The first writers’ conference I ever attended was in Seattle, in March, 1979. I was almost ten years old. It was the Seattle Pacific University Young Author’s Conference. A highlight of the event (okay, the only thing I actually remember about the event) was the fact that copies of our works, which had earned us a place at this prestigious gathering of our elementary school peers, would be held in the University Library so that future readers could benefit from our genius and artistry.
Flash forward, thirty-five years. I will be attending another writers’ conference in Seattle. Seattle Pacific University’s MFA program in writing is a “Major Sponsor” of this conference, which is a bit bigger than the now-defunct Young Author’s Conference. I did not have to submit work in order to attend, but I will be on a panel about chapbooks with other writers from Slapering Hol press, who published my first chapbook.
I speak, of course, of the 2014 Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Conference, which is nearly upon us. From February 26 to March 2, upwards of ten thousand writers will descend upon Seattle. I am one such writer, and I’ve been attending this conference since 1993 as a graduate student. I’m excited to see the conference travel to Seattle — my family lives in the area, my brother in Seattle and my folks out on the Hood Canal.
As it has been in recent years, the schedule is packed to the rafters with not only the traditional conference fare of panels and readings and book signings and caucuses, but also with, oh, I don’t know, a jillion and a half “off-site events” (mostly readings) in Seattle bars, restaurants, and bookstores. For three full (9AM until bedtime) days, the Washington State Convention Center and Sheraton and, well a great chunk of the city, will be teeming with the AWPers (rhymes with soulful barbaric YAWPers?).
And let me not forget (how could I??) the book fair — tables and booths occupied by literary journals, zines, small presses, gigantic presses, in-between presses, literary centers, etc. On Saturday, the book fair is free and open to the public, and I recommend checking it out. Many publishers offer great discounts on Saturday because they don’t want to have to ship all their wares home. Even when the book fair was shoehorned into unsuitably small or weirdly-arranged spaces, I have always found much to love in all those pages and all those page-passionate folks at those tables. Each year I subscribe to a different and/or new-to-me literary journal. I figure, I can’t subscribe to them ALL, but I can support the cause by treating myself each year in this way. For me the book fair is the consistently best part of the conference — well, okay, second-best, after the fact that so many writer-friends I love and admire attend and it’s the one yearly chance I get to see most of them.
Even with all the action and activity of the conference itself, many attendees want to get out, get away, see the city — some are foodies looking to experience the local cuisine; others want to check out the museums, or just find a good bar that’s not crammed full of (shudder) other poets. In this spirit then, I offer a few personal recommendations of things to taste or see or do while in the Emerald City. Seattle is rich with great food and drink and culture and sights, so I did NOT even try to make this list comprehensive or exhaustive. This is just my personal, VERY pared down “must-hit” list. If you’re Yelping, I’ve got a few reviews up of other Seattle places.
THE PHO – Green Leaf
Seattle is home to the International District (“The I.D.”), which is almost the only place I ever eat when visiting. There are great eats of all stripes all over town, but maybe because I live in rural northern New England, all I want to do when I’m in Seattle is chow down on cuisines from Thailand, the Philippines, Laos, Vietnam, China, Korea, Japan, etc. If you only have the time or inclination to sample one bowl of Pho while visiting, I must, with religious zeal, recommend Green Leaf (either location — the newer one is more convenient to the conference location, but not in the I.D.!). Rare beef and brisket pho. Their fresh rolls are also pretty spectacular, but the broth in that pho is revelatory. Like I said, religious zeal.
THE BEER – Sound Brewery
I didn’t understand beer until Sound Brewery. Made in the little town of Poulsbo, right near where my parents live, these beers are just brilliant. The Monk’s Indiscretion and the Dubbel Entendre, both Belgians, are a couple of my faves. On their list of Seattle establishments that (sometimes – call ahead if you care) carry their brews, I’d recommend Brouwer’s, which is kind of out of the way, but you’ll never want to leave, or the Pine Box, just up in Capitol Hill, which used to be a funeral home. Brouwer’s, though, definitely has something for every drinker. So I guess this will be as close as I get to a bar recommendation as well. There are just too dang many.
