Frequently Asked Questions about My Trip to New Zealand

by Elissa Washuta

Q: You were in New Zealand? How was it?
A: Great. / Amazing. / Exceptional. / It changed my life.

Q: Vacation? Or like a book thing?
A: Officially, the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival, to which I was invited as a panelist, workshop co-leader, and reader. Unofficially, it was, in a way, a vacation, or the closest thing I’ll get to taking a vacation in New Zealand in the foreseeable future (starving artist, workaholic, unable to relax and suspend productivity, et cetera).

The question makes me realize that I may not even know what a vacation is, so I looked up the word in the dictionary. An extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling. Or: The action of leaving something one previously occupied.

The second fits. When I stepped into the Auckland airport before dawn after twelve hours on an airplane maybe eight times the size of my apartment, I began to cry. I felt the enormity of this gift, and I felt some hard block of pain dislodged by the knowledge that my body had just traveled to the other side of the world.

I can’t talk about this trip without mentioning that I had been heartbroken for weeks when I made the trip. I tucked my wounded heart into a winter jacket and took it to a place it had never seen.

After a few minutes of dreamlike wandering through the Auckland airport, I realized I didn’t have much time to get onto my connection to Christchurch. I rushed through immigration and biosecurity and, on the other side, headed for the next terminal, I found myself in the middle of a group of people in pristine black tracksuits with the Olympic rings emblazoned on their luggage. Together, we stepped into the public meeting area, and the people gathered there cheered, and I let myself absorb stray beams of their love.

And then I stepped into the late-winter dawn, waiting for the bus, looking at trees I didn’t recognize, and my whole body knew that it was making itself new.


Q: Sounds like a great opportunity. How’d you make that happen?
A: I don’t make anything happen—anything that works out well, anyway.


Q: So what kind of stuff did they have you doing?
A:  It’s impossible for me to fit all of it in a blog post, but I’ll attempt highlights. I co-lead a workshop for Ngāi Tahu writers with Ali Cobby Eckermann, Hana O’Regan, and Ivan Coyote, where we maintained a space in which we could freely talk about writing and Indigeneity.
With the other international writers, I traveled to Tuahiwi Marae to participate in a pōwhiri, a Māori welcome, where I was able to introduce myself and my family and share a song and a story.

Nic Low,  Ali Cobby Eckermann & Elissa Washuta

Nic Low, Ali Cobby Eckermann & Elissa Washuta

I participated in a powerful Sister Cities/First Nations panel with Ali and wonderful moderator Nic Low (great write-up here), which unexpectedly turned into a magical discussion about anger, violation, self-destruction, and healing.

Every day, I had a lovely, celiac-friendly breakfast at the bed & breakfast. I met writers who became family for a few days and shared special meals with good people. New friends showed me around town, walked with me, department store shopped with me, went to panels with me (and came to mine), and raved, in detail, about the plot of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights (stopping at spoilers).


Q: Is it as beautiful as they say?

A: Yes, but not in the way they say. Not like Lord of the Rings—not Christchurch, a city leveled, loved, and rebuilt. Exquisite street art is everywhere. The tenderness for beloved buildings is evident in their reconstruction. And the people—their warmth is the most beautiful thing about Christchurch.

Christchurch cathedral being rebuilt

Christchurch cathedral being rebuilt


Q: It must have been a good time for you to get away, right?  I mean, how are you feeling? Better?
A: Better, yes. In Seattle, I’ve learned over and over that it’s easy to infuse a place with hurt. Before I moved here, I listened over and over to my favorite Pearl Jam song, “All Those Yesterdays,” and tucked one of the lines into myself: “It’s no crime to escape.” It makes sense that I would need to board a plane, fall into slumber, and wake up in a new place, a new season, smelling winter, as though I’d performed the tesseract I always hoped I would when I read A Wrinkle in Time as a kid. I traveled through space and time the short way, and even disoriented and dislocated, I had everything I needed the whole time.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrShare on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someone

You’re Invited to Participate: Racial Equity and the Literary Arts

Seattle City of Literature and the Office of Arts and Culture are pleased to present the final workshop in the series on ‘Racial Equity and the Literary Arts.’

