Below, we've compiled all of our critics' picks for the season's literary events, including novelist Zadie Smith, journalist Dan Rather, and contemporary poet Solmaz Sharif. You can also find a complete list of readings & talks in Seattle this winter on our Things To Do calendar, or check out the rest of our critics' picks from Seattle Art and Performance.
Ashley Nellis and Steve Herbert with Katherine Beckett: The Case Against Life Sentences
Only a handful of countries on this planet regularly issue life sentences for criminal convictions, and the U.S. is one of them, with over 200,000 people currently serving out the remainder of their life in prison. But does this sentence have any effect on crime rates? Does it reform offenders or deter any criminal acts at all? Ashley Nellis of the Sentencing Project argues that any prison term over 20 years cannot be morally or pragmatically justified, and she will be discussing her new book, The Meaning of Life: The Case for Abolishing Life Sentences—as well as criminal justice in the U.S.—with UW professors Katherine Beckett and Steve Herbert at this Town Hall event. KATIE HERZOG
Jay Rubin: Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories
In his introduction, Haruki Murakami describes this anthology as "an unconventional selection of works by an unusual assortment of writers." He's not lying. In addition to gems from greats like Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, and Yukio Mishima, editor Jay Rubin has included some genuinely bizarre stories, such as Yūten Sawanishi's "Filling Up with Sugar," which is about a mother who turns into sugar, vagina first. Or Shin'ichi Hoshi's "Shoulder-Top Secretary," which is about a town where people speak to each other through robotic parrots perched atop their shoulders. Whether you're looking for classics of the genre or weird-ass new stuff, you're sure to find something you like here. RICH SMITH
Seattle Think & Drink: The State of Journalism
Humanities Washington hosts a series of moderated conversations about “provocative topics and new ideas” at casual establishments throughout the year. Presented as part of its fall statewide series, “Moment of Truth: Journalism and Democracy in an Age of Misinformation” includes Seattle Times reporter Marcus Harrison Green, University of Washington communications professor and Seattle journalism researcher Matthew Powers, and The Stranger’s own associate editor Eli Sanders discussing the current state of the news, how it got here, and what may be ahead. LEILANI POLK
Ben Goldfarb: Eager
Even before the United States was a nation, fur traders crossed the continent, capturing and killing millions of beavers for pelts. The impact of this, according to environmental journalist Ben Goldfarb, was profound. In his new book, Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, Goldfarb traces the history of the fur trade and explains how eliminating beavers from ecosystems changed the landscape in ways we are still figuring out. Today, a growing coalition of “Beaver Believers” are working to restore those ecosystems—and the beavers that lived in them—to make healthier, more sustainable habitats, both for humans and nonhumans alike. Everyone wins when we coexist peacefully, and Goldfarb explains how, and why, at Elliott Bay. KATIE HERZOG
Trolls in the Nordic Imagination: Scary, Clumsy, and Lovable
Lotta Gavel-Adams, professor emeritus of Swedish studies at the University of Washington, promises a "short, snappy, entertaining" lecture on contemporary depictions of Scandinavian forest trolls, and I am, as they say, here for this. In recent films and novels from the region, the Swedes and Finns have apparently expanded the emotional universe of these gangly fantasy creatures to include expressions of clumsiness and lovableness, which tells us a little something about the culture that dreams up these creatures. The lecture is the second installment of what will hopefully be many boozy talks at the Nordic Museum. RICH SMITH
Copper Canyon Press Annual Poetry Party
Celebrate the local poetry press with a celebration of the publication of Ursula K. Le Guin's last poetry collection, So Far So Good, with readings by excellent writers Karen Finneyfrock, Jane Wong, and Lena Khalaf Tuffaha. Plus, there will be a book sale and socializing. Editor Elaina Ellis will MC.
Seattle composer, musician, and substitute teacher Neal Kosaly-Meyer will continue his amazing feat of reciting Finnegans Wake from memory, chapter by chapter—as if reading the modernist monster wasn't hard enough. In praise of Kosaly-Meyer's feat, Charles Mudede wrote, "Maybe this is the only way the novel could be saved. It’s not all that amazing to memorize something that everyone understands; it’s very impressive to memorize something understood by only one person, who has been in the grave for many years."
