WITS Voices: Editorial Essays in a Time of Trauma

By Anastacia-Renee Tolbert, WITS Writer-in-Residence

Lately, I’ve been reading a host of fiction and nonfiction from writers who have come before me, thinking about my mortality and the current state of the world as a woman of color writing, teaching and mothering. So recently, I asked high school students to write editorial essays. To begin with, some cringed at the word “essay” and looked at me as though their poetry teacher had creatively betrayed them. “Essay,” I said, “is not a dirty word.”

After giving them a quick tutorial about cross-genre writing, and about the need for personal opinion to be balanced by facts, I could see some students instantly go into think tank mode—but one student said to me: “I don’t think my opinion is important enough to write a whole essay about it. I mean, I don’t really matter. It doesn’t really matter.”

My heart sank, and I remember yelling inside my head, “YOU DO MATTER; IT MATTERS.” After a short but intense brainstorming exchange with another student, her paper was riddled with ideas and question marks, but when I eagerly asked her what ideas she had been brewing, she quickly retorted, “None of your business.” My heart sank (again), because although she had written enough brainstorm material for two students, something inside of her felt like it didn’t matter enough to share it, not even her topic. Read more…

“Falling Angel,” by WITS Student Aaliyah Sayre

Falling Angel 

My father stands by my side listing
rule after rule after rule. I roll my
eyes and shun his words of caution
as he straps on my wings.
The wings are big and white. I secretly
threaded a raven feather for luck.
I look toward the blazing sun
and spread my wings and part
of my stomach fills with butterflies
swarming. I feel the fear start
to smother the curiosity and I soon
forget to flap my wings, too scared
to move I plummet down to the
rock-hard earth. I hit the ground and
fall asleep never to wake up again.

Aaliyah Sayre wrote this poem while a 6th grader at Hamilton International Middle School, with WITS Writer Laura Gamache. She will be reading “Falling Angel” to open tonight’s evening with British-Nigerian author Helen Oyeyemi, who will be delivering the last lecture in our 2016-17 Literary Arts Series, entitled “Shine or Go Crazy”: an exploration of Korean TV drama and narrative disruptions. 

Tickets will still be available at the SAL Box Office at Benaroya Hall beginning at 6:00 pm.

National Poetry Month at Open Books!

Open Books: A Poem Emporium, Seattle’s beloved poetry-only bookstore, has been celebrating National Poetry Month like mad all April. If you’ve missed the first three weeks of contests, prompts, parties, and displays, you have one more week – and so many ways – to celebrate National Poetry Month alongside them and to support this local, independent treasure.

Here’s a taste of what they’ve got going on. . .

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 9.45.09 AM.png

WITS on Display: The Broadsides Project, an annually produced collection of poems from SAL’s Writers in the Schools students at Seattle Children’s Hospital, produced in beautiful, limited-edition art by letterpress artists at the School of Visual Concepts, will be hanging inside Open Books.

A 15% discount for students and teachers: For the rest of the month of April, students and teachers, including K-12 and college level, receive a 15% discount on their poetry purchases.

Saturday, April 29, Independent Bookstore Day: Open Books is featuring extended hours, from 10 AM – 7 PM, and will be serving up poetry-inspired snacks.

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 9.44.49 AM Read more…

Five Reasons to See Jeffrey Tambor

We can think of lots of reasons why you should join SAL for A Conversation with Jeffrey Tambor on May 23, but here are our top five:

1. He’s no name-dropper, but this showbiz jack-of-all-trades has perfected his craft with a little help from some of the best of the best including Al Pacino, George C. Scott, Garry Shandling, and Jill Soloway.


2. “Hey now!” Don’t miss out on the once-in-a-lifetime chance to (possibly—no promises!) hear Hank Kingsley’s instantly recognizable catchphrase in person! This character was a key part of The Larry Sanders Show, which was the first cable series to receive an Emmy nomination for Best Comedy Series, as well as bringing Tambor his first Emmy nomination and 3 more between 1993 and 1998.


3. He’s a chameleon! Well, not really, but he has played a wide variety of roles on stage and screen. He made his Broadway debut in the comedy Sly Fox. In 2005, Tambor starred in the Broadway revival of David Mamet’s classic Glengarry Glen Ross. Tambor’s many guest appearances and TV credits began in earnest in the 1981 American drama series Hill Street Blues. You may also know him from his role as the imprisoned patriarch George Bluth Sr. on FOX’s hit series Arrested Development. He has been in front of the camera and behind the microphone for countless other movies and animated features including There’s Something About Mary, The Hangover, The Invention of Lying, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, and Tangled.


