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.
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PRESS RELEASE: Seattle writers to participate in New Zealand literary festival

Elissa Washuta. Photo credit: Amber Cortes

(Seattle—June 23, 2016) Seattle City of Literature is pleased to announce that local 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. In addition to Washuta’s participation in the festival, Seattle poets Maged Zaher, Claudia Castro Luna, John Olson and Angel Gardner will have their work featured in the New Zealand literary arts journal Catalyst in connection with the festival.

Washuta, a Seattle-based memoirist and essayist, will run a non-fiction workshop for Māori writers in conjunction with Christchurch’s Ngāi Tahu tribe, and participate in a ‘Sister Cities/First Nations’ panel with a Māori writer from Christchurch, Nic Low, and an Aboriginal writer from Adelaide, Ali Cobby Eckermann.

“I am thrilled and honored to share my work in the home of the Māori people,” Washuta said. “Participating in an Indigenous writers exchange in New Zealand has been one of my dreams for years, and WORD gives me the opportunity to do this. I look forward to being in the company of such a brilliant group of writers.”

WORD Christchurch presents a variety of literary events, including a biennial Writers & Readers Festival – the largest literary event in New Zealand’s South Island. The events bring writers, thinkers and performers together to celebrate the written word and provide a window for readers to respond to ideas.

“Elissa is a masterful writer and we’re delighted that she’ll represent Seattle’s literary community in Christchurch, one of our sister cities,” said Stesha Brandon, Interim Executive Director of Seattle City of Literature. “We’re hopeful that this will be the first in an ongoing cultural exchange.”

Washuta is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and the author of two books, Starvation Mode and My Body Is a Book of Rules, named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Her work has appeared in Salon, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and BuzzFeed.

She holds a Master’s in Fine Arts from The University of Washington and serves as undergraduate adviser for the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington and is a nonfiction faculty member in the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is a faculty advisor for Mud City Journal and Saturday editor for The Rumpus.

Washuta’s visit is supported by the Christchurch City Council Sister City Programme, which is supporting the attendance of an indigenous writer from both Seattle and Adelaide, two of its Sister Cities.

For more information about WORD Christchurch, visit: http://wordchristchurch.co.nz/
For more information on Elissa Washuta, visit: http://washuta.net/about-elissa

Didi Kader


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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 first in a series of workshops on ‘Racial Equity and the Literary Arts.’

Working with facilitator, Dr. Caprice Hollins, this program will provide a framework on how to address issues of equity and race in our community, and help to create a common language for entering into discourse.

Participants will begin to appreciate their role in becoming culturally competent by deepening their awareness of self–moving from color blindness to racial cognizance; increasing their knowledge of others and their experiences of racism and oppression; developing skills to work effectively across cultures; and advocating and taking action to initiate change.

The first workshop will take place on Thursday, June 2 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 to reserve your spot by May 31.

After the initial workshop, Seattle City of Literature will convene an advisory committee from the community to help shape our goals for the remaining workshops.

If you are not able to attend the first workshop but are interested in hearing about subsequent meetings, or participating in the advisory committee, let us know! Email Stesha Brandon [executive@seattlecityoflit.org] for more information.

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.

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PRESS RELEASE: Seattle City of Literature Appoints Interim Executive Director

Interim Executive Director Stesha Brandon brings extensive experience in arts non-profits and long involvement in local literary community

Didi Kader

(Seattle—Feb. 24, 2016) Seattle City of Literature has appointed Stesha Brandon as its Interim Executive Director. Brandon’s role will be to strengthen the Seattle City of Literature organization, lead the upcoming bid to join the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Creative Cities Network, and initiate a comprehensive search for a permanent Executive Director.

Brandon has a long history of engagement with Seattle’s arts and culture community, especially the literary arts. Brandon was most recently Program Director of Town Hall Seattle, which produces more than 350 events each year, and worked for University Book Store for over ten years, where she programmed 500 events annually for nine branches. She’s a veteran of numerous boards and committees, including the Bumbershoot Task Force and the Washington State Book Awards jury.