Working with facilitator, Dr. Caprice Hollins, this program will focus on understanding racial privilege. Using lecture, discussion, and experiential exercises, participants will deepen their understanding of self and the concept of privilege. We will then discuss common ways that privilege manifests itself on an institutional and personal level, and how it influences relationships within and across cultures.

The workshop will take place on Tuesday, October 18 from 1:30pm to 5:00pm at the Bertha Knight Landes Room at Seattle’s City Hall. There is no cost to attend, but space is limited, so please email rsvp@seattlecityoflit dot org to reserve your spot by October 14.

About the facilitator:
HSW_HollinsDr. Caprice Hollins, co-founder of Cultures Connecting, LLC, received her doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Multicultural and Community Psychology in 1998. She became licensed in Washington State in 2000 and has over 20 years of experience teaching graduate courses, working with historically marginalized populations, researching, studying, and facilitating race related conversations. Her experience includes opening and directing the Department of Equity & Race Relations for Seattle Public Schools, developing and implementing district-wide and school-based training, while utilizing her background in psychology to assist district leaders and staff institutionalize change to promote equity and social justice. Dr. Hollins also works as a part-time core faculty in the department of counseling at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrShare on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someone

Fall Books Preview Part Two!

Our second preview comes from Caitlin Baker, adult book buyer at University Book Store. Catilin, a seasoned bookseller who tweets about books at @Cait_onthe_Luce, highlights some titles that might have evaded the national press.

eveoutofruins Eve Out of Her Ruins, by Ananda Devi and translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
September 2016 Deep Vellum Publishing 

Narrated by four teens living in the Troumaron neighborhood on the tiny resort island of Mauritius, Eve Out of Her Ruins captures the harsh reality of life in a part of the island tourists never see. Devi’s powerful novel has stuck with me weeks after finishing and  Zuckerman’s lively translation captures the intensity of the daily struggle for life the teens face.


The Revolutionaries Try Again, by Mauro Javier Cardenas September 2016 Coffee House Press

revolutionaries-try-againIn this debut novel, three childhood friends reunite after a decade apart to run against the corrupt President El Loco. Cardenas’ playful language and wit make this one of the best books of the year.




subsidiary The Subsidiary, by Matias Celedon August 30, 2016 Melville House

Designed by the author using a set of rubber stamps he purchased at the Santiago library, The Subsidiary is set in an office building in which the employees are trapped during a power outage. Through mounting terror, and with only a few words per page, this slim book will haunt you long after you have finished reading it.



A Greater Music, by Bae Suah and translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith
October 2016 Open Letter  

greater_music-front_frame_large Early in A Greater Music the narrator slips into an icy river outside Berlin where she is house sitting for an ex-boyfriend. As the reader we slip into her memories in this gorgeously written book.




Thanks to Caitlin and University Book Store for these picks! And stay tuned for more recommendations from other booksellers in our community!



Tweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrShare on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someone

Fall Books Preview!

UW+bookstore1Summer is winding down, and while we may be a little sad that the days are getting shorter, our bookish hearts are eagerly anticipating the turning of the season. Fall is the time when publishers put out their “big” books. And to help whet your appetite for what’s coming out, we talked with our friends at University Book Store about the books that they are most looking forward to this fall season. The first preview comes from Rene’ Kirkpatrick. Rene’ is a long-time northwest bookseller, having worked at All For Kids, Third Place Books and Eagle Harbor Book Company, before becoming the Children’s Book Buyer at University Book Store.


Looking for Betty MacDonald, by Paula Becker. September, 2016. University of Washington Press.

