AWP 23 Seattle offsite: Not a speakeasy… no need for a special handshake

Look, I like an offsite event at a writers’ conference just like anybody else, so it’s no surprise I took advantage of and enjoyed the many such readings and celebrations across the whole of downtown Seattle last week.

But dang, Seattle. You done did the thing. You made your offsites bigger than AWP.

What do I mean by that?

I mean, people off the street could be found spontaneously wandering into these venues. They clearly felt welcomed, appreciated the free access, bought a microbrew or cider, and stuck around. Not because they were obliged to, not like so many academics and wannabe poets and organizers who always have to be there because it’s simply expected of them.

No, these were folks in the gen pop with no prior knowledge that AWP was even a thing. They settled into the audience and stayed and listened and were amazed.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I have to admit to similar bouts of amazement. Here are my favorite of the many offsite events I attended (but did not perform in).

Wednesday, March 8 @ Capitol Cider
“Sly, Witchy, Twisted, Free: Writing Women Beyond the Literary Gaze” featuring a reading with Sonora Jha, Alexandra Teague, Sayantani Dasgupta, Laura Read, and Maya Jewell Zeller.

Recommended by Seattle Met, and for good reason. Kristen Millares Young (Subduction) hosted the event but also contributed, and her tenacious message throughout the night was unabashedly the need for us all to “unmake the patriarchy by any means necessary.” I appreciate that this articulate writer willingly makes use of her access to media and audiences to evangelize about the post-Roe tipping point for feminism.

Laura Read (But She Is Also Jane) broke down what it means to have a “devitalized” vagina; Sayantani Dasgupta (Women Who Misbehave) followed with a fascinating encounter she had with a Duck Dynasty type back in Idaho; Maya Jewell Zeller (Out Takes/Glove Box) brought it with “Hex for the Other Woman”; Alexandra Teague (Or What We’ll Call Desire) reported how we are all clenching our teeth in record numbers and tells us “we are lucky if our daemons find us”; and finally, Sonora Jha (The Laughter) expanded on the idea of microaggressions in an essay about an academic sit in.

This reading set a tone for me for the rest of the conference, one of purposeful space-taking, outward signals, agency, and permission to persist.

Friday, March 10 @ Rabbit Box Theater
7.13 Books & The Bushwick Book Club Seattle present “Attack of the Book People!” hosted by Jonathan Evison, featuring music by The Bushwick Book Club Seattle inspired by the works of readers Dionne Irving, Steve Almond, Christine Sneed, Sequoia Nagamatsu, Brandon Hobson, and Shin Yu Pai, with special guest Steve Turner of Mudhoney

I anticipated this event all week, and it did not disappoint! If you don’t know what Bushwick references… this is a book club series that started in New York and now has branches across several American cities. The purpose is to take a featured written work, hand it off to local musicians, who then read that work and compose original music inspired by the texts. So you get a reading, followed by a musical performance, in a lovely evening of call and response.

The Seattle event took place in the Rabbit Box Theater, which anchors the historic Pike Place Market. The literary lineup this night was spectacular and the Bushwick musicians (Drea Marilyn, Wes Weddell, Nick Droz, Kat Bula, and Leanna Keith) brought their A game with some incredible original scores. Jonathan Evison was his usual congenial self and I secretly wish he gets more involved with Bushwick Seattle in the future. I know I’ll be back for the monthly Bushwick Book Club.

Saturday, March 10 @ Richard Hugo House
“An Evening of Disability Poetry & Poetics” featuring readings from Raymond Antrobus, Ilya Kaminsky, Khadijah Queen, and L. Lamar Wilson

Zoeglossia and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at ASU hosted this event at the Hugo House home base on 11th, with 2021-22 Zoeglossia Poetry Coalition Fellow Saleem Hue Penny (The Happy Land Liniment) emceeing the event.

I was thrilled to see a mask mandate in this space, and it was a full house. Clearly, we were all glad to be there! And the reading was phenomenal. It was lovely to watch Saleem Hue Penny ask if everyone was comfortable and had good access.

L. Lamar Wilson (Sacrilegion) led with words lilting in a 21st central gospel vibe I could easily wrap my nonbeliever heart around.  Ilya Kaminsky (Deaf Republic) followed and, true to form, he handed out prints of his work for those unfamiliar with his unique “accent.” (I’ve heard him read enough times to be familiar with the angles and slides in his voice.) Khadijah Queen (I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On) roared into life a missive about anti-maskers and pandemic misbehavers that made me want to ring all the bells in the land. And Raymond Antrobus (The Perseverance) lived up to his self-selected title as “Investigator of Missing Sounds” with some great work that left us smiling and grateful to be there.

Zoeglossia is a community that represents poets with disabilities. From their mission: “Much like its forbearers Canto Mundo, Kundiman, Cave Canem, and Lambda Literary, Zoeglossia strives to create an open and supportive community that welcomes and fosters creativity” among its members. I was so delighted to see real representation at this event (and several others on site at AWP). It can be difficult to elevate these voices, especially at a conference where basic access is a challenge for attendees. But not only did the Hugo House make this a reality, but they live-streamed and “Zoomed” the event for all who could not attend… a pretty big deal considering the sheer numbers of disabled writers even in the Seattle area who, because of issues with access, simply could not attend.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.