Happy UNESCO Birthday to Us!

It’s been one year since Seattle was designated a UNESCO City of Literature. And what a year! 
Let’s look back over the work that Seattle City of Literature has accomplished so far:

Creative Cities Network Update

Delegates from twenty-six Cities of Literature convened in Iowa City, April 2018

Delegates from twenty-six Cities of Literature convened in Iowa City, April 2018

Since our designation, Seattle attended the Cities of Literature Subnetwork meeting in Iowa City (April 2018) and the Creative Cities Network meeting in Kraków (June 2018).

  • In Iowa City, 26 of the 28 Cities of Lit attended. Seattle was welcomed into the network with 7 other new cities. We spent time getting to know the delegates and also how the subnetwork functions.

  • In Kraków, 180 cities across all 7 disciplines attended. Our time was divided into a literary study trip and the UNESCO conference. Seattle also had the opportunity to meet with delegates from the other U.S. Creative Cities.

  • The literary study trip introduced delegates to the breadth of the literary community in Kraków, and included meetings with publishers as well as the Polish Book Institute; visits to area bookstores; visits to cultural nonprofits; and attendance at the OffMiłosz Festival and the Szymborska Awards.

  • The theme of this year’s conference was “Creative Crossroads,” and it focused on the idea of connection and intersection. The purpose was to “strengthen ties between cities from around the world” and to “serve as a platform to define the strategic objectives of the network,” centered around UNESCO’s Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

  • The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are targets for the Creative Cities to strive toward as we undertake our individual and collaborative work.

  • Seattle presented to our literature subnetwork on our Equity Trainings, and presented as part of the full conference on a “Creative Mobilities” panel on transportation—showcasing Seattle’s Poetry on Buses.

Program Updates

Maori writer Nic Low with Jack Straw writers, October 2017. From left: D.A. Navoti, Catalina Cantú, Levi Fuller, Nic Low, Jamaica Baldwin

Maori writer Nic Low with Jack Straw writers, October 2017. From left: D.A. Navoti, Catalina Cantú, Levi Fuller, Nic Low, Jamaica Baldwin

Seattle City of Lit has been producing and partnering on a variety of programs in the last year and a half. Here’s a bit more information about them:

  • Seattle City of Lit has hosted four equity trainings for members of the literary community. These trainings have focused on cultural competency, implicit bias, unpacking privilege and hiring & retaining a diverse workforce. We have some funding to continue hosting these trainings.

  • We partnered with our sister city Christchurch on an indigenous writers’ exchange. In 2016, Elissa Washuta traveled to Christchurch and took part in the WORD Christchurch Literary Festival. In 2017 Maori writer Nic Low traveled here and participated in LitCrawl Seattle. We also conducted a literary journal exchange where a journal from each city featured writers from the partner city to coincide with the writer’s visit.

  • We have had ongoing partnerships with Reykjavik City of Lit, Iceland Naturally, and their “Taste of Iceland” festival. This has included a program with saga experts and a band at KEXP (2016) and a recent visit from Reykjavik writer and environmental activist Andri Snaer Magnason.

What Have We Learned?

Since Seattle originally started the designation process, UNESCO’s focus has shifted to concentrate on ways that the network can help build sustainable cities through the arts.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals exist to help guide the overarching work that the network undertakes and give us a framework for how the arts sectors can help create more livable cities.

We’re excited about how this work can create real impact in our city and in cities around the world. The Creative Cities Network, which Seattle is now a part of, is an amazing resource for inspiration, collaboration and best practices. And the best news? 

We’re just getting started!

Q&A With Writer Elissa Washuta: She's Going to New Zealand. What For?

Seattle writer Elissa Washuta will present a workshop and participate in a panel featuring indigenous writers at the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival in Christchurch, New Zealand. Seattle writer Elissa Washuta is going to New Zealand. Read on to find out why she's headed to that part of the world and how she gets preoccupied with poetry.

What are you working on these days?

Washuta: I'm working on my third book. I don't like to say too much about it, because I find that it's really not very good for my writing process to say too much about work that hasn't been written yet. I've killed a lot of essays, and even whole books, that way. But I'm working on an essay collection, or two, or three. I'm burrowing into texts the same way I did with a college term paper in My Body Is a Book of Rules and filling those textual containers with my own story.

I'm also the writer-in-residence at the Fremont Bridge this summer, and I'm just beginning a big project about the bridge, the Lake Washington Ship Canal, the land, the water, and the unseen world.

What story or book have you read lately that’s stuck with you? Why did it resonate?

Washuta: Last Sext by Melissa Broder. I often feel kind of lost when I read poetry because I get preoccupied with questions about what makes a poem a poem and how line breaks work--the stuff I've been told not to worry about. Last Sext was different because it was like the speaker's language had come out of my own body: "The hole I fill with sickness this time / Every time / This is what I do with love"

You’re going to New Zealand's WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. What’s the plan for you there?

Washuta: Right now, I plan to participate fully in the festival. I will be reading and speaking at least a couple of times, and I plan to attend other events as much as possible. I'm going to be part of an Indigenous writers panel, and I'm making my first PechaKucha! I haven't made any other plans because I'm not very good at travel. I've never been outside the US or Canada and I'm a little inept at sightseeing and planning for that, having never done much travel apart from book tour events, conferences, and work trips. I'm open to suggestions for things to do in Christchurch. I plan to be curious and happy.

A lot of your writing is influenced by your background as a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. You’ll be taking that experience to New Zealand to teach a non-fiction writing workshop with Maori writers. Do you think there are experiences or themes that come up time and again in the writing of native people? Why?

The things that I think a lot of readers identify as common themes in work by Native American writers--identity, land--are, really, common themes in work by non-Native writers, too. There is so much variation in theme, structural approaches, style, and subject matter in work by Native writers. I think that some readers who approach the "Native American" shelves in bookstores are expecting to find books about dead people, tradition, war, spirituality, and reservations. Perhaps that's changing. So many of us don't appear on those shelves, and so many of us are concerned with all sorts of other things: Law & Order, Disney characters, illness, cities, language, detective stories, parenting, vampires--the list is actually endless. I can barely even begin to create it.

For more from writer Elissa Washuta, visit her website.