The Best Readings & Talks in Seattle: Winter 2019/2020

Our Critics' Picks for December 9–March 15
December 4, 2019
Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the #MeToo heroes whose investigative journalism initiated the fall of Harvey Weinstein, will come to Seattle in January on tour for their book She Said. (Martin Schoeller)
Below, we've compiled all of our critics' picks for the season's literary events, like Isabel Allende: A Long Petal of the Sea, an appearance by Carmen Maria Machado, and An Evening with Janet Mock. You can also find a complete list of readings & talks in Seattle this winter on our EverOut Things To Do calendar, or check out the rest of our critics' picks from Seattle Art and Performance.


Thurs Jan 30

Crissy Van Meter: Creatures A Southern California woman's wedding day is marred by potential tragedy, unexpected family reappearances, and a dead whale in this novel that's drawn praise from Leni Zumas, Kristen Arnett, and many reviewers. (Elliott Bay Book Company, 7 pm, free)

Isabel Allende: A Long Petal of the Sea Now is the time to read and listen to Chilean writer Isabel Allende. In the middle of October, protests exploded in Santiago, Chile. These demonstrations, which involved millions of Chileans, were sparked by a rise in the city's subway fare. But the crisis is not isolated; it's occurring against the backdrop of Chile's early experiment with neoliberalism, which was imposed on the country by the brutal dictator, Augusto Pinochet. In her 1982 novel The House of the Spirits, Allende attempted to exorcize the ghosts of that exceptionally bloody dictatorship which began with the murder of the novelist's cousin, the democratically elected Salvador Allende. The ghosts of Pinochet still haunt the slim South American country. Allende will certainly have lots to say about how these ghosts have returned as the young protesters on the streets of Santiago, despite the fact that her latest novel shifts the time period backward, to the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. CM (Town Hall, 7:30 pm, $35)

Sat Feb 8

Garth Greenwell: Cleanness The award-winning novelist follows up his intense and heartbreaking gay love story What Belongs to You—about an American teacher in Bulgaria and a young man he meets in a bathroom—with a second novel, Cleanness, narrated by the same guy. Representative sentence: "Sex had never been joyful for me before, or almost never, it had always been fraught with shame and anxiety and fear, all of which vanished at the sight of his smile, simply vanished, it poured a kind of cleanness over everything we did." CF (Elliott Bay Book Company, 7 pm, free)

Wed Feb 26

Spotlight Fiction: The Cactus League by Emily Nemens The editor of the Paris Review will revisit Seattle to read from her first novel, The Cactus League, about a star outfielder for the LA Lions whose imminent breakdown becomes the subject of fascination for colleagues, family members, hangers-on, and others. (Hugo House, 7 pm, free)


Fri Dec 13

Copper Canyon Press Showcase and Holiday Book Sale The local press will have many poetry books to buy during their annual celebration. Come for the shopping, stay for the ecological verse reading from Here: Poems for the Planet, featuring work from 125 prominent writers like Mary Oliver, Robert Hass, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil, plus a foreword by the Dalai Lama. (Hugo House, 7 pm, free)

Thurs Feb 6

Paisley Rekdal In 2017, Rich Smith wrote, "The best essay I read this year was called 'Nightingale: A Gloss,' and it was written by Seattle writer (but current University of Utah prof) Paisley Rekdal and published in the American Poetry Review. In a straightforward, no-bullshit tone, and with her characteristically sharp eye for scholarly associations, Rekdal weaves the story of a sexual assault she experienced while hiking alone in Loch Ness with Ovid's story of Philomela, other rapes of antiquity, and also with the story of her writing a poem called 'Philomela.' Her reckoning of the assault, and her reckoning of her own reckoning, reveals sexual violence for what it is: a pillar, not an aberration, of Western civilization." She now has a full-length book out inspired by the essay, titled simply Nightingale. It "radically rewrites and contemporizes many of the myths central to Ovid's epic, The Metamorphoses." (Broadway Performance Hall, 7:30 pm, $20—$80)

Tues March 10

Sierra Nelson and Kary Wayson Here we have two wizards working with two different but complementary kinds of magic. Sierra Nelson writes bioluminescent lines using various personas and scientific guises to illuminate the dark corners of melancholy and loneliness. You can find her latest in The Lachrymose Report, which is the only poetry book I know of with an index that's also a poem in its own right. Kary Wayson runs a tight ship—terse, musical lyrics that unspool whole logics from a single word or sound. Very much looking forward to Wayson's new book, Via Maria Materi, which will be out from Burnside Review Press in 2020. RS (Elliott Bay Book Company, 7 pm, free)


