There is arguably no better time to be in Seattle than springtime. The cherry blossoms are peaking, the magnolias are dropping their lush petals onto sidewalks, the trees leafing pastel green. The sun is finally coming out but the mornings and evenings are still cool.
Under normal circumstances, this would be the perfect time for Seattleites to come out of winter hibernation, but this year is not normal. Still, as the world reels from the widespread repercussions of COVID-19, Seattle seems to be reminding us that even with the horror and the grief, the isolation and the fear, flowers still bloom, and breezes still come through windows.
Just as it is filled with natural beauty, the Pacific Northwest is also home to a mosaic of writers, actors and artists of every stripe who contribute to the city’s identity, a starburst of art and creativity. Even, or especially, in these times of hardship and despair, our city and its creators are a source of inspiration. Below, six Seattle-based creatives share something, in their own words, about the city or the Pacific Northwest that inspires and comforts them.
Kristen Millares Young
Kristen Millares Young is an investigative reporter and fiction writer. Her work can be found in The Washington Post, Joyland, Cascadia Magazine, The Guardian and more. Her debut novel, “Subduction,” about a Latinx anthropologist working in Neah Bay, came out this month via Red Hen Press. Her work often explores themes of identity and diaspora. She teaches creative writing in English and Spanish at Hugo House, where she is the prose writer-in-residence, and at Seattle Public Library.
“On the northwest tip of the lower 48, Neah Bay is home to many artists, such as master carver Greg Colfax, whose creative production reflects a rich legacy of tribal stories. Colfax carved the welcome figures outside of the Makah Cultural & Research Center, a world-class museum that houses thousands of artifacts excavated from longhouses buried in the beach at Ozette, one of five Makah village sites.
Neah Bay is closed to visitors until mid-May, and for good reason. The Makah Tribe needs to protect their community against the coronavirus. Even at its busiest, Neah Bay is not entirely oriented toward commerce, despite the boats rocking at berth in the marina, and I think that’s good.
My true hope is that COVID-19 will have passed by Makah Days in August, when hundreds of community members, from babies to elders, welcome visitors at the big gym to bear witness to songs and dances, some of whose inheritance proves chiefly lineage, a tangled map of families with long stories that inspired my novel ‘Subduction.’”
Storme Webber is a writer, interdisciplinary artist and cultural producer. She has received numerous awards and residencies, including the James W. Ray Award and residencies at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Centrum and more. She has also been supported by the city of Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture, 4Culture, Artist Trust and the Raynier Institute & Foundation. Her body of work includes performance, film, art installation, publications and theater. Her recent solo exhibition at Frye Art Museum, “Casino: A Palimpsest,” drew more than 20,000 visitors.
“The first journey I ever took was from Harborview to the LaSalle Hotel, to meet Old Man Carl, who was a retired Merchant Marine. The La Salle was once one of the city’s many brothels, so my first voyage was to a bawdy house to meet a sailor. It’s all very old Seattle and a perfect poet’s beginning.
It’s First Avenue before art official, when it was lived art and rolling gaits and painted ladies and the scruffy harbor town we used to be. It’s the spirit of Chief Seattle’s daughter called Princess Angeline but actually Kikisoblu of the Duwamish, still sensed in that place.
Pike Place Market is also where I spent endless hours at my Nana’s side as she visited Sebby the newsman, bought me a Wonder Freeze cone, hit every rummage for treasures and told long stories over her coffee at Lowell’s. As she visited with the Williams family and other Native carvers. As she laughed like no one else. As I walk I can feel her every step and her joys at what we would find.
My feet will carry me back there for as long as I walk upon this Duwamish land.”
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is the author of three novels and a memoir, and the editor of four anthologies. She is the winner of a Lambda Literary Award and a Stonewall Book Award. Her book “Sketchstasy” was one of NPR’s Best Books of 2018. In addition to writing, Sycamore is a filmmaker and visual artist, and an activist. Her forthcoming book, “The Freezer Door,” explores themes of queer urban culture.
“My favorite part about living in Seattle is the trees. And my favorite place to spend time with the trees is Volunteer Park — those cedar trees where the trunks grow almost horizontally, and you can sit inside like you’re on a boat; the giant sequoias with bark that feels like cork; the holly tree that looks like it has 20 trunks — often I spend more time with these trees than with the people I love, especially now. In my next book, ‘The Freezer Door,’ I spend a lot of time in Volunteer Park too, in search of whatever intimacies I can find — don’t we need them all?”
EJ Koh is a poet, prose writer and translator. Her poems and translations appear in PEN America, Slate and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among others. Koh’s most recent book, “The Magical Language of Others,” is a memoir about being a teenager living apart from her parents and the literal and metaphorical translation that happens across generations of women and diaspora.
“Seattle appears in my writing on its own. This is the place I reunited with my parents and my brother. It’s the place I encountered my partner. I used to dream about the experiences I would have in this city. Rather than fear, to delight in a bright curiosity, to study han (trauma) and jeong (love) for the purpose of learning what it means to forgive. I began my memoir in the water tower lookout in Volunteer Park. I counted the steps and sat on the bench, and for the first time, I wanted to choose for myself. I longed to be soft, yielding, unhardened by the halo of human fear that is constantly worn.”
Anastacia-Renée is an interdisciplinary artist, educator and writer. The author of five books, including 2017’s “Forget It,” and a contributor to Ms. Magazine, Poetry Northwest and more, she also served as Seattle Civic Poet from 2017-2019 and poet-in-residence at Hugo House from 2015-2017. She teaches multigenre workshops in schools and libraries and at Hugo House. Her work engages with the body, imagination, and identity, and curiosity.
There’s no place like home
“Long ago (and I say this with ancient eyebrows with the voice of a 12-year-old), I daydreamed over books and strong espresso that one day I’d live in a cozy place with huge windows, hardwood floors, a dog and a life partner. Somehow in the hum of the worlds cacophony of fear, chaos and joy, I find myself stanza’d inside the daydream. Our current condo-apartment, just big enough for two, is a Seattle sanctuary where I can mindfully breathe, introspectively create and (be) inspired amongst altars, books, journals and first drafts.”
Wryly McCutchen is a poet and performance artist who has authored four chapbooks and a full-length collection, “My Ugly and Other Love Snarls.” They hold an MFA from Antioch University and teach at Hugo House. McCutchen’s work often involves erasure/found poetry, multimedia, and breaking all the rules.
“Last Labor Day I caught the bus after work. It took me right up to the lip of it. I smiled wide. I’m fond of any place Lake Washington meets the shore. But my favorite spot can only be reached by swimming. Out where you can’t see the smiles of the beachgoers, but you can still hear them laugh at a good joke. Sometimes I swim out as far I can. Such strain and danger are delightful, transformative even. But not what I long for in the dead of February. I pine for the sunlight zone. I dream of that half-swimming, half-floating, liminal condition just above the truly cold, and just below everything I’m accustomed to. It’s just right. More than once out there, I’ve spotted part-time mermaids. I watch them practice lake life, flexing hybrid muscles under gossamer scales. And I think, nothing inside me is impossible.”