Summer Reading

Orcas Island Lit Fest Draws Luminaries from the Puget Sound and Beyond

The San Juans, already a compact creative hotbed, become the epicenter of the region’s flourishing literary scene the first weekend of June.

By Sophie Grossman May 18, 2022

The "Modern Love" panel at Lit Fest 2018.

Anyone fortunate enough to visit the San Juan Islands, with their tranquil beaches, misty sea breeze, and thickets of untouched forest, can appreciate why the small archipelago tucked away in the Salish Sea would be fertile soil for artistic pursuits. Hiking through the lush trees of Moran State Park or meandering along the rocky shoreline at Lime Kiln Point, the historic lighthouse rising up ahead, it’s easy  to see why such a place would attract poets and painters in droves.

Orcas Island Lit Fest cofounder Jule Treneer points to the island’s annual film festival and chamber music festival as evidence of a disproportionately impressive artistic community (Orcas is home to only a few thousand year-round residents), and says he helped found the literary festival in 2018 as a way to bring the region’s robust network of writers and readers together. “It’s a lovely place to come see,” he says, referring to Orcas, “and listen to people talk about books and ideas.” 

This year’s festival, which would have been the fifth annual, but is instead the third, will kick off with a free Lit Walk on Friday afternoon. Six venues around Eastsound, including the eminently charming Darvill’s Bookstore and Doe Bay Wine Co, will hold readings from regional authors like Tara Conklin (The House Girl) and Kelly McWilliams (Mirror Girls), while the Barnacle, a cocktail bar with stylish nautical touches, will host live music later in the evening to accompany conversation with the cofounders of St. Ode Press publishing house, an artsy indie printing outfit based on Orcas. 

Saturday brings the main event: The festival’s featured authors will take to the stage for readings of their work and panel discussions like “Women Who Confound Expectations,” wherein Sonora Jha, Kristen Millares Young, Laura Read, and Alexandra Teague will discuss the shaping pressure that is exerted upon literature by the patriarchy. A book fair highlighting small presses and literary journals will also run Saturday afternoon.

Danzy Senna (New People, 2017) will be one of the featured artists at this year's lit fest, alongside locals Nicola Griffith and Timothy Egan. 

Of this year’s featured artists, Treneer says he’s particularly excited about Washington State Book Award and Nebula Award–winning author Nicola Griffith, a self-described “queer cripple with a PhD” whose most recent novel, Spear, is a feminist reimagining of the world of Arthurian legends. Former New York Times opinion columnist and novelist Timothy Egan, another Seattleite, joins prominent Latinx playwright Octavio Solis (currently the artist-in-residence at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival), California-based novelist Danzy Senna, and children’s author Rosanne Parry in the lineup. 

While the Saturday Lit Walk is free, other events require ticketing. A day pass will run you $52.50 while a full festival pass is $72.50. 

Other literary events to bookmark this summer:

Vauhini Vara with David Shields
June 2, 7pm | Elliott Bay Book Company, free

Ly Tran Book Signing
June 3, 2pm | Nue

Ottessa Moshfegh discusses Lapvona
June 27, 7pm | Central Library

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