CYOS: A Choose-Your-Own Literary Adventure

If you could curate your own series of authors and thinkers to come to Seattle, who would you choose and why?

Besides starting up your own local reading series, the closest you can get to a literary-style Choose Your Own Adventure is probably SAL’s Create Your Own Series, in which you can pick any four of our events to attend, crossing over series and selecting who you think is the best of the best. Maybe you want a more affordable way to go to multiple SAL events, or maybe you don’t want to have to decide between poetry, prose, or any of our special events.

Below, the SAL staff act as mini-curators and share with you their own selections for CYOS—in other words, who they’re most excited to see this season.


Nichole Coates, WITS Program Associate

Roxane Gay: I can name at least three separate times over the last few weeks where a friend has asked me with a great deal of excitement, “Did you know that Roxane Gay is coming to Seattle?!” Why yes, dear friend, I did. I’ve read several of Roxane Gay’s articles over the past couple years. After finishing Bad Feminist last week, I’m even more excited to see her speak. Reading her essays is like having a deep conversation with a close friend, where the discussion volleys from abstract analyses of the intersections of culture, gender, race and class, to the intimate ways these forces play out in your life and the world around you.

Helen Oyeyemi: Helen Oyeyemi’s stories feel like fairy tales, fantastical with an eerie hint of familiarity. Her writing is dreamy and quick on its feet, lyrical only long enough to let a moment shine before flitting to the next one. It’s certainly easy to get lost in the worlds she creates, and I’ll be excited to see he take to the stage in April!

First Loves with Sherman Alexie: In idle moments, I will reserve a few books at my local library. Then I will reserve a few more books. And then a few more… and some more… and more. Weeks later, I will arrive at the library only to be dumbfounded by the massive number of books that have arrived for me to check out. During my last trip to the library, I was thrilled to find Re: Jane by Patricia Park, Adam by Ariel Schrag, and The Heart is a Muscle the Size of your Fist by Sunil Yapa peeking out between all the other titles I had put on hold. Sorry, other library books, but you’ll have to wait.

Emily Nussbaum: I’m always excited to see when Emily Nussbaum has written a review of one of my favorite shows, because her writing is always so sharp and insightful. She has extra sensitive antennae for picking up on thematic nuances and cultural influences, and I know that after reading one of her reviews, I’ll be able to watch a series with a new critical lens…which totally justifies my next Netflix binge. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch Bojack Horseman and Lady Dynamite for the umpteenth time.


Alicia Craven, WITS Program Director

Emily Nussbaum: This Pulitzer Prize-winning New Yorker TV critic is one of the top 5 people I’d want to come to an imaginary celebrity dinner party. She writes with wit, incisive insight, and treats TV with the seriousness of the highest art. She shines light on how what we watch both reflects and shapes our world.

Roxane Gay: I want to read her take on everything. She employs social media for good, has re-defined the term “feminism,” and I can’t wait to hear her talk about writing the new Marvel comics series “World of Wakanda” in collaboration with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Yona Harvey.

First Loves with Sherman Alexie: It’s not only exciting to hear Sherman Alexie, but to learn about the new writers and creatives folks he’s championing. These will all be new writers to me, and I’m so eager to read their work and get to hear them onstage.

Bryan Stevenson: Stevenson’s Just Mercy should be mandatory reading for everyone, and especially any person running for public office in this election year. I think and hope that as a country, we will look back on our current system of mass-incarceration with shame and horror, and Stevenson’s work is helping to propel that trajectory of change.


Ruth Dickey, SAL Executive Director

Roxane Gay: I got to hear Roxane speak at AWP and am so intrigued to hear what she has been thinking about. I’m even more excited that Ijeoma Oluo will host the Q&A!

Ellen Bass: Not only an amazing poet, but also an amazing healer—I’ve admired her work for years and am so excited to hear her poems in her voice.

Helen Oyeyemi: I heard an interview with her on NPR and have been smitten ever since.

A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment with Sherman Alexie, Jess Walter, and Karen Russell: One of my great sadnesses is that Karen Russell came to SAL before I did, so I am over the moon that she will return for this live taping of Jess Walter and Sherman Alexie’s beloved podcast. I have embarrassed myself by gushing to both Jess and Sherman about how much I love their work, and look forward to completing the trilogy by gushing to Karen as well.


Christina Gould, Patron Services Manager

Bryan Stevenson: The author of Just Mercy and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative is, in my mind, a modern day saint walking amongst us mortals. His life’s work of championing the poor, incarcerated, and condemned is inspirational and humbling. His tenor that “we all need mercy, we all need justice and perhaps we all need some measure of unmerited grace” is a guiding light. What an honor to have him on SAL’s roster. This will be an evening to remember.

