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Originally published March 3, 2014 at 6:15 AM | Page modified March 3, 2014 at 8:20 AM

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Will Seattle be UNESCO’s next City of Literature?

Mary Ann Gwinn’s weekly Lit Life column reports on the movement to declare Seattle a City of Literature, and Washington state’s new poet laureate, Elizabeth Austen.


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Lit Life

The movement to recognize Seattle as the eighth UNESCO City of Literature appears to be gathering momentum. If you’re interested in an update, supporters are gathering at 7:30 p.m. March 12 at Town Hall Seattle at a free event (townhallseattle.org). They will present elements of the city’s application, which has been approved by the Seattle City Council, signed by Mayor Ed Murray and is due to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in late March.

Presenters include novelist Ryan Boudinot, mastermind of the effort. Boudinot recently traveled to several existing Cities of Literature, including Norwich, England, Edinburgh, Scotland, and Dublin, and visited UNESCO headquarters in Paris on a self-financed tour. Boudinot says he cashed in 15 years worth of frequent flier miles to make the trip.

The UNESCO Creative Cities network is a group of 41 cities worldwide with specialties in film, literature, design, music, gastronomy, media arts and crafts and folk art. If selected, Seattle would join seven other cities designated as cities of literature, including Edinburgh; Melbourne, Australia; Norwich; Dublin; Reykjavik, Iceland; Krakow, Poland; and Iowa City, Iowa (home of the internationally famous Iowa Writers Workshop).

There has been some discussion of city funding for the effort, but both city officials and Boudinot say that Seattle has to win the designation before funding can be considered. “It’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing — the city can’t give money to an organization that doesn’t exist yet, and the organization needs the backing of the city before it can exist,” said Boudinot in an email. “What I do know is that there is broad international, national and local support for our bid.”

At the Town Hall event, scheduled presenters includeMurray, Chris Higashi of the Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library; Gary Luke, Sasquatch Books publisher; Nancy Pearl, NPR books commentator and uber-librarian; Tree Swenson, director of Richard Hugo House; Elissa Washuta of the University of Washington; and Rick Simonson of the Elliott Bay Book Co. Brian McGuigan of Richard Hugo House will moderate.

New poet laureate

Washington state has a new poet laureate. It’s Elizabeth Austen, a Seattle-based poet.

Austen is the author of a poetry collection, “Every Dress a Decision,” plus two poetry chapbooks. She produces literary programming for KUOW radio in Seattle and also works at Seattle Children’s hospital as a communications specialist and educator.

Austen will serve a two-year term as primary supporter and promoter of poetry in Washington state. In a release, she said that she hopes “to reach people — even people who think they don’t like poetry — by sharing works that are both vivid and relatable.” She gets a $10,000 per year stipend to advance that cause.

Austen succeeds Kathleen Flenniken, a Seattle-based poet and author of the poetry collection “Plume,” based on her experiences growing up near and working at the Hanford nuclear reservation.

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@seattletimes.com. Gwinn appears every Tuesday on TVW's "Well Read," discussing books with host Terry Tazioli (go to www.tvw.org/shows/well-read for archived episodes). On Twitter @gwinnma.



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