"There’s 300 half-drunk people out there so you better fucking be good.” This is novelist Sam Ligon’s pep talk for writers invited to Pie and Whiskey, the reading event, nay, party, he runs with poet and Seattle expat Kate Lebo.
And he’s not exaggerating. In each of the eight events held in Spokane and Missoula since 2012, in which Lebo and Ligon invite regional writers to submit short work about pie and/or whiskey, and then read that work in front of hundreds of people eating pie and drinking whiskey, things get rowdy.
“To me it’s what a reading should be,” says Jess Walter, the Spokane-based author of Beautiful Ruins and six-time participant in the event. “It’s lively and fun, and no one has that upward lilting poet voice.” Plus, he says, butter and booze make a fertile prompt for writers.
Walter’s work appears twice in the new Pie and Whiskey collection, out October 24 from Sasquatch Books. In it, Lebo and Ligon compile past submissions—short prose and poetry conjured under the culinary prompt—along with eight longer pieces coupled with corresponding pie and cocktail recipes.
The result is a breezy, sharp slice of largely Northwest writers like Christopher Howell, Elizabeth J. Colen, and Laura Read—one that examines Americana, domestic bliss (and strife), and debauchery. The recipes too have something to say. One of Walter’s contributions, “Whiskey Pie”—a short story about siblings enjoying a very boozy pecan dessert—precedes Lebo’s recipe for chocolate-covered-pecan-pie shots. And if there’s one thing Lebo knows, it’s pie. This will be the poet-baker’s third book on the subject, along with A Commonplace Book of Pie and Pie School.
As for the cocktail recipes—well, it wouldn’t be advisable to follow them too closely, as they veer off into existential, prosy tangents. “I wrote them on the train from New York to New Orleans the day after Trump was elected,” says Ligon, by way of explanation.
The key ingredient in Pie and Whiskey, both the event and the book, is its playfulness and accessibility. “A reading series isn’t doing all it can do unless it becomes a flash point for the community,” says Lebo. One in which bookworms can rub shoulders with an old local just looking to enjoy some free pie and the buzz of the room.
This November, the Pie and Whiskey series comes to Seattle for the first time. One goal is to bridge the gap between writing communities on both sides of the state, mixing Eastern and Western Washington authors on the stage. The other is to eat and drink. “I’m just going to have to bake a lot more pie,” says Lebo. Jess Walter suggests the huckleberry.
Pie and Whiskey
November 15, Washington Hall, $10