THE BREAKFAST – Skillet Diner
Like me, I imagine you aren’t inclined to expect that Seattle is going to offer something awesome in the area of biscuits and gravy. Seafood, sure! Real deal Vietnamese in the I.D.? Check. Coffee, coffee, coffee? Check check check. While the biscuits and gravy at Skillet weren’t exactly the type you’d get in, say, central Virginia, they were SPECTACULAR. The sage sausage gravy was a holy thing. The “big boy” biscuit was immense & delicious, but not too too heavy. Next time I’m there, I want to try one of the daily “scrambles.” Or the cornmeal & pork belly (!) waffles (!!).
THE PAPER NERD MECCA – Paper Hammer
I am sooooo gay for paper. Letterpress-anything, screened posters, handmade papers, embossing, stationery, calling cards, etc. So the first time I entered Paper Hammer, I had seizures of joy. It’s dangerously close to the Sheraton & Convention Center as well.
THE BOOKSTORE(S) – Open Books and Left Bank Books
Really? Bookfair not enough? Here I have to break my “one recommendation per category ONLY” rule. You understand. There are two things I cannot visit Seattle without doing. One is slurping up a bowl of Green Leaf Pho. The other is making a visit to Open Books, a beautiful, friendly, luscious poetry-only bookstore. The challenge for conference-goers is that it’s about 5 miles from the Convention Center, but to make it worth your while, Open Books will be offering a 15% discount on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the conference to anybody with an AWP Conference badge. They will also have slightly longer hours those days – 11:00 to 7:00 – and will be open that Sunday as well, as it’s the first Sunday of the month, from 12:00-4:00 if you’re still around. They also offer FREE USPS Media Mail shipping for purchases of $25 and up.
Closer to the conference, I also absolutely adore Left Bank Books. They “specialize in anti-authoritarian, anarchist, independent, radical and small-press titles.” I can easily lose two hours just browsing there, and I always find treasures. I love their selection of ‘zines and pamphlets, as well as the postcards, stickers, and buttons. This place is one of a kind, and right up at the entrance to Pike Place Market. Thursday, March 27th, fellow NH poet Jennifer Militello will be giving a reading with Carrie Etter, Elena Karina Byrne, and Allison Benis White at Left Bank starting at 7:00. Several other off-site events will also be happening at Left Bank Books – you can see the calendar HERE.
THE CAR – Aces for Hire Town Car Service
This recommendation comes from my brother, who has HAD it with the taxi service in Seattle. He recommends that, rather than chancing it with Seattle’s touch-and-go cab situation, you call Aces Town Car, which (according to my brother) charges about a buck more per mile than taxis, but which also has a consistent record of, like, showing up and taking you where you want in a reasonable time. They are gushed about on Yelp and lauded by locals and visitors alike.
THE CLEAR-YOUR-HEAD WALK – Olympic Sculpture Park
Well, we will be visiting during the late-ish winter, so chances are that this won’t be the best walking weather. Or it could be gorgeous. If you need to get out and away and about, I’d suggest heading down to the Seattle Art Museum’s sculpture park. It’s pretty big, at a great location, with big-ass art (the Serra is my favorite) and great views (on a nice day) of the water and, across the Sound, the Olympic Peninsula — serious mountains.
THE BOAT – The Bainbridge Island Ferry
So, I’m really only recommending this if you’ve got a chunk of time on a clear/decent day. If it’s crappy, it’s not really worth it unless you just really REALLY love big ferry boats. The ferries are a key component in the Seattle-area transit system. Lots of people ride them every day, like taking the bus or the subway. I’m suggesting that you take a trip on the ferry just to catch the views and get out on the water. Pay to get on, ride it over and just enjoy the mountains, the cityscape, the salt air. The ride each way is approximately 35 minutes. You can get right back on (passenger fare isn’t charged coming back to Seattle), or stroll into Winslow where there are a few cute shops and things. But to me, this recommendation is mostly about the journey, not the destination. $7.85 fare for adults; $3.90 for seniors and youth.
THE SOURCE – The Stranger
For much, MUCH more information about eats, drinks, events, arts and culture in Seattle, check out The Stranger.
Even though it won’t be possible for you to admire my literary juvenilia in person at the Seattle Pacific University library archives, I hope these few recommendations are of use if you find yourself stymied by the overabundance of things you could do while visiting the Emerald City. Besides attend the AWP Conference, I mean.