Maged Zaher, Jamaica Baldwin
Once upon a time, you could hear Maged Zaher and Jamaica Baldwin read in Seattle nearly every week if you wanted to—and you did want to. Zaher, who won a Stranger Genius Award in 2013, writes hilarious poems about the special loneliness of late capitalism. (His translations of contemporary Egyptian poets, collected in The Tahrir of Poems, are incredible, too.) Baldwin uses her personal experience to probe race and politics to great effect. Few employ the power of the volta better than she does. We were lucky to have them both around so often, but then they moved away. That was sad. Now, thanks to the miracle of modern transit and the routine maintenance of old friendships, they're back! Arundel is promising "free refreshments" to celebrate the occasion. RICH SMITH
Lit Fix 24: Braving the Chill
This series always responds to your craving for literary stimulation. This time, hear poetry by civil rights lawyer/poet/Hugo House resident writer Shankar Narayan and Moss poetry editor/Hugo House and Jack Straw fellow Dujie Tahat, historical fiction by Katrina Carrasco (The Best Bad Things is her debut novel) and award-winning children's and YA novelist Kevin Emerson. Roots rock will be provided by the Del Vox Duo. Proceeds will benefit Hopelink.
David Shields: Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump
What the hell is wrong with Donald Trump? Did his nanny not hold him enough as a child? Did he choke on that silver spoon in his mouth? Or does the man simply not possess any sort of inner life as we know it? UW professor and best-selling author David Shields tries to get to the bottom of this terrible mystery with his latest book, as well as the biggest, most terrible mystery of all: Why the hell did the American electorate choose him? KATIE HERZOG
Sharon H Chang: Hapa Tales and Other Lies
Hapa Tales and Other Lies is a meditation on colonization, Native sovereignty, stereotypes of Hawaii and Hawaiians, Asian American and mixed race identity, and activism.
Tasveer South Asian Litfest
A number of important neighborhood institutions—Tasveer, the Gardner Center, Elliott Bay Book Company, Hugo House, KUOW, and the Northwest Film Forum—will come together to host writers of all forms and genres from South Asia and the South Asian diaspora.
Sharma Shields: The Cassandra
Spokane writer Shields is a talented writer of speculative fiction, as evinced by her 2015 novel The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac. She'll be back with an adaptation of the Cassandra myth transposed to the Hansford Research Center in the early days of World War II. A young woman with the power to see the future becomes a secretary at the center, only to be plagued by dreams concerning the ultra-secret and ultra-dangerous weapon the scientists and military men are developing.
National Geographic Live: When Women Ruled the World
Why has history been so much more interested in female rulers' beauty than in their power? Kara Cooney, professor and Egyptologist, will reveal how women like Cleopatra, Nefertiti, and Nerusobek upend our perceptions of the so-called fairer sex in the ancient world. As with all NatGeo Live events, learn through lecture, images, and video.
Jonathan Weisman: (((Semitism)))
The mass shooting that took the lives of 11 people at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh proves that anti-Semitism is alive and well in America, despite our wishes otherwise. There is no better time for a book like (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump, in which Jonathan Weisman examines how we can fight intolerance in an era fraught with neo-Nazis, anti-immigration sentiment, conspiracy theorists taken as truth-tellers, paranoia, scapegoating, sinister politics, and an administration that adds fuel to the fire rather than trying to quell it. LEILANI POLK
An Evening with Dan Rather
At a time when an ill-tempered reality TV star occupies the White House, and the most followed “pundits” in media are teenaged YouTube stars and blonde sorority girls toting AR-15s for clicks, you could be forgiven for wanting to go back to an era when there were three networks on TV and Dan Rather brought us the news each night with solemn good will. Rather might be off the evening broadcast, but he’s hardly disappeared, and his sane, sensible voice has never been more needed than in the Trump era. He’ll be talking about the terrible president, and more, when he appears in Tacoma. KATIE HERZOG
Tessa Hadley: Late in the Day
When 50-something Zachary dies, grief tears not only at his wife Lydia but also at their friends Alex and Christine. The widow moves in with Alex and Christine in what turns out to be a fateful decision, waking old quarrels and emotional snarls. Tessa Hadley is one of Wales's best-known and most-laureled novelists and short-story writers.
Ha Jin: The Banished Immortal
The great, National Book Award-winning author's biography of the eighth-century Daoist poet Li Bai (aka Li Po) is a tale of wandering, beauty, and gorgeous writing.
Join investigative journalist, New Yorker staffer, and MacArthur "genius" grant and Pulitzer Prize recipient Katherine Boo for a talk on marginalized populations—perhaps African Americans in D.C., the subjects of her next book.