Tues Dec 10

Erika Lee: A History of Xenophobia in the US Erika Lee, director of the Immigration History Research Center at the University of Minnesota, is here to explain just how long the Statue of Liberty has been an absolute joke, a monument to openhearted immigration policy in a country that has excluded the Chinese, harassed the Germans and the Irish, and corralled the Mexicans and Japanese in concentration camps. Lee's early work focused on the Chinese Exclusion Act, but her new history, America for Americans, takes a broader view, examining the connections between racism and xenophobia over the last couple hundred years. RS (Town Hall, 7:30 pm, $5)

Fri Feb 28

John Sayles: Yellow Earth The director of the cult classic Brother from Another Planet, John Sayles, has, sadly, not made a film since 2013. And his last masterpiece, Amigo, was completed a decade ago. But this does not mean Sayles, one of the greatest leftist filmmakers of the 20th century (he is to the US, what Ken Loach is to the UK), was doing nothing during this time. In January 2020, Haymarket, a socialist publishing house based in Chicago, will release Sayles's Yellow Earth, a 400-page political fiction outing that's about Native American reservations in Missouri, activism, and petrocapitalism. CM (Elliott Bay Book Company, 7 pm, free)

Memoir/ Biography

Tues Dec 17

Annual Holiday Reading with Brad Craft Join the Book Store's beloved used books buyer, Brad, to drink in Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory," a tale of making Christmas traditions with his older cousin "from buying illegally made whiskey for their fruitcakes to cutting down their own tree and decorating it with homemade ornaments." (University Book Store, 6 pm, free)

Tues Jan 7

EJ Koh: The Magical Language of Others Rich Smith has praised EJ Koh's award-winning "intense, image-driven poetry" numerous times. In this autobiographical work, Koh writes about her long separation from her parents at the age of 15, and her mother's sorrowful and loving letters that resurfaced years later. Koh investigates her mother's and grandmothers' experiences, from witnessing the Jeju Island Massacre to enduring personal heartbreak. (Elliott Bay Book Company, 7 pm, free)

Fri Jan 24

Carmen Maria Machado She's done it again. Judging by the rave reviews of In the Dream House, Carmen Maria Machado has written another must-read. But rather than a collection of Borgesian short stories, this one is a harrowing memoir about her abusive relationship with her first girlfriend. Entertainment Weekly called it "the best memoir of the year." NPR says she's invented "a new kind of memoir." Seattle's own Kristen Millares Young said her review of the book in the Washington Post would have been easier to write if Machado wasn't "so good." Brace yourself for this one. RS (Town Hall, 7:30 pm, $20—$80)

Thurs Feb 13

Spotlight Nonfiction: Wild Ride Home by Christine Hemp Hemp's memoir is framed by the taming of a wild horse, but it covers such heartbreaking encounters and experiences as "a dangerous fiancé, her mother's dementia, unexpected death, and illness." This will be the renowned poet's nonfiction debut. (Hugo House, 7 pm, free)


Wed Dec 18

Twisted Christmas Tales and Cocktails Calling all holiday creeps! Librarian David Wright, the host of Thrilling Tales, will darken that festive mood with some "seriously messed-up" seasonal stories, "from ghost stories to noir to whatever the hell it is Chuck Palahniuk writes." Arrive early to snag a seat. (Palace Theatre & Art Bar, 8 pm, free)

Politics/Current Issues

Mon Dec 9

César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández: Migrating to Prison Hernández explodes the myth that the incarceration of immigrants is a time-honored and normal practice with this history of the immigration prison system, which emerged as late as the mid-1980s. (Town Hall, 7:30 pm, $5)

Thurs Dec 12

Amplifying the Voices of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Of the cities reviewed in a new study from the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI), Seattle has the highest number of missing and murdered indigenous women in the country. Abigail Echo-Hawk, director of the institute and one of the study's researchers, will explain why that's the case and offer some solutions for how to stop the horrific and largely unregistered violence perpetuated against Native women. Echo-Hawk will also cover other health and social issues, including the results of another study released earlier this year by UIHI showing that 94 percent of Native women have reported being raped at some point in their lives. Some major challenges Echo-Hawk and the other speakers are likely to mention during this conversation include poor record-keeping protocols on the part of police and institutional racism in the media. If law enforcement and media do not account for the violence happening in the first place, then we can't figure out why it's happening. If we can't figure out why it's happening, then we can't stop it. And if we can't stop it, then more women will continue to be murdered and go missing. RS (Town Hall, 7 pm, free)

