When poet Scott Poole talks about his first reading at Get Lit!, Spokane's annual literary arts festival, the excitement he feels is almost palpable. "I got down off the stage and three great writers came up and said they enjoyed my work, two magazine editors wanted me to send them stuff and a publisher came up to me and said, 'I want to publish your book!' Can it get better than that?"
While Poole's experiences may sound like the stuff of legend, the poet, who is also the associate director of Eastern Washington University Press and the festival's coordinator, explains that they're not uncommon at the event. "I've seen many other writers get books accepted or pieces accepted to magazines after reading at Get Lit! The crowd is full of writers and editors. It's the best, most attentive crowd you could imagine. Good things can happen to people who read at Get Lit!"
These sorts of happenings, and the sense of excitement they seem to generate, were the ultimate goal of Christine Holbert -- publisher of Lost Horse Press and co-founder of the festival -- and Poole when they launched Get Lit! in 1998. With only three months to prepare, and a limited budget, they still managed to pull together a festival that culminated in a Saturday night reading at the Met that lasted for more than 11 hours and had an audience larger than 300. Far from being a struggling start, it launched the festival with enough community support to propel it into its fourth year.
In the process, writers as nationally notable as Dennis Johnson, Quincy Troupe and Carlos Reyes have been featured at various festival events. Audiences have found themselves delighted with regional voices like Marjorie Sandor and the music of bassist Glenn Moore from the band Oregon. This year, with writers as prestigious as poet Kim Addonizo and as varied as children's authors Ken Nesbitt and Claire Rudolf Murphy, the festival shows no signs of slowing down. An example of the festival's momentum is that essayist David Sedaris has already been booked for next year.
Despite the changing roster of readers at Get Lit!, however, the general concept is the same as it was back when the festival started: bring as many writers, readers and publishers as possible together for a few days in the middle of Spokane. And while it sounds implausible, the fact that the festival has grown even in the face of funding losses and increasing costs demonstrates that there's more than a need for such an event -- there's a regional passion for it.
"I decided," Poole explains, "along with Christine Holbert in 1998 to do a festival because of something my first writing professor, [the late] Ricardo Sanchez at WSU said to our class: 'Writing is not about the commonly held conception of a writer starving in a garret. It's not about a person who works alone and mails off their stuff and never meets with anyone. Writing is about community. Groups of writers should get together and support each other. Ginsberg did it for the Beats. O'Hara did it for the New York School. The French Surrealists highlighted each other.' I have a complete belief in that. Well, from the time I came to Spokane in 1996, I've tried to do what I can to help the writing community in Spokane.
"The purpose of Get Lit! has always been to highlight, teach and inspire. We try to highlight the writers from our region who might not normally get recognition. We try to create unique learning opportunities in the field of creative writing that might not otherwise be in Spokane. We strive to inspire by bringing writers of national caliber to Spokane that might otherwise not stop here. We are trying to create, as Christine Holbert says, 'a literary vortex.' "
The heart of this vortex, like most literary festivals, lies with the readings that authors from around the region give at venues throughout Spokane during the festival (see sidebar). But rounding out the festival's offerings are various workshops and a book fair that contribute the event.
"Festivals have been important to my career," says poet and EWU Press Director Christopher Howell. "Taking part in them and later being part of planning and running them helped me understand that I like to make things happen, to bring together writers, readers -- even readers who have had no experience of poetry at all -- all kinds of people in these kinds of pressurized celebrations, because all kinds of knowledge can emerge. And, certainly, for me, some of that knowledge does bear on my work, just as my willingness to run these kinds of things has helped keep me employed. Maybe, too, running festivals and reading series, editing presses and magazines, has impacted my 'career' somewhat by getting my name around, though that was never my concern."
Indeed, the networking that can (and does) take place at Get Lit! is often a secondary benefit for many of the festival's attendees, who have devoted themselves to one of the world's loneliest professions. For writer Peter Rock, who teaches at Reed College and whose short fiction has appeared in leading magazines such as Zoetrope, Tin House and Epoch, the act of writerly association is significant in the creative process.
"I suppose I'll be put in contact with the work of other writers," he says. "And that is often quite startling and rejuvenating; it forces me in new directions."
Poole agrees: "Every year I also take a notebook full of ideas for new poems and stories home with me. I encourage writers to bring a notebook. The atmosphere is incredibly inspiring. I also encourage writers to bring samples of their work to the bookfair on Sunday. There'll be many magazines and presses there that will be happy to consider submission. It's a rare opportunity for writers to meet publishers."
But Rock, who will also be leading this year's fiction workshop, is quick to emphasize that the communal nature offers much more than inspiration. "This is also the main reason why a festival like this is worth doing, to me -- the chance to meet other writers, to talk to people I wouldn't meet otherwise, to flat out have a good time. It's just a wonderful opportunity to share stories, poems, experiences -- to learn. In some minor way, it also involves sharing one's own work, possibly finding readers or building interest, but I don't believe that's a very primary reason.
"The main thing is being able to get the writing done while maintaining a certain level of happiness when one can't get to it, perhaps. And teaching, sharing with others what I know about writing, watching them come to their own realizations, can provide a fair amount of this happiness. I mean, writing is an exciting, vital thing to do; just being around it can be electrical."
Get Lit Schedule
Most events are free and open to the public. The Sunday reading and bookfair at the Met is $5. Call G & amp;B Select-a-Seat at (800) 325-SEAT or 325-SEAT or visit any of their Spokane outlets, including the Met box office.
Workshops are $45 and include a free lunch. Workshop spots are limited. To apply and reserve a spot, call EWU Press at (509) 623-4286 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. According to Festival Coordinator Scott Poole, "We will be accepting workshop registrations all the way up to the morning of Saturday, April 13. But the workshops are filling up fast, so we encourage people to register early."
THURSDAY, APRIL 11
* Children's Program at the Children's Museum (10 am-4 pm; reduced admission for festival participants.) Readers: CLAIRE RUDOLF MURPHY, SARA CONOVER, KEN NESBITT
* Reading at Reid House (7 pm. $5 suggested donation) Readers: EWU MFA STUDENTS AND ALUMNI
FRIDAY, APRIL 12
* EWU Faculty and Friends Reading at Lorinda Knight Gallery (7-9 pm. $5 Suggested donation) Featured Artist: ROBERT YODER; Readers: CHRISTOPHER HOWELL, NANCE VAN WINCKEL, JOHN KEEBLE, JONATHAN JOHNSON, NATALIE KUSZ, GREG SPATZ
SATURDAY, APRIL 13
Location: EWU Spokane Center
* Workshops in Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, Translation and Publishing (9 am-noon. $45 pre-registration required). Workshop Leaders: Fiction - PETER ROCK; Nonfiction - NATALIE KUSZ; Poetry - BILL TREMBLAY; Children's Writing - CLAIRE MURPHY; Translation - PERRY HIGMAN; Publishing - EWU STAFF JOELEAN COPELAND & amp; SCOTT POOLE
* Meet the Writers Lunch (noon-1pm)
* Panels On Poetry and Children's Writing (1-4 pm. $5 suggested donation)
* Evening Reading at Auntie's (6-9 pm. $5 suggested donation) Readers: ANN MOORE, HENRY CARLILE, ROBERT WRIGLEY, KIM BARNES, ROB CARNEY
SUNDAY, APRIL 14 -- * Festival Finale and Small Press Book Fair at the Met (1-5 pm. Tickets: $5) Readers: JERRY McGUIRE, ALLISON BAKER, PAISLEY REKDAL, KIM ADDONIZIO
* Poetry Bout Finals at Mootsy's (6-8 pm. Cover charge at the door).