Literary Tourism: Seattle (Take Two)

I have been a Seattle resident for nine months now. While that time period qualifies me to gestate a human being, I’m not sure it qualifies me to tell you the best literary sites to visit in this fine, literary city, so I figured I’d let you know right up front. While I attempted to create a comprehensive list of the best bookish places and events my new city has to offer, I’m excited to hear all about the stores, festivals, and gravesites I may have missed in the comments.

Bookstores

Seattle—and the surrounding area—has more than two dozen bookstores. We can foster this kind of commitment to literature and reading because most days it is so gray and rainy that staying in and reading seems a far better alternative to venturing out of doors. On the days it is sunny, we buy stacks of books to get us through the rest of the month.

The first bookstore you absolutely must visit is The Elliott Bay Book Company—and I’m not just saying that because I work there. Founded in 1973, it is a Seattle institution and arguably among the most well-known (and loved) bookstores in America. Again, not at all biased. It’s huge, so we’re able to cater to a wide variety of tastes. The booksellers are awesome and would love to recommend your next favorite book—I know because I am one. Plus they have events almost every single night and you can even bring a glass of wine from the cafe to our events space.

Elliott Bay Book Company

photo by Joe Mabel

I also love Third Place Books (my favorite is their Ravenna location) and University Bookstore—which, founded in 1900, is the oldest bookstore in Seattle. If your interests are varied, these large, wonderfully curated indies are sure to scratch whatever literary itch you have.

Third Place Ravenna

photo from Third Place Ravenna

But one of my favorite features of Seattle aren’t its general bookstores, but it’s niche ones. Book Larder is a delicious bookstore devoted to cookbooks and cooking—they even offer cooking classes. Fantagraphics is a publisher, bookstore, and gallery which features some amazing comics—and is connected to a record store. Ada’s Technical Books is focused on science and technology tomes—but also has great selection of nerdy fiction and extremely difficult puzzles. (Seriously, those puzzles are unsolvable.) Open Books is a poetry-only bookstore you can’t leave without a book in hand (and by “you” I mean me, and by “a book” I mean multiple) because the staff is wonderful at finding just what you didn’t know you were looking for. And it’s no mystery what The Seattle Mystery Bookshop sells… eh? Bad jokes aside, there are so many amazing bookstores in Seattle that I could devote an entire post just to them. But for now, let’s move on.

Ada's Technical Books and Cafe

photo from Seattle Review of Books

BOOKISH PLACES

It’s no wonder with so many bookstores that Seattle also has a thriving literary community. If you’re a writer or reader, the city has much to offer in the way of events and opportunities.

Seattle Public Library‘s flagship location is worth a visit just to admire the 11-stories of glass and metal that create this beautiful, sculpture-like building.

Seattle Public Library

photo from designrulz

photo from designrulz

The library also has a number of events: everything from classes on learning a new language to author events (past ones featured the likes of Viet Thanh Nguyen, Michael Chabon, and Stacy Schiff). Oh and also it has more than 1 million books and materials for browsing and borrowing. So basically you could go your whole life only reading books from this one library and still not get to all of them. Aren’t libraries amazing?

Hugo House—named for the nationally renowned poet Richard Hugo—is a writers’ center that offers classes, lectures, and readings. They also have a writer-in-residence program, writers’ studios, and youth programming. The Hugo Lit Series features brand new work based around a certain prompt and has featured amazing writers like Sherman Alexie, Alexander Chee, Angela Flournoy, and Dorothy Allison. If you’re in town when a Hugo House event is happening—and they’re quite frequent, so it’s likely you are—they are well worth checking out.

The Museum of Pop Culture is a nonprofit museum dedicated to popular culture, with exhibits on rock and roll, indie video games, horror movies, and—of course—books. It currently features a Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame and two exhibits called Fantasy: Myth and Magic & Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction. My favorite feature were all the props from some of my favorite books-turned-movies like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.

photo by Brady Harvey

festivals and events

Whether you’re visiting Seattle for a few days, weeks, or years, I guarantee there will be a literary event happening every day of your stay here. There are so many, in fact, I simply can’t include them all. When you’re in town, I recommend checking out The Stranger’s events calendar, which is a fairly comprehensive resource of readings and events around the city.

Seattle Arts & Lectures has been making Seattle a more literary city for thirty years now, with reading series like Women You Need to Know and Writers in the Schools. It also has a general Literary Arts Series—which, in 2o17, will feature writers Colson Whitehead, Jesmyn Ward, Isabel Allende, and more—and a Poetry Series, which will feature Pulitzer Prize winner Tyehimba Jess, published by local press Wave Books.

Emily Nussbaum from SAL’s Women You Need to Know series

Lit Fix is self-described as “the city’s dive-friendliest reading and music series.” I’ve not yet had the pleasure to attend one of their readings, but I know they combine great music and literature with excellent dive bars—so basically all the best things. And their website features a helpful list of other literary organizations in Seattle that are well worth checking out.

Speaking of the marriage of music and literature, The Bushwick Book Club Seattle is a group of musicians who read one book and compose original music inspired by their reading. Part book group, part concert, their events—which happen every two months or so—are not to be missed.

If you like books and plays, then you must check out Book-It Repertory Theatre, which adapts short stories and novels to the stage. Their 2017 shows include I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (both adapted by Myra Platt).

from Book-It’s website

And while we’re talking about plays, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a quick shoutout to Seattle Shakesbeeriance, which combines a Shakespearean performance with a lot of drinking.

Lit Crawl Seattle marries the pub crawl with literary events; move from venue to venue—bookstores and bars, mostly—and enjoy a wide variety of readings and talks. It takes place in just one night, but it’s over 35 events in 15 different venues, and I’d say it’s worth planning a trip around.

Short Run Comix & Arts Festival is a great, big comics and art-focused book fair. In 2016 it featured 270 artists and writers and was overwhelming in its breadth. I found a comics anthology dedicated solely to Shirley Jackson—it’s called The Shirley Jackson Project—among other amazing things. It is another one-day only event, but was too great not to mention; another event that merits its own trip to Seattle.

 

photo from Seattle Times

When I started this post I knew how literary my new city was, but I honestly had no idea the breadth and variety of its nightly offerings. I didn’t even mention the wonderful authors we’re currently home to, the many book clubs hosted in the city, nor the literary websites we’ve born. I’m always looking for new bookish things to do and places to visit, so if you have a favorite I missed, I hope you’ll let me know.

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