Independent Lit

APRIL Fest Turns 5

The fifth annual small press festival promises a "literary buffet."

By Darren Davis March 15, 2016

2015 03 29 14.55.36 lwtrmr

Readers browse the book selection at APRIL 2015's small press expo.

Image via Tara Atkinson

As its acronym title suggests, APRIL (Authors, Publisher and Readers of Independent Literature) exists on the opposite end of the literary spectrum from the brick and mortar Amazon bookstore. This week, APRIL Festival celebrates its fifth anniversary. That's half a decade of (mostly free) readings, workshops, storytelling competitions, and book mongering all in support of small press. Kicking off with a sure to be lit party tonight at the Pine Box, APRIL Festival 2016 runs from March 15–20 (check the APRIL's website for a full schedule of events).

In anticipation of the festivities, Tara Atkinson, Frances Chiem, and Sarah Baker of APRIL's growing behind-the-scenes team discuss how this year, the ides of March ushers in a lean, inclusive week of events aimed at showcasing talent from the Seattle ranks of poets and prose writers, championing voices outside of the Northwest, and bringing in readers who may be uninformed or turned off by the term "independent literature."

How would you describe the breadth of readers and events in this year's festival?

Tara Atkinson: If you're looking for a traditional "deep reflection" of literature, you'd like the lecture [by Cedar Sigo at the Sorrento Hotel on Wednesday]. But then there's the anniversary party, which is a showcase of APRIL and also the Seattle scene. If you don’t do nights much, or have kids, you might go on Saturday to David Schmader's Filmy Quill event and then the book expo. Those are daytime things on the weekend. 

So you don't need to be an academic to enjoy the festival.

Frances Chiem: Not at all. We wanted to create a safe space for all readers. At the book expo a couple of years ago, I talked to a woman who liked Stephen King. I got her to buy Fra Keeler from Dorothy press. At its heart it's a horror novel about this guy sort of losing his mind in this house that he purchased. It may be haunted or he may be unstable. One of our values as an organization is showing people that literary fiction and poetry is an incredibly broad term.

TA: We try to balance the readers very deliberately. Kelly Froh will present her comics. Jenny Zhang is going to read fiction and maybe some other stuff. Sarah Jaffe is a novelist. Alejandro de Acostais a translator and a poet. So that’s a pretty broad range.

Speaking of Jenny Zhang, what should we expect from this year's April writer-in-residence?

TA: Jenny is really cool. She has a poetry collection on Octopus and she’s been doing a lot of writing for Rookie Magazine since then. I think a lot of people know her work. Jenny is really interesting because of all the writers we’ve brought to the festival, she has the widest range. She is a poet, an essayist, and occasionally writes fiction. She's also hilarious on Twitter.

This is the first year APRIL Festival and the Amazon Bookstore exist in the same city. You two seem diametrically opposed, no?

FC: Last year was the first year in some measure of the recent past where sales at independent bookstores significantly increased. We’re not facing the death of the brick-and-mortar bookstores as has been widely promoted for years. We do have occasional stories of really amazing small press literature rising to the top of like the public awareness. I think that the process of curation and personal recommendation is important.

Based on your individual tastes, which APRIL event would you personally recommend?

Sarah Baker: Before I was involved with APRIL, the first time I heard about A Poet, a Playwright, a Novelist and a Drag Queen [Thursday at Hugo House], I knew I had to go. I think if you live in Seattle, you have to go to that event at least once.

TA: I’m really excited to see Jenny [Saturday at Indian Summer] because her writing is really personal. I really want to see how she does it. I want to learn from her. I also really really like Sara Jaffe's novel like a ton [Tuesday at the Pinebox]. They’re the two people who I want to write like the most.

FC: I’m really excited for the anniversary party [Friday at Fred Wildlife Refuge], just to see logistically how it ends up working out. There are going to be ten readers, which is a crazy number for a single event. But we’re limiting people to 500 words. There are a few different authors who are very performative poets, sort of working in the tradition of spoken word. Then we have some more traditional prose writers. I’m really excited to see how the crowd reacts to having so many different things put in front of them in this literary buffet where you can just eat it all if you want.

APRIL Festival 2016
Mar 15–20, Free–$50, Various venues

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