Thurs Jan 9

Shawn Wong and Tara Fickle: Aiiieeeee! University of Washington professor Shawn Wong has the distinction of being one of the four editors of the groundbreaking 1974 anthology Aiiieeeee!, which carved out the contemporary Asian American canon and helped articulate many of the conversations about Orientalism, racism, and classism that continue to animate literary scholarship today. The anthology has since been criticized for lacking the voices of women writers, queer writers, and writers with roots in East Asian countries such as Korea and Vietnam, a point likely addressed in literary scholar Tara Fickle's new foreword. Nevertheless, the historic import of this collection is undeniable, and, by examining the recent past, this reading should lead to a lively discussion about the future of Asian American literature. RS (Elliott Bay Book Company, 7 pm, free)

Wed Jan 15

An Evening with Janet Mock Janet Mock has done a lot of stuff in her 36 years on earth. A trans advocate and a native of Hawaii, she's been an editor at People and a writer for the New Yorker, New York Times, Marie Claire, Interview, and Allure. She's worked as a correspondent for Entertainment Tonight and a host for MSNBC; she's a writer, director, and producer on the hit Netflix show Pose; and her memoir Redefining Realness debuted as a New York Times best seller. If there's a Top X Under X list, Mock has probably been on it, and she'll discuss her remarkable life (which includes appearing in a Jay-Z video) and more on her date in Seattle. KH (Kane Hall Room 130, 7:30 pm, $5)

Wed Jan 22

Adam Davidson Davidson's acute analysis can be heard on the Planet Money podcast, which he co-created, and read in the New Yorker. Among other laurels, he's won a Peabody award for his coverage of the financial crisis, whose devastating effect on the housing market he addressed in the radio documentary The Giant Pool of Money. Seattle Arts & Lectures will bring him to share his economic insights. (Benaroya Hall, 7:30 pm, $20—$80)

Wed Jan 29

Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey #MeToo heroes Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey were instrumental in the fall of Harvey Weinstein after their Pulitzer-winning exposé of the Hollywood mogul and alleged rapist was published in the New York Times in 2017. In their new book, She Said, the journalists explain how, exactly, they managed to publish a story that had gone unreported, but whispered about, for so long. Washington Post called it "an instant classic of investigative journalism," and the New York Times named it an instant bestseller. KH (Benaroya Hall, 7:30 pm, $20—$80)

Wed Feb 5

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn Journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn don't just share a home (they've been married for over 30 years); they also share a Pulitzer. The couple, who won the most coveted award in journalism for their coverage of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1990, is out with a new book, Tightrope, about economic devastation ravaging American communities. In Yamhill, Oregon, where Kristof grew up, a quarter of the kids who rode his school bus eventually died from drugs, alcohol, suicide, or some kind of accidents. This book is about what happened in Yamhill, and other oft-neglected places in this country. KH (Benaroya Hall, 7:30 pm, $20—$80)

Mon Feb 10

Ezra Klein: Why We're Polarized Ezra Klein, co-founder of Vox, host of The Ezra Klein Show and co-host of the Weeds podcast, will give his take on American political divisions with his new book Why We're Polarized, with a focus on "functional parts whose efforts combine into a dysfunctional whole." (University Temple United Methodist Church, 7 pm, $28)


Thurs Jan 16

Daniel Levitin: Successful Aging How does one age successfully? That's the question Daniel Levitin tries to answer in his new book, Successful Aging: A Neuroscientist Explores the Power and Potential of Our Lives. Relying on brain studies as well as interviews with happily aging people, Levitin argues that people can have rich, fulfilling, and healthy lives into their 80s and 90s, but it takes both an individual effort, and accommodation and understanding on the part of society. KH (Central Library, 7 pm, free)

Tues Jan 28

Ingrid Newkirk: Animalkind Ingrid Newkirk has spent her career advocating against animal cruelty. The president of PETA and co-author Gene Stone are out with a new book, Animalkind: Remarkable Discoveries About Animals and the Remarkable Ways We Can Be Kind to Them. An inspection of the inner lives of animals ("Animals love," they write. "They grieve. They feel emotional pain. They worry. And they can anticipate pain."), the text offers compelling arguments against animal testing and circuses and in favor of veganism and low-oil diets. They make less compelling arguments against leather, but you still may want to avoid wearing Birkenstocks to their reading. KH (Elliott Bay Book Company, free)


