SAL’s Gift Guide for Literature Lovers

Still searching for the perfect gift for the voracious reader in your life? We’ve got a few suggestions they’ll flip for – and we don’t just mean flipping pages!

SALFlex Pass

Give them the gift of conversation, connection, and inspiration.

Only available until noon on December 23, SAL’s 4-Part Flex Pass gives you four tickets to use any way you like. Order by December 13 to receive your Flex Pass in the mail in time for the last night of Hannukah or by December 18 to receive your Flex Pass in time for Christmas.

Questions? Contact the SAL Box Office at or 206.621.2230 x10.


Light up their holiday and support Writers in the Schools (WITS).
In honor of SAL’s 30th Anniversary, 10% of each ‘cabo’ blue votive purchase will be donated to SAL in support of our WITS program. ‘Cabo’ votives will also light the edge of the stage at each Benaroya Hall event this season (along with other colors inspired by the SAL season).


Phinney by Post

Surprise them with a monthly book subscription by our friend and bookstore partner, Phinney Books!

Phinney by Post is the monthly book subscription service from Phinney Books that gets delivered to your door. Every month (or every other month) they’ll send you, or the person subscribed to their service, a surprise paperback book, with a short note from them to introduce it. Choose from a Full Plan, a True (non-fiction), or a Made-Up (fiction) plan. Learn more.

Read more…

“Poem for Elaine,” by Doug Sylver

When we receive submissions for the Elaine Wetterauer Writing Contest, each year we are reminded of the wisdom, heart, and love of language that Elaine continues to inspire in youth today. The Language Arts Department Chair at Nathan Hale High School, Elaine Wetterauer was a warm and passionate educator who impacted the lives of thousands of students, championing significant academic and cultural advancements within the school.

Language Arts teacher Doug Sylver of Nathan Hale has written “Poem for Elaine” in her memory, which we are touched to share in this post with Sonder readers. Doug also proposed the idea of a plaque commemorating Elaine’s commitment to the school, which is now featured on the wall of Hale’s Language Arts hallway. He writes:

“A few months before Elaine passed, I asked her permission to name our LA hallway here at Nathan Hale after her. She wrote that she ‘loves the whimsy of Wetterauer Way,’ the double entendre as well as the alliteration. Always the LA teacher. We now have an official plaque for her on the wall outside her former classroom. Yesterday, when I was looking at it, a student stopped and asked who she was. It was a joy (and a challenge) to try and describe her and that inspired me to write the poem.”

Read Doug’s poem below.

Poem for Elaine

Born in the Tule Lake
Internment Camp in 1944.
Welcome to the world!
Welcome to America!
Died in Seattle in 2015,
Lung cancer spread to her brain.
Never smoked, but always

She once went to a dollar store
But her only bill, a $20.
Tried to pay in coins
“TOO MUCH PENNIES,” the cashier yelled at her.
As if yelling in bad grammar would be better
better understood by one who understands the language
better than maybe everyone.
She told me this and I didn’t know
whether to laugh or cry
So I did both
In that order
Still am.

Before she left for good I arrived
uninvited at her home
disguised as an orchid deliveryman.
“She had radiation today,” her daughter warned me,
“Today’s not a good day. . .”
“Who’s there?”
from a shattered voice, from the kitchen.
When her daughter said my name
the shattered voice went,
“Let him in, please…”
I planned to stay ten minutes, deliver the orchid, wish her well,
perhaps a hug, and leave.
Ended up staying for three hours, although I tried politely,

respectfully to leave too many times.
I was fed miso soup, green tea, steamed dumplings with
chili sauce and soy sauce, rice.
I was told stories
I was asked for stories.

When I finally left
I had been
baptized blessed cleansed
by the beauty of the woman
who thought too much,
who gave too much
to far too many
like me.
Read more…

“Cuando Estás Conmigo,” by Portia Isabella Polo

Cuando Estás Conmigo

Dulzura era una cosa que no tenía.
Entonces, cuando abriste la puerta estaba tan feliz.
Tú haces brillar la habitación.
Me trajiste afuera de la tumba.
Tú me enseñaste que el mundo puede ser precioso.
Pero el mundo es más precioso
Cuando estás conmigo.

When You Are With Me

Sweetness was something I did not have.
So when you opened the door, I was so happy.
You make the room shine.
You brought me out of the grave.
You taught me that the world can be precious.
But the world is more precious
When you are with me.

Portia Isabella Polo wrote this poem while a 4th grader at Puesta del Sol Elementary School with WITS Writer Evelin Garcia. Performed at the Seattle Arts & Lectures 2017/18 Literary Arts Series with Isabel Allende, November 28th, 2017.