Seattle Arts & Lectures: Soraya Chemaly
Chemaly's 2018 book Rage Becomes Her exhorts women to harness their righteous anger for social change. Go listen to her for an evening of feminist inspiration.
Pam Houston: Deep Creek
In her delightful novel Contents May Have Shifted, Pam Houston took on the need to flee. In her latest book, Deep Creek, she takes on home—her own home, in particular, a 20-acre homestead high in the Rockies, where she watches over the resident Irish wolfhounds, horses, donkeys, Icelandic sheep, and wild animals that pass through, protecting both them, and herself, from the forces that threaten to undo them. It is here, reflecting on her life and her travels, that Houston begins to finds sanctuary, and to heal from a devastating and traumatic past. KATIE HERZOG
Renata Lubinsky: Around Seattle in 80 Dates
Author and stand-up comic Renata M. Lubinsky writes about her post-divorce romantic misadventures on online dating sites after 32 years as a married woman.
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Somehow, in the middle of helping to redefine the way journalists report on sexual assault, Ronan Farrow finished up a book about the decades-long decline of American influence around the world. In War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence, Farrow, who worked for Barack Obama's State Department for several years, takes a look back at American diplomacy through the eyes of the weary and disaffected public servants who saw their dreams of working toward peace darken as administrations cut budgets and closed embassies. As he tracks America's turn toward isolationism following the end of the Cold War, Farrow shows how another world power—China—is filling the diplomatic gaps the U.S. is leaving open. RICH SMITH
Seattle Arts & Lectures: Solmaz Sharif
Unless you're getting your news from Democracy Now, or unless you have family in the Middle East/Central America/Afghanistan, or unless you're detained in a tent at the border, the disastrous consequences of America's foreign policy may be escaping your daily life. But that news stays news in Solmaz Sharif's LOOK, a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award and one of the best books of contemporary poetry published in the 21st century. LOOK shows us how easy and seductive it is for people to see others as objects, enemies, props to generate fear for the sole purpose of gaining a small bit of power. It shows us how governments use language to achieve those ends, and it offers a different kind of language that we might use to short-circuit that mechanism. Don't miss this one. RICH SMITH
Poetry in Translation: Lunar New Year Edition
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Washington State's beloved first civic poet laureate, Claudia Castro Luna, curates this bilingual poetry series. For this edition, hear poems from writers who come from Lunar New Year-celebrating countries: Vietnam, China, Cambodia, and others.
Samuel Sinyangwe: Using Data to Advance Racial Justice
Social justice-focused data scientist Sinyangwe founded the activist website We the Protestors, which helps to track police violence and advance solutions to systemic racist repression through Campaign Zero. His influence has been recognized on Forbes's 30 Under 30 list and on the Root 100. UW Public Lectures brings him to speak to Seattleites.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore: Sketchtasy
Sketchtasy is the latest offering from Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, author of approximately one million essays and stories and books, including the Lambda Award-winning memoir, The End of San Francisco. Like that book, this novel features a radical queer character dealing with profound loss and isolation from community. Unlike that book, Sketchtasy is a work of fiction set on the opposite side of the country during the tail end of the AIDS crisis. And instead of reflecting on a failed dream of a queer utopia, the main character is living in a crumbling one, though not one divorced from the ecstasy of K-holes and coke binges. Alexander Chee praises the book as "bold, glittering, wise," while Sarah Schulman praises Sycamore's "complete command of craft." Expect formal innovation, expect drugs, expect lots of colors. RICH SMITH
A Conversation with Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith has been a major worldwide literary figure her entire adult life—since White Teeth was published in her early 20s. If you have somehow never read White Teeth, that’s the novel to start with. That said, her nonfiction is truly exceptional. Find her essay collection, Changing My Mind, and flip straight to “Dead Man Laughing,” about growing up in a family of comedy fans. Or find her most recent essay collection Feel Free, and flip straight to “Joy.” She’s also a fantastic art critic, political commentator, theater enthusiast, and satirist. On the side, she’s raising a few children. There is literally nothing she can’t do. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE
Richard Chiem: King of Joy
Local fiction phenom Richard Chiem is launching his long-awaited novel, King of Joy, from Soft Skull Press. Chiem is one of my favorite writers AND readers in Seattle. His low-key and yet somehow extremely intense performances cast a spell on audiences. His meditative sentences pull you close, and then, right when he has you where he wants you, he shows you the strangest and most heartbreaking and quietly funny things you've ever seen. Women drunk on champagne and lighting a tree on fire. An airplane entering and then exiting the reflective mirror of a puddle. A glowing black chandelier. These are some of the striking scenes and images you'll find as you follow the story of Corvus, a young woman who uses her imagination to cope with the pains of loss—until one day she suffers a loss so great she can't escape. RICH SMITH
Seattle Arts & Lectures: Dean Baquet and Marty Baron in Conversation
What a time to be in journalism. Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet will be speaking with Washington Post editor Marty Baron, who was part of the Boston Globe team that broke the story of the Catholic Church’s child molestation scandal. What are the biggest dangers facing journalism today? Media consolidation, the death of advertising, or President Pig Butt currently shitting all over the free press and the Oval Office? Perhaps we will find out during their conversation in Seattle. KATIE HERZOG
Helen Oyeyemi: Gingerbread
Hear another succulent fairy tale by the author of Boy, Snow, Bird and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. Oyeyemi cooks up surrealism in this tale of a family recipe passed down through the ages and its effect on a mother and her teenage daughter.