Stesha Brandon. Photo Credit: Leah Dankertson.

“I am delighted to join this effort to designate Seattle a UNESCO Creative City, and excited to deepen our relationship with local literary and arts organizations,” Brandon said. “We have a vital role in supporting Seattle’s literary community, and there is still valuable work to be done.”

Seattle has been invited to apply to join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in 2017 after narrowly missing UNESCO’s 2016 endorsement as part of the Creative Cities Network.

In addition to leading the 2017 bid to join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, Brandon and the Board of Directors have begun three projects for the organization as she takes on the role of Interim Executive Director:

  • Work with the City of Seattle and the Office of Arts & Culture to provide diversity training opportunities for our member organizations and endorsers, designed to be consistent with the Office of Civil Rights and the Office of Arts & Culture standards.
  • Engage key stakeholders in the civic and academic communities to lay the groundwork for an economic impact study of the literary arts in the Seattle region. The organization has begun putting together a collection of literary arts resources in Seattle. The inventory is accessible on the Seattle City of Literature website, and provides an overview of the breadth and depth of our literary community, as well as practical resources to help connect organizations and writers.
  • Pursue an international collaboration and writers’ exchange with members of the UNESCO Creative Cities and Sister Cities networks. Developed in collaboration with other local organizations, this program will gives Seattle audiences the ability to experience literary work by internationally based writers, and will create an opportunity for Seattle-based writers to travel abroad.

“I’m thrilled to welcome Stesha Brandon as the Interim Executive Director for Seattle City of Literature,” said Board President Bob Redmond. “The organization has a great vision and has begun contributing both locally and internationally. To take the next steps we needed help, and Stesha is wonderfully qualified to provide that help. She knows both the for-profit and non-profit angles of the arts world, is well versed in Literature and many other creative disciplines, and has great support from the community. We’re lucky to land her and look forward to the next steps for the organization.”

Brandon will work with the Board of Directors and the Advisory Board to hire a permanent Executive Director, to start prospectively in 2017.

Seattle City of Literature has already worked with the City of Seattle to establish a Civic Poet program. Claudia Castro Luna, the city’s first Civic Poet, serves as an ambassador for Seattle’s rich literary landscape and represents the city’s diverse cultural community. In addition, the non-profit has collaborated on events with Hugo House and Elliott Bay Bookstore.

Seattle’s literary resources include thriving independent bookstores, generously funded public libraries, literary arts nonprofits and writing programs that serve diverse communities, publishers and small presses, professional organizations, readers, and writers. Seattle City of Literature aims to galvanize the city’s readers, honor our diverse literary traditions, and promote a robust creative economy.

The board and stakeholders involved in Seattle City of Literature include writers, readers, editors, publishers, teachers, and non-profit leaders.

For more information about Seattle City of Literature and future programming, visit: http://seattlecityoflit.org



Karen Maeda Allman, Elliott Bay Book Company

We’re committed to supporting the designation of Seattle as a UNESCO City of Literature and look forward to participating in programs with authors both international and local. I’ve worked with Stesha for many years, both at Town Hall Seattle, and as a juror on the Washington State Book Awards Committee, and I’m so glad that someone so dedicated and so enthusiastic about literature will be serving as the Executive Director.


Phoebe Bosché, Managing Editor, Raven Chronicles

Raven Chronicles’ editors and staff welcome Stesha Brandon as the new Interim Executive Director of Seattle City of Literature. Her background, working with Town Hall Seattle and University Book Store makes her a good fit with the goals of SCoL: building community and sharing literary resources. Raven is especially excited about the International Writers Exchange program that SCoL is working on: exchanging writers from the Puget Sound region with writers from around the world deepens our commitment to learning, scholarship, understanding other cultures and ways of seeing.