Introductions: Isabel Allende

On Tuesday, November 28, we welcomed the fiery, warm, and witty literary legend Isabel Allende to our 2017/18 Literary Arts Series, returning to the SAL stage thirty years after her first appearance in our premier season. 

Isabel was introduced by Sherry Prowda, the founder of Seattle Arts & Lectures and its first Executive Director. As SAL Executive Director Ruth Dickey said welcoming Sherry to the stage, “Thirty years ago, Sherry had a vision that Seattle was a city that deserved to have writers come share their ideas, their stories, and their process. . . Without her vision, tenacity, and leadership, none of us would be here tonight.”

Read on for Sherry’s introduction of Isabel.

By: Sherry Prowda, SAL’s Founder & First Executive Director

To the talented Ruth Dickey and her team: big thanks for seeing SAL through its extended adolescence and ensuring that at the ripe age of 30, SAL was at the top of its game doing what it does best – bringing the finest writers and thinkers to Seattle, for adult and student audiences, to feed our minds, open our hearts and start conversations. And boy, we need that more than ever, right? But just because SAL brings writers doesn’t guarantee you’ll come – but you do – you fill a 2,500 seat hall to hear a writer talk.

Back in 1990, following his SAL appearance, the wonderful Wallace Stegner wrote a letter to his editor commenting on this. “Dear Sam,” wrote Stegner – “Went up to Portland and Seattle last week and talked to thousands – my God, I was in lights like a rock star. And we found two great bookstores, Powell’s in Portland and Elliott Bay Books in Seattle. I have not sufficiently admired the Northwest. People there really read and take books seriously.”

Indeed we do because we know words matter, facts matter, truth matters, ideas matter, journalism – science – and our democratic values matter. I’m so grateful to be part of a community that fills halls for writers and thinkers. Thank you.  Read more…

Learning from Hoaxes

Tomorrow, Thursday, November 30th, poet and nonfiction author Kevin Young will be presenting on his latest work, Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News, and in conversation with Seattle writer Melanie McFarland at Benaroya Hall. Tickets are just $10 as part of our 2017/18 Hinge Series, and they’re still available here or at the door.

In anticipation of Kevin’s talk, WITS Writer-in-Residence and SAL event staffer Letitia Cain takes us through a catalog of the fakes, the forges, and the frauds of literature, asking the hard questions about the connections between life and creative work. (Plus, she gives us a hoax-inspired writing prompt for you to try at home… carefully!)

By: Letitia Cain, WITS Writer-in-Residence & SAL Event Manager

Kevin Young’s newly released book, Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News, dives into the tradition of hoaxes with gusto. In this time of fake news stories and what feels like layers of deception, this book is released with perfect timing to delve into the historical perspective of forgeries and how they connect to race and the rise of America.

I first became interested in literary hoaxes a few years ago, while researching some of the more famous, or perhaps more accurately, infamous poetry hoaxes. This literary tradition that underlies much of modern writing fascinates and appalls simultaneously—yet it also influences how we write today, whether we realize it or not. In Bunk, Young examines not just literary hoaxes but the culture of hoaxing in America, an even broader subject that I can’t wait to read more about.

Hoaxes have a long history in literature, and some very interesting poetry emerges out of them. But first, what is a hoax? The derivation of hoax is not completely known, but the word came into usage in the eighteenth century, meaning to deceive by a fiction, and it is thought to probably be a shortened form of hocus pocus, a jugglery, trickery, first used around the 1600s. Hocus pocus is thought to be based originally on the Latin phrase hax pax max Deus adimax, a pseudo-Latin magical formula often used by jugglers or magicians. Read more…

“Fruit Stand,” by Lily Baumgart

Fruit Stand

Carve red into me,
use your whole arms to entangle
my body. I want to feel protected
and warm, blue-warm
like a star nearing expansion.
I’ve been told I’m not humbled
enough. I want you to hold me;
my knees have failed and gone somewhere
else. You allow yourself to let me fall
into your concavities.
It feels like taking a bite
out of a ripe peach, the fuzz
irritates your cheek, the juices
fall from your lips, it
into a puddle and you will feel
how it is to leave you.
I will buy two apples from you
and then say goodbye.

Read more…

A Tune Inspired by A.E. Stallings

At our 2017/18 Poetry Series event with A.E. Stallings, folk songwriter Jaspar Lepak dazzled our ears with an original song as part of the Bushwick Book Club program — it’s on repeat at the SAL offices right now! Below, listen to Jaspar’s song, which asks, “Why should the Devil get all the good tunes?” and read the poem by Stallings that inspired her.


