For a famously bookish city, Seattle’s lit culture tends toward insularity. Some of the city’s most notable exports are a silent reading party (read—don’t talk) and our coffee shops' endless quietude. Sure, there’s the occasional blockbuster reading, some fantastic community events through Hugo House, and October's nightlong Lit Crawl. But most readings are lightly attended, and even when someone like Pulitzer Prize–winning Jennifer Egan came through on a book tour last year, the crowd only just filled the small reading space below Elliott Bay Book Company.
Spokane’s Get Lit! Festival, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next week (April 23-29), might be as close as the state comes to a literary bacchanal. This year it features over 80 authors in 50 events that include readings, panels, a happy hour, poetry slams, workshops, and craft classes. With a handful of exceptions (a few workshops and headline readings) the events are free. Miss Seattle’s Pie and Whiskey reading last year? It resurfaces Thursday night with major Northwest writers like Jess Walter and Dan Chaon. The goings-on ramp up over the week—a panel about non-binary identity writing here, a reading from poet Maggie Smith there—and culminate when novelist Anne Lamott reads at Bing Crosby Theater on Saturday night.
The breadth of events is great. But the real draw here is the event itself. This is a good-sized festival—organizers expect 3,500 people across the week—that pulls book folk from across the Northwest and incites a sort of energy that generally doesn’t accompany readings. The northwest has no real Brooklyn epicenter for lit; our writers are scattered across the region, but this creates a momentary nucleus. Yeah, Spokane is a four-hour drive from Seattle. But maybe one way for good writing to remain relevant is for our celebrations of it to feel like actual celebrations.