Bryan Cranston: [Editor’s note: sorry, folks, this one happened last Sunday! But keep a look out for a wrap-up post on Sonder.] I would never describe myself as a “groupie,” but I have certainly been acting like one since the beginning of SAL’s negotiating with Cranston’s agent to bring him to our stage. Walter White, one of TV’s greatest leading men on our stage! (“Greatest meaning biggest. Not necessarily good.” Cranston’s own wry words.) Such an intelligent, brilliant actor, together with Sherman Alexie? I can hardly contain myself.

Roxane Gay: An Untamed State, Gay’s debut novel, a psychological thriller that centers on a Haitian woman’s struggle to survive a brutal kidnapping upon a return visit to her native land, is riveting from beginning to end. The sexual and spiritual violence was difficult to push through, yet it was gripping and, thankfully, hopeful by the end. Reading the novel led me to the Internet to find out more about the author, which led me to her Bad Feminist Manifesto in the Guardian, which is going to lead me to her lecture. This sharp, honest, frank cultural critic, professor, and author without question will be funny, serious, thought-provoking, and stimulating.

Ross Gay: I love titles and I am especially attracted to the title of Ross Gay’s most recent work, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, a collection described as “a messy, juicy collection about his life as a community orchardist  […] full of manure, mulberry-stained purple bird poop, dirty clothes, and hangovers, but also the pleasure of bare feet, of pruning a peach tree, of feeding a neighbor.” He sees the garden as lyric space; time slows down. It is an endless opportunity to look at things that are always changing. Sensory fullness. Always witnessing process. He talks about how working in a garden has opened up new possibilities in his poetry. I am not a poet, but I am a gardener. I want to hear (and meet) this man!


Rebecca Hoogs, SAL Associate Director & Season Curator

Rachel Zucker: Because as a mother of a 3-year old, I’m very interested in her writings about motherhood and art and feminism.

Ben Fountain: Because I LOVED Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and I’ve heard that he’s an amazing speaker.

Bryan Stevenson: Because I just read Just Mercy, and I want to continue to learn from Mr. Stevenson.

First Loves with Sherman Alexie: Because I am so excited to feature debut novelists, and to do so through the reading lens of Sherman Alexie!


Leanne Skooglund, Development Director

Bryan Stevenson: Because his work with the Equal Justice Initiative is heroic and Just Mercy has forever changed the way I think about race and poverty in this country.

Alice Notley: Because I wouldn’t want to miss the chance to hear firsthand one of the greatest poets of our times.

Marina Abramović [sold out]: Because it will be fascinating to hear the thoughts and ideas of a woman with such a courageously original creative mind.

A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment with Sherman Alexie, Jess Walter, and Karen Russell: Because this is a “three-fer” (and more!) with some of my favorite authors.


Alison Stagner, SAL Events Coordinator & Sonder Editor

Timothy Egan: It’s no secret that I loved Egan’s latest, The Immortal Irishman, and I’m especially interested in his mysterious SAL lecture after its title has just been released: “The Time Traveller’s Tale: an accidental historian and Northwest native looks at how we got from there to here.”

Helen Macdonald: Once, outside of York, England, I stumbled across an incredible thing after a somewhat thistle-fraught walk through the fields—a full-blown flying show at a bird of prey centre. We watched falcons, hawks, owls, eagles, and even a curmudgeonly vulture fly from their perches into the air, then back to the falconer’s gloved fist. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by these strange, intense animals. I probably don’t have the guts to work in an aviary (too many talons), but luckily, I got to relive that same sense of wonder through Helen Macdonald as she trains, and in many ways, transforms into her hawk Mabel in H is for Hawk. Add in her New York Times column On Nature, which examines the various ways humans relate to the natural world, and her talk is bound to open my eyes in the same way that bird of prey centre did.

Nick Offerman [sold out]: Because I want this man to teach me how to build a canoe paddle.

Carl Phillips: As someone from St. Louis, MO, I’m used to some blank stares when I tell West Coast people what city I’m from. But at least a lot of great poets have lived in St. Louis: T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, Howard Nemerov, Robert Wrigley, Sara Teasdale, Maya Angelou, Naomi Shihab Nye. Carl Phillips is no exception. Here’s an excerpt from “Foliage,” from his latest—

Cage inside a cage inside a whispering so deep that–
And then just the two of us.  And you calling it
vulnerability. And me calling it rumor passing
through suspicion’s fingers – ashweed, flickering
halo of the boy I might really have been once, tiger
lilies beneath a storm blowing into then out of
character, then back again, as if seasonal, summer
now, now fall.


To find out more about SAL’s Create Your Own Series or purchase a subscription, click here.

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