Read more…

Yes, And . . . God: Humanity’s Muse

Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 14th, scholar of religions Reza Aslan will give an original, multi-media presentation on his new book, God: A Human History, an interfaith exploration of how different ideas of God have both united and divided us for millennia, as part of our 2017/18 SAL Presents Series. Tickets are still available here!

In anticipation of Reza’s talk, WITS Writer-in-Residence Cody Pherigo presents us with his reflections after reading God: A Human History, a book he found to deeply resonate with the human impulse to be creative. (Plus, a Reza Aslan-inspired writing prompt!)

By: Cody Pherigo, WITS Writer-in-Residence

God: A Human History by Reza Aslan traces a paradoxical tight-rope path from our prehistoric ancestors to the present, and the many ways we’ve conceived of and related to god(s). He opens with an introduction titled “In Our Image,” and immediately I knew this would be, for me at least, a path that also echoes the creative writing process.

While much of the text is classically academic and thus devoted to (as any research worth its salt and sugar) dozens of pages of endnotes, I detect, too, the shadow of a poet. One of my favorites lines comes early on, as he renders a new story of Adam and Eve. Aslan says that while Adam may take up to a week to hunt and bring home a lump of meat, Eve and their children gather daily a prorated equivalent amount of food—plants, fish (netted), small prey (trapped and clubbed), and nuts, which have the same amount of protein per pound as meat—plus, “nuts do not fight back” (save for those with allergies).

We begin with Part 1: The Embodied Soul, where the idea of a “soul” emerges as an innate feeling and deep knowing, the source of our “religious impulse.” Here, Aslan suggests what may be humanity’s first belief: a kind of animism, or, I’d offer imagination. What I noticed for the duration of reading God: A Human History is a continuity of pillars within the creative process, from symbols and metaphors to the development of language, writing, and the problem/blessing/turn of translation. To me, these creative “bones” parallel and mirror the religious impulse, what Aslan shows is an impulse that is at the root of what it is to be human.

One of the first gathering places for spiritual experiences were caves—all over the world, they have been been adorned with drawings placed so intentionally onto the cave walls that, Aslan suggests, “The cave becomes a mythogram; it is meant to be read, the way one reads scripture.” Here, too, was found evidence of animal bones burned, as a sort of incense or “mediating element.” What’s interesting here is the metaphor and resilience of bones, how they act as a stand-in for bodies past, bodies passed down the way words and stories are passed down, and both for posterity. Or, the repetition of a story—the idea of a soul making its way from body to body, retelling itself.

Later, he cites a key turning point in humanity’s lifestyle: the switch from hunter-gather to farmer, which, he posits, may revolve around the building of our first major temple, the Göbekli Tepe, as the center of “the birth of organized religion.” This transition in human lifestyle was a “revolution of symbols” (Aslan credits Jacques Cauvin here). I wonder, too, how this changed our relationship with metaphors, as humans have put themselves in the “center of the spiritual plane,” where humanity’s story about god seems to switch from fiction to memoir. Read more…

A.E. Stallings & A Quiz on First Love

Some of are afraid of traditional poetic techniques such as sonnets, sapphics, meter, and rhyme. But then again, some of us—like A.E. Stallings—are fearless, and use these forms to make contemporary experiences feel timeless. In this post, local poet Gabrielle Bates describes her first encounter on the page with Stallings’ work, which you can hear Stallings read and discuss live on Monday, November 13th, at McCaw Hall as part of SAL’s 2017/18 Poetry Series.

By: Gabrielle Bates

As a junior in college, I took a class that would change the course of my life, in which we read four contemporary collections of poetry: When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz, Crush by Richard Siken, Rookery by Traci Brimhall, and HAPAX by A.E. Stallings.

When I encountered A.E. Stallings’ poems for the first time that fateful semester, one of my eyebrows rose. This was a contemporary collection, and yet, here before me was, of all things, rhyme. And not sneaky, mid-line or slant rhyme, but strong, audacious rhyme—exactly where I expected it, in plain sight. I was embarrassed for Stallings; didn’t she know rhyme was embarrassing? That it was old? That old techniques = embarrassing techniques?

But quickly (by the end of the first poem, in fact) I realized it was I, not Stallings, who had something to learn about what poems should and should not, can and cannot do.

That blatant rhyme, which at first seemed to me Stallings’ fatal flaw, is actually, I think now, her great power. I find myself re-astonished by its wiliness (and my own inability to anticipate it) every time I read her work. The overt formal elements of Stallings’ poetry are bait that allows for her great switch. Skepticism heightens attention; meanwhile, complex, gut-punching, deeply human insight is sneaking through the back window to appear poignantly, unmistakably before us. Read more…