Ruth Dickey, Executive Director, Seattle Arts & Lectures

All of us at Seattle Arts & Lectures were thrilled to learn that Stesha Brandon is beginning as the new Executive Director of the City of Literature Project. We believe The City of Literature is an incredibly important initiative to draw together and shine a spotlight on our literary ecosystem here in Seattle, and I can’t imagine a better person to guide the initiative in its next steps.


Chris Higashi, Program Manager, Washington Center for the Book at The Seattle Public Library

The Washington Center for the Book at The Seattle Public Library is delighted that Seattle City of Literature will be pursuing the UNESCO designation in 2017. We are looking forward to learning more about and participating in programs the organization will be implementing now and in the future. We’ve worked with Stesha for many years, both through her serving on the Washington State Book Awards jury and her work at Town Hall Seattle. Her passion and advocacy for the literary community are well known, impressive, and much appreciated.


Kathleen Flenniken, Editor and President, Floating Bridge Press

Diversity training, writer’s exchanges, and an economic impact study could be great assets to Seattle writers, but these kind of programs have been difficult to come by in the past because we have lacked an umbrella organization capable coordinating so many large and small (but healthy) and diverse (but disconnected) writing interests. We are excited to think that Seattle City of Literature will be that umbrella. 

We have benefited from Stesha’s knowledge of the Seattle Literary Community and her generous, open-armed and open-minded approach to creating connections among large and small organizations, well-known and little-known writers and across literary genres.


Gary Luke, Publisher and CEO, Sasquatch Books

Seattle absolutely deserves the UNESCO designation as a World City of Literature, so I’m glad that the effort to win it will continue. The vision for the Seattle City of Literature to become a support network for this town’s many literary organizations is a wonderful idea. Stesha Brandon is a great friend of Seattle’s literary world, and she will contribute much to the success of the Seattle City of Literature.


Claudia Castro Luna, Seattle Civic Poet

I am happy to hear City of Literature is moving forward with a bid for 2017. It is a great opportunity for Seattle’s diverse literary community to be heard on an international stage.


Nancy Pearl, librarian and book reviewer

I’ve known and worked with Stesha for many years, and I am delighted that she will be leading Seattle’s bid to be designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2017.


Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company

This is to voice strong, continued, even renewed, interest in Seattle’s bid for designation as a City of Literature in the UNESCO program. This is a bid for the long haul – which feels in line with Seattle’s long-term dedication to reading, writing, and books, the part literary culture plays in shaping and enriching the place we call home.  Seattle’s literary interests are also reflective of connections and commitments with the larger world – part of the exchange with writers, works, and readers from elsewhere in the world. 

We are also delighted that Stesha Brandon is playing a leadership role with Seattle’s continued, ongoing bid. She brings expertise, dedication, and passion to this part, reflective of both strong local ties as well as connections to the larger literary world.

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Open Letter, upon UNESCO designations 2015

Dec. 11, 2015

To the literary community:

Today UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network announced designations for cities in seven disciplines. We were sorry to learn that Seattle, which had bid for City of Literature status, was not one of them.

We offer enthusiastic congratulations to our fellow US cities who did win designation: Detroit (Design), Tucson (Gastronomy) and Austin (Media Arts). Also, big kudos to the nine cities internationally who won designation as Cities of Literature: Baghdad (Iraq), Barcelona (Spain), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Lviv (Ukraine), Montevideo (Uruguay), Nottingham (UK), Óbidos (Portugal), Tartu (Estonia), Ulyanovsk (Russian Federation).

We deeply thank Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, his staff at the Office of Arts & Culture (particularly Randy Engstrom and Calandra Childers), City Councilmember Nick Licata, Rebecca Brinbury, Barbara Malone and all our stakeholders who were generous with resources, time and input as we developed the 2015 bid. We also want to thank our many supporters nationally, especially State Department staff and Iowa City’s City of Literature staff, and our endorsers at the American Library Association, Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and PEN America.

