houses and small presses of national reputation.

There is a huge variety in the community – Sasquatch Books, together with their children’s imprint, Little Bigfoot, is one of the country’s leading independent presses, Fantagraphics is a world leading publisher of comics and graphic novels, and Copper Canyon Press and Wave Books are two independent poetry publishers.

9. APRIL Festival

APRIL is a festival of small press publishing that happens every March in Seattle that aims to connect readers with small press writers and publishers. APRIL began as Small Press Festival (SPF), a month of events organized by Pilot Books in 2011. After Pilot Books closed in summer 2011, SPF changed its name to Authors, Publishers and Readers of Independent Literature, and APRIL was born. In 2015, over 50 presses from around the country attended.

10. Tribal Heritage

Seattle shares a long tradition with the Duwamish (Dkhw’Duw’Absh) Tribe meaning “The People of the Inside”, referencing where the people lived, in the interior on the Black and Cedar rivers. There were distinct groups of people living in and around the Puget Sound area and they are the First People of the City of Seattle.

Lushootseed is the ancestral language of the Duwamish and it is spoken throughout the Puget Sound region and is one of several languages of the Salish family. Places, rivers cities and counties such as Humptulip, Skykomish, Yakima and Kitsap are part of the legacy of a 10,000 year old history of oral storytelling on the Pacific Northwest Coast and the foundation of Seattle’s literary identity.