Paula Becker (staff historian at HistoryLink and author of two books of Seattle/Northwest history) has written what will be the definitive biography of Betty MacDonald. Paula has been given full access to the MacDonald archives including some things never seen by any other researcher. The book will be filled with local history, maybe a little gossip, and, knowing how much Paula loved Betty M., a warm look at an amazing woman and her family. University of Washington Press is reissuing the other editions of Betty’s other books at the same time.


Leave Me, by Gayle Forman. September 13, 2016. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Gayle-Forman-Leave-Me

Haven’t we always wondered what we could do or be if we could start our lives over? Like The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett and Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg, Leave Me is about a woman who decides to leave everything she knows and thinks she loves. Maribeth Klein is so busy and overwhelmed by family and work she doesn’t realize she has had a heart attack until she ends up in the hospital. While she is recovering from the surgery, already besieged with family and work, feeling as if her illness is an imposition on everyone, she packs a bag and leaves. I know I have had moments where my exit is upcoming and it would be easy to just drive on. Gayle Forman is also the author of If I Stay, a young adult novel about deciding to stay or go.

635894096080491941-Kids-of-Appetite-coverThe Kids of Appetite, by David Arnold. September 20, 2016. Viking.

This is the next book by the author of Mosquitoland, one of my all-time favorite young adult road trip novels. The Kids of Appetite is filled with unforgettable and relatable characters and the story is told in alternating voices: Vic, a boy with Moebius syndrome (a neurological disorder causing facial paralysis), and Mad, a homeless girl making a family of her own. Vic needs to scatter his dad’s ashes and he and Mad’s crew of misfit kids go on a journey together to get beyond their various incarnations of grief and loss. This will be a good chance to revisit S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders! I love books that include other books. For ages 14 and up.

News of the World, Paulette Giles. October 4, 2016. Morrow. y450-293

There’s something utterly compelling about reading stories about very different people undertaking a road trip together. In News of the World, the road-trippers are in a wagon with one broken wheel surrounded by unforgiving landscape and the most brutal of outlaws. Our heroes, a 70-year old newsreader in post-Civil War Texas, and his companion, a 10-year old girl recently returned by the Kiowa four years after being kidnapped, are on a 400-mile trip to take her back home. The book itself is a beautiful package,  and it is poignant, bighearted, and, at times spit-takingly funny.


Thanks to Rene’ and University Book Store for their recommendations! Stay tuned for more Fall Book Previews in the next few weeks!


Tweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrShare on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someone

My Imagination’s Blank Spot Takes a Trip to New Zealand

by Elissa Washuta

People have been asking me whether I’m excited to visit New Zealand, and the answer is yes. People want to know what I’m going to do there. My answer is brief: I’m going to lead a workshop for Ngāi Tahu writers, present a PechaKucha, and participate in an Indigenous writers panel. Yes, but—New Zealand. I know.

I’ve been out of the country fewer than five times, I think, for trips to Canada. I’ve thought I should travel more after I made an OKCupid profile and quickly began to sense, from the Machu Picchu photos and lists of passport stamps collected, that my lack of worldiness should be a secret. I grew up in New Jersey, sort of in the woods, a few miles away from a sod farming hotbed, and in those lakes and trees and people, I had a world.

I have been asked to write about my anticipation for this visit, but I’ve procrastinated, because when I think about my expectations and excitement for this visit, I visualize no landscapes, no scenes. I looked up Christchurch online, but was overwhelmed by the idea of planning for the trip, so I have only a single image of a street scene in my head from a tourism website that I didn’t explore. My life is spent imagining every possible thing that could happen to me, a process that makes up the gnarled nest of fear and hope in which I live, but this trip to New Zealand is one thing that’s going to happen to me that I can’t picture.

I see my own country through the trips I make as a working writer.  I spend time teaching in Santa Fe every year. I travel around the country for readings. This is how I spend my summer vacation: spread throughout the year, in patches and pieces, working. This is my comfort zone. I don’t think I could take a vacation without a tutorial.

With my trip just weeks away, I went back to the Christchurch tourism website. Reading about tours, museums, and parks, I realized that I draw only mental blanks when I think of places. When I think of New Zealand, I think of people.

