WordsWest Literary Series’ cocurators include poets Katy E. Ellis and Susan Rich, and novelist Harold Taw. All three live in West Seattle and came together over their parched need for a reading series in their community. Katy E. Ellis is the author of two chapbooks Urban Animal Expeditions (Dancing Girl Press, 2013) and Gravity (Yellow Flag Press, 2015). Her poetry appears in a number of literary journals and anthologies including Literary Mama, Redheaded Stepchild, MAYDAY Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Till the Tide: Mermaid Poetry, and the Canadian journals PRISM International, Grain, and Fiddlehead. Susan Rich is the author of four collections of poems including Cloud Pharmacy (White Pine Press, 2014); The Alchemist’s Kitchen (White Pine Press, 2010), a finalist for the Washington State Book Award; Cures Include Travel (White Pine Press, 2006); and The Cartographer’s Tongue (White Pine Press, 2000), winner of the PEN USA Award. Harold Taw’s debut novel, Adventures of the Karaoke King, was published by Lake Union Publishing in 2011. His writing has been featured on NPR, in a New York Times bestselling anthology, and in the Seattle Times. Harold is currently writing a novel about a turbulent adolescence in Southeast Asia and collaborating on a musical adaption of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
What makes your organization’s series and its program unique?
West Seattle is geographically isolated from the rest of Seattle’s literary venues. WordsWest Literary Series is unique in that it fills the gap in what has been a literary series desert.
Each WordsWest event is what we call a “living anthology” or “braided reading” where our two featured readers read in short bursts, taking up to three different stands at the mic. This gives the reading a collaborative rather than competitive feeling and leads to lots of surprising connections in the work read aloud. We get to see the authors interacting on stage in a never-to-be-repeated moment.
The WordsWest Literary Series also features West Seattle's Favorite Poem Project, wherein people from local, independent businesses or organizations join each event by reciting a favorite poem and telling us why it’s a favorite.
What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
As a whole, WordsWest is something we are super proud of creating in our community so it’s difficult to choose a single pride invoking event, however, our “Kids’ Night” stands out as being both unique and inspiring. Our readers included Sundee Frazier, award-winning novelist of books for young people, along with MacArthur fellow and National Book Award recipient Dr. Charles Johnson and his daughter Elisheba Johnson, reading from their coauthored and illustrated tween novel. It was a packed house with people of all ages and backgrounds. Our local librarian read her favorite poem (“Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll) and promoted summer reading. Maybe it was the fun, sugary snacks, but everyone seemed energized by all the great stories and poems!
What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
We’ve had ten events over the course of this past year and the three of us curators still remember a moment during the first event in September 2014, when our first reader took to the stage and we looked at each other, looked around at the crowded coffee shop, and then nodded our heads and smiled, all thinking, “Wow, we really did it!”
Our readers have all been incredible and unique, but one of the highlights of each event is our West Seattle’s Favorite Poem segment. One night we had a local business owner confess how hard it was to find a poem to read for the event. When she mentioned it to her sixteen-year-old son, she was surprised to learn he had a favorite poem at the tip of his tongue! Both mother and son shared their poems on stage that night. (Hers was "The cat's song" by Marge Piercy, and his was "Invictus" by William Ernest Henley.)
How do you find and invite readers?
It’s not a mandate for our series but we do try to select one reader from West Seattle. We are surrounded by incredible writers in our own neighborhood, for example, our state’s poet laureate Elizabeth Austen and award-winning nonfiction writer Lyanda Lynn Haupt. Once we reach out to a reader, we encourage that reader to then invite an author they admire and with whom they’d like to read. Again, we want authors to interact on stage and weave their work together. If they are friends or if they have wanted to meet for a long time, it makes for a meaningful unfolding collaboration.
What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
West Seattle, along with all of the Puget Sound region, continues to grow in leaps and bounds with more commercial chain stores, expensive and dense housing, which means, of course, more people. In booming cities, literary programs can be a grounding force. By establishing a solid, homegrown literary reading series right in our neighborhood, we hope to help shape (and retain) the heart of West Seattle as it expands. Having access to thought provoking, truly inspiring written and spoken live literature not only brings a community together, but it also lingers in daily life and gives us new ideas and more understanding of the world around us.
Photo (left to right): Katy E. Ellis, Harold Taw, Susan Rich Credit: Lena Khalaf Tuffaha
Support for Readings & Workshops events in Seattle is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.