The widespread support in the national and local arts community for this effort is evident as it is inspiring. We are assessing potential support for another bid and how to move forward best to support the literary arts community in Seattle and regionally.

Our non-profit has made progress in galvanizing local literary support for the effort and in establishing connections with literary cities around the world. Among our successes this year is our work with the City of Seattle to establish a Civic Poet program. Claudia Castro Luna, the city’s first Civic Poet, serves as an ambassador for Seattle’s rich literary landscape and represents the city’s diverse cultural community. In addition, our organization collaborated on events with Hugo House and Elliott Bay Bookstore that focused on diverse international voices.

We will be in conversation with our local literary and arts stakeholders to develop a path forward, and will share news when those next steps are clear. If you want to be part of that conversation, please contact us!


On behalf of the The Seattle City of Literature Board of Directors,

Bob Redmond
Board President

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Seattle City of Lit: What We Did On Our Summer Vacation


Even the cats in Seattle, like Sesame here, are literature lovers.

Greetings, Seattle readers and writers!

We had a heck of a busy summer and wanted to update you all on where our bid to join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network stands, among other things!

We submitted our UNESCO bid in July and celebrated with a small toast the Sorrento Hotel, which has been generous in hosting us. UNESCO committees will discuss the bids and make decisions. We will find out if we received the designation before the end of 2015.

We also also finished a short video about Seattle’s literary community. The video features Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Ruth Dickey, Chris Higashi, Gary Luke, Rick Simonson, Garth Stein, Ken Workman, Tree Swenson, and Eric Reynolds.

We brought in some money! Our board continued efforts to fund our initial program, the International Writers Exchange, working closely with the office of Nick Licata, various staff at the City of Seattle and the Office of Arts and Culture. The Office of Arts & Culture accepted our proposal and contributed $7500 in additional funding for this program (thanks OAC!).

And there’s more money! Every board member has made a financial contribution. Between those, other community contributions, and additional pledges, we’ve raised nearly $14,000 towards the organization’s overall programs and operations.

We compiled an Inventory of Literary Elements thanks to our Advisory Board, which has been generous with ideas and resources. We brainstormed a list of elements in the local literary ecosystem. We expanded this (ongoing) list, which you can find online here. Feel free to send us additional ideas!

We are planting seeds for a future board. We would love to see a diverse and representative Board of Directors, and we have developed a board recruitment committee. In the past few weeks we confirmed members to this committee, whose formal meetings are being scheduled now.

We made poetry a priority. We were deeply involved in the design of the Civic Poet program, worked on it this summer, and are thrilled to welcome Claudia Castro Luna, for whom we co-sponsored a reception at the Sorrento Hotel in September. Luna will be involved in City of Lit programming via the Writers’ Exchange and other programs.

We’ve been partying! We have officially co-sponsored two events this fall, one at Hugo House featuring readers from the Iowa International Writers Program: Sara Baume (Ireland), Margarita Mateo Palmer (Cuba), Homeira Qaderi (Afghanistan), and Antônio Xerxenesky (Brazil). Wow!

On Friday October 9 we’re headed north of Iowa with Taste of Iceland at Elliott Bay Book Company: Eliza Reid, co-founder of the Iceland Writers Retreat, in conversation with Tree Swenson of Hugo House. They will discuss Iceland’s special inspiration for writers, gender equality, and Cities of Literature (Reykjavík is one!). The event is followed by Nigeria’s Chinelo Okparanta with Seattle poet Montreux Rotholtz, presented by EBBC and Hedgebrook. Amazing evening!

What to do now? While our bid is pending, talk to us and about us and with us on social media! Send happy vibes for our bid to join UNESCO! Tweet or Facebook at us with interesting literary material that brings you joy or makes you think! You can find us on Facebook here and on Twitter here.

A happy, bountiful autumn to you all!

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