In 2013, I told Ronnie I wanted to visit Aotearoa—and, really, it was the first place outside North America I’d given serious thought to visiting. This desire to travel, for the first time, was infused with purpose and thoughts of making relationships.

When I wrote a letter of support for Seattle’s bid to be a UNESCO City of Literature, I thought of the Māori visitors to UW, the group of Native UW students who spent a quarter in Iceland, and my colleagues connecting with Indigenous scholars around the world. I expressed my hope that the City of Literature could provide opportunities for the Native writers from Coast Salish territory to collaborate with other Indigenous peoples. To be the first Seattle writer to participate in the programming I imagined for the City of Literature is a tremendous honor.

I suspect that my imagination’s blank spot has to do with something that’s become commonplace in my brain lately as I take on projects that scare me in their thrilling enormity: My excitement is mixed with the sobering knowledge that I have a responsibility. I will make new relationships, represent my family and community, and learn from the people I’ll meet in Ōtautahi. I’ll come home with mental pictures of lands where, like here, people have created place by making and maintaining relationships with their environments over innumerable generations.

For more from writer Elissa Washuta, visit her website.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrShare on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someone

Q&A With Writer Elissa Washuta: She’s Going to New Zealand. What For?

Seattle writer Elissa Washuta will present a workshop and participate in a panel featuring indigenous writers at the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Seattle writer Elissa Washuta. Photo credit: Amber Cortes

Seattle writer Elissa Washuta is going to New Zealand. Read on to find out why she’s headed to that part of the world and how she gets preoccupied with poetry.

What are you working on these days?

Washuta: I’m working on my third book. I don’t like to say too much about it, because I find that it’s really not very good for my writing process to say too much about work that hasn’t been written yet. I’ve killed a lot of essays, and even whole books, that way. But I’m working on an essay collection, or two, or three. I’m burrowing into texts the same way I did with a college term paper in My Body Is a Book of Rules and filling those textual containers with my own story.

I’m also the writer-in-residence at the Fremont Bridge this summer, and I’m just beginning a big project about the bridge, the Lake Washington Ship Canal, the land, the water, and the unseen world.

What story or book have you read lately that’s stuck with you? Why did it resonate?

Washuta: Last Sext by Melissa Broder. I often feel kind of lost when I read poetry because I get preoccupied with questions about what makes a poem a poem and how line breaks work–the stuff I’ve been told not to worry about. Last Sext was different because it was like the speaker’s language had come out of my own body: “The hole I fill with sickness this time / Every time / This is what I do with love”

You’re going to New Zealand’s WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. What’s the plan for you there?

Washuta: Right now, I plan to participate fully in the festival. I will be reading and speaking at least a couple of times, and I plan to attend other events as much as possible. I’m going to be part of an Indigenous writers panel, and I’m making my first PechaKucha! I haven’t made any other plans because I’m not very good at travel. I’ve never been outside the US or Canada and I’m a little inept at sightseeing and planning for that, having never done much travel apart from book tour events, conferences, and work trips. I’m open to suggestions for things to do in Christchurch. I plan to be curious and happy.

A lot of your writing is influenced by your background as a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. You’ll be taking that experience to New Zealand to teach a non-fiction writing workshop with Maori writers. Do you think there are experiences or themes that come up time and again in the writing of native people? Why?

The things that I think a lot of readers identify as common themes in work by Native American writers–identity, land–are, really, common themes in work by non-Native writers, too. There is so much variation in theme, structural approaches, style, and subject matter in work by Native writers. I think that some readers who approach the “Native American” shelves in bookstores are expecting to find books about dead people, tradition, war, spirituality, and reservations. Perhaps that’s changing. So many of us don’t appear on those shelves, and so many of us are concerned with all sorts of other things: Law & Order, Disney characters, illness, cities, language, detective stories, parenting, vampires–the list is actually endless. I can barely even begin to create it.

For more from writer Elissa Washuta, visit her website.
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on TumblrShare on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someone