Power Players

The Most Influential People in Seattle Arts

The makers and maestros that help this city express itself.

By Sophie Grossman December 9, 2021

Claudia Castro Luna Constructs a New Poetics

The city’s first civic poet maps verse from across the region.

"Writing is a very solitary act,” says Claudia Castro Luna. The image of the great literary figure is often one of a shut-in divorced from worldly concerns, a la Dickinson, or an antisocial degenerate, a la Hemingway. But the former state poet laureate and inaugural Seattle civic poet embodies all the ways this very solitary act can draw us closer to one another.

A former grade school teacher with an MA in urban planning, Castro Luna’s poetics very much extend from these experiences; in her writing, she creates a place where people can live. Her forthcoming collection centers her own narrative for the first time, but previous projects Washington Poetic Routes and the Seattle Poetic Grid amplify strains in a chorus of stories—poetry from around the state and the city, respectively, compiled into an interactive map. “Seattle is not a place that knows its own history very well,” says Elliott Bay Book Company’s Rick Simonson, a collaborator of Castro Luna’s. He also points out that we are relatively isolated from the rest of the state, culturally and ideologically speaking. The work of writers and activists, like Castro Luna, who are invested in bearing witness to a sense of place, he says, is crucial to understanding our city’s trajectory.

Take Seattle’s multilingualism—we are not a city with a single first language, Simonson says, despite the Anglocentrism that has historically dominated in literary arts spaces such as Hugo House, where Castro Luna is an instructor. Last year, she and a coalition of writers of color at the Capitol Hill–based nonprofit demanded more linguistically diverse classes. “It comes from the stance that literature and storytelling belong to us all,” says Castro Luna. 

Brandi Carlile

The world has caught on to what Seattle has known for years: that this sophisticated songwriter has more range to her than just genre-expanding, Grammy-winning albums. Last spring her memoir debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times best sellers list, and this fall she appeared on Saturday Night Live for the first time, which…what took so long? 

Don Mee Choi

This 2021 MacArthur Foundation fellow and winner of the 2020 National Book Award is burning brightest among Seattle’s many literary stars. Her anti-colonial poetics push against generic and linguistic boundaries, blending multiple mediums and exploring the powerful possibilities of translation.

Marco Collins

The KEXP DJ featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame became the music director at 107.7 The End in 1991. He proceeded to gleefully leak Pearl Jam albums, unearth alt-rock deity Beck, and aid in the ascension of Nirvana, his voice suddenly synonymous with grunge. Loyal fans raised nearly $30,000 for the cancer survivor when he was receiving treatments.

Megan Jasper

The Sub Pop CEO is legendary, perhaps less so for her climb from receptionist to the C-suite than for a notorious “grunge speak” prank on The New York Times. The nonsense terms Jasper spouted to an unwitting Times reporter 20 years ago quickly became ironic symbols of a movement that still insists it was not a movement.

Teddy “Stat” Phillips 

Breaking down typical delineations between tech and the arts, the cybersecurity engineer and visual artist first attracted attention for his “I” in the Black Lives Matter mural on East Pine Street. His portraits breathe mischief, dignity, and dynamic life into their subjects; his handle is in tribute to his activist grandfather.

Steven Severin

You can thank him for your night out. As a co-owner of Neumos, Barboza, and Life on Mars, he’s an unseen force behind Seattle’s live music scene. His support for Keep Music Live WA, a fundraising campaign that issued Covid relief grants to independently owned music venues, helped sustain that vibrant realm. 

Krishna Thiagarajan

A classical music institution might not usually be eager to embrace change, but Seattle Symphony’s president and CEO has artfully steered the organization through Covid times. His vision of music as a public resource continues to set a more inclusive course for the symphony, with livestreamed concerts greatly expanding its reach.

Image: Daryn Ray

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