4. He’s a west-coaster! And his conversation partner for the evening, Melanie McFarland, is one too. Tambor grew up in San Francisco and McFarland is based in Seattle. McFarland served as IMDb’s first TV Editor and spent five years as the TV critic for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Her work has also appeared in the Seattle Times where she was a pop culture writer and columnist.


5. He’s transparent. Like his new book, Are You Anybody?: A Memoir, Tambor is vulnerable, honest, inspiring and real. His latest role is that of transgender matriarch Maura Pfefferman on Amazon’s wildly acclaimed series Transparent. In a recent interview on NPR’s “All Things Considered” Tambor said of playing the role, “Everything is new to me and I had a big learning curve. But it’s a wonderful learning curve and it’s changed my life. I think it’s made me a better daddy, I think it’s made me a better citizen, it think it’s made me more aware. I get to use more of Jeffrey than I’ve ever had to use and gotten to use in my acting. People say, “Do you get to use more femininity?” I think I have femininity, I have masculinity, but I get to use all of Jeffrey and that’s very powerful. And this is what I always thought when I went down in my little basement in San Francisco, where I grew up, and day dreamed about being an actor: It felt like this. This is what it felt like.”

This is a conversation you won’t want to miss! Click here for more information and tickets. All orders (except Student) include a copy of Tambor’s new book Are You Anybody?: A Memoir.

WITS Voices: On the Road Again

by Ann Teplick, WITS Writer-in-Residence

Oh, the hours I’ve spent behind the wheel of a Volkswagen bus, a Subaru, a Datsun, a Honda, from Seattle to Banff to San Francisco to Glacier National Park to D.C. to Montreal to Yellowstone to Austin to Philly.

Oh, the hours with the windows rolled down, with hair on the vertical, with music that blasts the asphalt of freeways and backroads, with Willie Nelson singing “On the Road Again.” Oh, the bags of M&M’s, and coffee cups from 7-Eleven stacked like crows that caw their reminders to stick to the speed limit and not blow out the tires.

Oh, there is nothing like rounding the bend to find mountains that glitter their best selves into the blue-gray, plum, and buttercup sky of early morning.

Enter the students at Seattle Children’s Hospital. They arrive in the classroom by 10:00 a.m. It’s Wednesday, our poetry day, and this day, mostly middle schoolers take a seat around the table. After introducing ourselves, and sharing one thing we love about the world, I steer the conversation to road trips. Where have we been? To the Olympic Peninsula; Cannon Beach, Oregon; Taos, New Mexico; Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Where would we like to go? To SeaWorld; the Grand Canyon; the biggest candy store in the universe (wherever that may be); the tulip fields in Skagit County; Legoland, in Florida. Someone says they want to go to the land where there is no pain. We take a moment to reflect upon this, and nod in solidarity.

Enter the cars that will take us there. Okay, we decide to dream big. Maybe bigger than big. We are in the mood for exotic. As in Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Cobra. And with their true-to-life exterior colors. I look them up on my cell phone. Rosso Corsa (Ferrari); Arancio Argos (Lamborghini); Grigio Metallo (Maserati); and Guardsman Blue (Cobra). Fresh off the assembly line, of course. Shiny and bright. No need for fleece blankets, or pillows, or books, or tablets to make everything cozy inside. No need to play games, like Road Trip Bingo, or I Spy, or Twenty Questions. We take our seat behind the wheel. We rev up the engine, and away we go. We are on the road and in charge of ourselves. Read more…

The Evening Star: Remembering Linda Bowers

SAL is sad to share the news that Linda Bowers (SAL’s Executive Director from 2007-2012) has died. Our deepest sympathies go to her partner and community of friends. In her memory, we are honored to share this reflection by her partner, Greg Olson.  

The Evening Star

In the three months since Linda’s death I’ve been clearing out the house she was renting. Eight of the walls, including the one next to the bed she died in, were floor-to-ceiling shelves overflowing with books.

I’m keeping some, especially the ones I gave her as presents over thirty-five years. But Linda was a generous person, so I’m giving boxful after boxful to schools and the Goodwill. It’s good to be doing her bidding, but it also feels like I’m dismantling her life.

Linda and I met and started falling for each other when we worked at the Seattle Art Museum in the early 1980s. One day I could tell she was out of sorts about something, so I loaned her my childhood copy of The Wind in the Willows, saying, “This is the antidote to all pain and strife.” She knew what I meant, for since girlhood, with a book on her lap, she’d sought relief from boredom, worry and sadness on story voyages to enchanting, nurturing places of the imagination. Grown-up Linda’s home library reflected her passion for life and endless curiosity about the human condition. The full spectrum of earth’s past, present and possible futures, its ethnicities, geologies, theologies, arts, birds, architecture, sciences, music, dances, ideologies, cuisines, gardens, funny and silly things, tall tales and true filled her book shelves.

