Tales and stories have always determined the way the world has seen Seattle. For ten thousand years, the area has been inhabited by the indigenous American Coast Salish tribes, and there is a straight line that links their sculptures, rites and oral storytelling tradition with the contemporary works of Duane Niatum, a poet of Klallam descent (the Klallams are one of the Coast Salish tribes,) or novels by James Welch. The vernacular oral tradition paved the entire region’s way to literary development and was an important element of Seattle’s identity as a creative city that formed throughout the 20th century. Theodore Roethke, Richard Hugo, David Wagoner, Carolyn Kizer and Denise Levertov shaped the local literary scene, creating poetry that is deeply embedded in the city’s topography. Frank Herbert, Octavia Butler and Jayne Ann Krentz laid groundwork for the local genre and fantasy prose. Works by contemporary Seattle-based writers like Tom Robbins, Raymond Carver, Charles Johnson, Maria Semple or Sherman Alexi look at the freedoms and limitations of North-Western American identity.
65 venues make the literary landscape of the city: libraries, bookshops and non-profit organisations. The most interesting of them are Hugo House (the house of Richard Hugo), a project that delivers literary courses, stages events and ensures support for writers; the Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas that holds creative writing courses for young people; the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library, a programme that provides library services to readers unable to read due to blindness and supports the production of audiobooks and books in braille by local authors; Town Hall Seattle, a cultural centre that organises artistic events and readings; the Writers’ Room at the Seattle Public Library, a dedicated workspace for Writers currently under book contract to a publishing company or those who demonstrate a serious commitment to using the Library’s specialised collections in their writing.
Seattle’s flagship event is Bumbershoot, the largest art festival in the United States, the programme of which is always long on literary activities, promoting local, domestic and international writers. Seattle hosts the regular Short Run Comix & Arts Festival devoted to indie comics art and self-publishing, as well as the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair. Besides, the city is home to Lit Crawl Seattle (a literature night when 65 authors read their works on stage in more than 20 locations); NorWesCon or the Pacific Northwest’s premier science fiction and fantasy convention; and Gay Romance Northwest Conference.