Silent Reading Party
The silent-reading party turned nine years old in 2018. For almost a decade, people have been gathering in the Fireside Room of the Sorrento Hotel to escape the distractions of the city, and the distractions of their cell phones, to read silently to themselves in overstuffed chairs or couches in front of the fire while waiters bring them things and Paul Moore plays exquisite piano. It’s an odd phenomenon—nothing happens—but it’s as popular as ever. There are sometimes lines out the door. Get there at least an hour early for prime seating. CHRISTOPHER FRIZZELLE
FIRST THURSDAYS & THIRD FRIDAYS
A live amateur storytelling competition in which audience members who put their names in a hat are randomly chosen to tell stories on a theme. Local comedians tend to show up, but lots of nonperformers get in on the action as well. First Thursday readings take place at the Fremont Abbey, followed by third Friday events at St. Mark's Cathedral.
African-American Writers' Alliance Poetry Reading
Hear poets from the Northwest's African American community in a reading organized by the NW African American Writers' Alliance, which promotes emerging and seasoned writers and publishes anthologies.
Pundamonium: Pun Slam Competition
Okay, listen. I know there are only two types of people in the world when it comes to puns: the kind who recognize the degree to which they reveal the depth and soul of humankind’s relationship with language, memory, and verbal dexterity, and the rest of you idiots who don’t get it. Still, this event sounded pretty sketchy at first. Participants are given a bit of lead time to write a short, pun-based monologue based on a prompt pulled out a hat when they sign up, then, based on the response of judges, they are pitted against one another in a head-to-head improvised pun-off in subsequent rounds, until one is crowned the winner. Because I flatter myself with the reputation of a bit of a brainbox dynamo with the old wordplay, I strolled into the Peddler Brewing Company thinking I would dazzle everyone and easily mop up the competition. What happened instead is that I had to go up first, and I totally disgraced myself, because guess what: It’s very difficult, and the other competitors were top-notch. Though undeniably square and indisputably not for everyone, Pundamonium is also two things: 1) very fun, and 2) astonishingly popular. On a cold rainy night, the outdoor seating section was totally crammed with people, dogs, beer, and puns. SEAN NELSON
Margin Shift is a poetry reading series that emphasizes the contributions of anyone who might normally be at the margins of the mainstream literary scene—"poets of color, LGBTQI poets, poets from out of town, poets who are new to town, women poets, undocumented poets, experimental writers (whatever that might mean!), and brand new writers."
Literary Happy Hour
Capitol Cider invites poets and authors to read their work to a happy hour audience ($1 off drafts before 6).
Loud Mouth Lit
The writer Paul Mullin, winner of a Stranger Genius Award, curates a “fresh, local, organically sourced” monthly literary event called Loud Mouth Lit dedicated to “the amazing writers living in Seattle.”
Gage Georgetown Calling: Art Lecture Series with Emily Pothast
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Emily Pothast, artist, art scholar, curator, and co-founder of the bands Hair and Space Museum and Midday Veil, will lecture on diverse, unusual topics in art history, such as "The Aesthetics of Fascism," (Jan 31) and "Spiritualism and Channeling in the Visual Arts" (Feb 28). The last two sessions, on March 28 and April 25, will examine indigenous, women, POC, and other marginalized artists in the Pacific Northwest.