With Linda’s missionary’s zeal for the value of reading and writing, working for Seattle Arts & Lectures was a perfect occupation for her, and a steep personal challenge. She came across as tough, brash and opinionated, but inside she wrestled with social anxieties, and she had chronic physical maladies to cope with. It made me proud, knowing the courage she had to muster, to see her step onto the Benaroya Hall stage and present stellar literary artists to a sold-out audience. And afterwards to be praised for her poise, wit and erudition. Patti Smith called her “juicy.” 

Linda and I had diverging interests, and didn’t read the same books, but we loved to sit together reading, whether on vacation or on her Sunday morning couch, and harmonious and contentious discussions would ensue. Near the end of her life she could barely whisper, so we looked at the pictures in the book of the animated film My Neighbor Totoro, one of her favorites.

The words in books brought us together, and after her death, as I rummaged through her house, I found words she’d left for me to find. A loving thought written on a scrap of paper, and a poem by Louise Glück, “The Evening Star.” The poem speaks of the star’s “light of death,” which restores to earth “its power to console.” The star provides “enough light to make my thought visible again.”

Linda used to believe that when the brain dies the consciousness dies, but near the end she felt some essence beyond ego would journey forward, disseminating, merging.

She was her books, but also everything and everyone her mind touched.

The shelves are empty now.

Greg Olson founded and curates the Seattle Art Museum’s film program, the longest-running non-profit film program in the Northwest. He has written for Film Comment, Moviegoer and Premiere, and is the author of the best-selling David Lynch: Beautiful Dark.

WITS Voices: Eating Poetry

By Kathleen Flenniken, WITS Writer-in-Residence

A friend of a friend was looking for a poem her fifth-grade son could memorize for a class project. The question came to me and I made a couple of suggestions. The boy chose “Eating Poetry” by Mark Strand. His mother sent a photo of him studying the poem with his dog.  That got me thinking: Strand’s classic poem is perfect for fifth graders—fun, a little weird, unpredictable, wild.  And perfect for imitation.

Eating Poetry, by Mark Strand

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

When my fifth grade classes talked (and laughed) about this poem, they immediately understood how it might be imitated, and how they could eat any number of things. I sometimes like to offer lists of possibilities to elementary students, so we went through some possible subjects they could “eat.” Then we discussed the form:

  • First, find a subject. Your title:  Eating ________.
  • What are you chewing on/what runs from the corners of your mouth/ what can you taste? REMEMBER: This is not literal. You don’t eat a dog and taste blood and bones (unless they’re Milk Bones?)  If you’re eating snow, you don’t have water in your mouth. Maybe you taste rooftops and curlicues of smoke coming out of a smokestack?
  • Who is watching you eat? How do they respond?  Make it unexpected. Trust yourself and try to be a little off-the wall.
  • What happens next? Again, it doesn’t need to make sense. None of this is possible so anything is possible.
  • Make images.
  • Use your senses.
  • Use metaphors and similes.

I was delighted by the level of imagination and word choice in these poems—they have lots of energy and precision. Perhaps the best part: their slightly wicked glee. . .

Read more…

Introductions: Ben Fountain

On March 1 at Benaroya Hall, Ben Fountain—National Book Critics Circle Award-winner and author of the novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (now a film by Ang Lee)—floored us with his well-crafted lecture on what compels us to participate in the (somewhat crazy) act of writing, despite all the economic, social, and political odds stacked against those who choose that career path. SAL Executive Director Ruth Dickey introduced and interviewed Ben for this event.

By Ruth Dickey, SAL Executive Director

I will confess to you that I don’t love football. But as people I admire kept raving about how much they loved Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, I knew the book had to be something special. And indeed, it is an extraordinary book, at turns funny and heartbreaking and irresistible and insightful. The New York Times called it “grand, intimate and joyous,” and it won the National Book Critics Circle Award, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and was on almost every top book list for 2012.

The book tells the story of Bravo squad and their two week Heroes Tour, culminating in their half time appearance with Destiny’s Child at a Dallas Cowboys football game on Thanksgiving Day. If that sounds absurd, Fountain means for it to. He brilliantly captures not only the voices of the soldiers, but also the absurdity and horror of war and the spectacle of American culture, whether describing the crowd attending the game as “a migration scene from a nature documentary,” or capturing how the fans’ appreciation and adoration feel “like verbal arabesques that spark and snap in Billy’s ears like bugs impacting an electric bug zapper.”

Read more…