Ryan Boudinot pioneered the idea in June at Elliott Bay Book Company’s 40th anniversary, and each successive meeting has clarified Seattle’s bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature. By the time Seattlites rallying behind the cause gathered on September 23 at the Seattle Public Library, it even boasted a board, on which Boudinot is joined by Mathew Simmons, Director of Stores and Publishers and Tree Swenson, Director of Global Partnerships.
Why are these people volunteering their time and why are audiences in these meetings growing? Boudinot’s sight is set on the potential international collaboration that the UNESCO project could offer Seattle. UNESCO City of Literature status would elevate the already rich literary landscape of Seattle to global prominence.
As in the meeting earlier this month at Hugo House, Boudinot began by listing organizational affiliations for each attendee at the Seattle Public Library meeting. We came from all over, including independent bookstores like Santoro’s Books, Island Books, and University Book Store; as well as literature-based theatre groups (Book-It); youth writing programs (826 Seattle); local publishers (Wave Books); and festivals (APRIL). This list, together with a collective brainstorm of other local literary organizations not in attendance, demonstrated the breadth of literary influence on Seattle’s cultural landscape. This is the strength of Seattle’s UNESCO bid. The result is a global platform to spotlight this city’s expansive affection for literature.
UNESCO City of Literature status isn’t just a blurb to be included on tourist brochures. The campaign is meant to inspire action. Other cities have applied and been chosen based on projects they hoped to accomplish. Ideas brought to the table for Seattle bidders to consider were: establishment of a small press for works in translation, a young writer’s conference, or an international writer’s festival. These ideas are a starting point for interested individuals and groups to dream on while the project group works on logistical details and waits for UNESCO to post official application material in mid-October.
There was discussion of funding, which won’t be a subject fully capable of being tackled until the application is released, though Boudinot already pledged all future royalties of his novel Blueprints of the Afterlife, whose success he attributes to Seattle’s independent bookstores. There was also an interlude to address what Boudinot called “the elephant in the room,” Amazon. Like many Seattle residents, Boudinot’s relationship with the corporation is complicated. He spent several years employed by Amazon and feels ultimately offended by their business practices. Independent bookstores are necessary to consider a city civilized, Boudinot explained, and the UNESCO bid would help them thrive and would help make Seattle a better place for all residents, including Amazon employees. The campaign will not be built on any exclusion, and if Amazon employees want to participate and donate time or funding, they’ll be warmly welcome, but the corporation’s support will not be solicited.
The bid is still in early stages, but enthusiasm is palpable. As one audience member pointed out, this bid is important, if for nothing else than to unite individuals and organizations in collective realization of the breadth and power of Literature in Seattle.
To be included on the email list for updates on UNESCO project development or to offer your ideas or assistance, email Ryan Boudinot at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to our correspondent Kristianne Huntsberger for this report. Kristianne is a writer, performer and educator who, when not roaming the world, makes her home in Seattle. She has worked with the Elliott Bay Book Company in various capacities over the past ten years.
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