Tues Jan 14

David Kessler: Finding Meaning Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's co-author of the important psychological text On Grief and Grieving ventures beyond the five stages of grief—the attainment of meaning—in this new book. (Elliott Bay Book Company, 7 pm, free)

Thurs Jan 23

Heather Evans: Interdependent Success In this talk, subtitled "Cultivating a Community of Diverse Bodies and Minds," Evans presents her research on people who've become disabled in an exploration of stigma, exclusion, and the false narratives of "independence." (Kane Hall, Room 120, 7:30 pm, free)

The Arts

Mon Dec 9

Mark Morris: Out Loud The incredible Seattle-raised dance artist will read from his autobiography, in which he tells of his uncompromising career as a performer and choreographer. (Town Hall, 7:30 pm, $36/$42)

Wed Dec 11

Who Needs Galleries? Beloved local artists Brandon Vosika, Mary Anne Carter, and Leah St. Lawrence will speak on the new forms that the art scene is adopting—DIY exhibitions, fairs, social media sharing—with Gary Faigin, Gage Academy of Art director, as moderator. (Town Hall, 7:30 pm, free)

Wed Feb 26

An Evening with Karamo Brown Queer Eye "culture expert" Karamo Brown will dish on pop culture, queerness, blackness, Christianity, and other aspects of his identity, as well as his career. (Meany Center for the Performing Arts, 7:30 pm, $5)

Writing Technique

Thurs Dec 12

Michael Cunningham: The Problem Is Never the Plot The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours will contend that profoundly human characters, not plot, should be a writer's focus in this Word Works: Writers on Writing lecture. (Hugo House, 7 pm, $15/$30)

Thurs Feb 20

Gish Jen: Politics & Possibility Rich Smith wrote in 2017: "Over the course of her many award-winning novels, Gish Jen writes about the complexities of assimilation, interracial relationships, and conflict between first-generation immigrants and second/third-generation immigrants." Jen is coming out with a new novel, a dystopian fiction called The Resisters. Here, she'll talk about how Trump's America can influence powerful writing. (Hugo House, 7 pm, $15/$30)


Sat Jan 11

Viet Thanh and Ellison Nguyen: Chicken of the Sea Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnamese writer Viet Thanh Nguyen and his little son Ellison have collaborated on this adorable-sounding book about brave sailor chickens who battle seasickness and the fearsome Dog Knights. (Elliott Bay Book Company, 2 pm, free)

Young Adult

Fri Feb 7

Eoin Colfer Meet the progenitor of the kid super-criminal Artemis Fowl. (University Temple Methodist Church, 7 pm)


Wed Dec 11

Writers Under the Influence: James Baldwin James Baldwin is the author of several masterpieces of fiction, many brilliant essays, and a couple plays. His reputation as an artist and public intellectual grows with each passing year, especially because he channeled his perceptions of white supremacy into timeless articulations of the evil lurking beneath America's premises. This tribute to Baldwin is a collaboration between Hugo House and Northwest African American Museum, and features readings and remembrances by Anastacia-Reneé, Ebo Barton, LaNesha DeBardelaben, and Seattle Civic Poet Jourdan Imani Keith. CF (Northwest African American Museum, 7 pm, free)

Fri Feb 28

Hugo Literary Series: Behind Closed Doors Anthony Swofford (Jarhead), Mitchell S. Jackson (The Residue Years and Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family), Charles D'Ambrosio (Loitering), and R&B singer JusMoni will present new work on the theme of "Behind Closed Doors." (Hugo House, 7:30 pm, $25/$50)

First Wednesdays

Silent Reading Party The Silent Reading Party is one of the weirdest, most wonderful parties you'll ever go to, because no one talks to you and you can get some reading done. You curl up on a couch or in a wingback chair with a book or magazine or whatever you feel like reading, while Paul Moore plays piano and waiters bring you things. Whenever Paul starts playing Erik Satie, I find myself staring into the fireplace or closing my eyes and melting into the couch. The reading party, which is now 10 years old, is so popular that there is often a line out the door just to get a seat. The people who know what they're doing get there an hour before it starts. CF (Hotel Sorrento, 6 pm, free)

First Thursdays & Third Fridays

Seattle StorySLAM 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. (Various locations, 8 pm, $10)