“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Seattle prides its love of literature. For years, it has battled Washington D.C. and Minneapolis for the top spot as the most literate city in America, and in an age of e-Readers and tablets, it touts one of the most thriving bookstore industries in the country.
“This is a great place to love if you love books,” said local author Ryan Boudinot. “Whether it’s Hugo House or readings at Elliott Bay, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy literature in this town, and Capitol Hill is one of the best places to do it.”
Because of Seattle’s bookworm tendencies, Boudinout believes that the city has what it takes to enter a new world class of literary culture: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) City of Literature.
“The [City of Literature] program started in 2004, and it’s a way to recognize cities that are committed to literature and have either a rich literary heritage or are doing work now to spread the appreciation of literature around the world,” Boudinot said. “Seattle would be joining a network of cities, and being designated as a City of Literature would give us an opportunity to engage in such things as cultural exchanges and different kind of projects we’d collaborate on in the network.”
Currently, other towns considered a “UNESCO City of Literature” are Edinburgh, Melbourne, Reykjavik, Iowa City, Norwich and Dublin. While the program may at first seem like nothing more than an honorific, Boudinot points to a number of current programs focused on cross-cultural exchanges that exist between these cities, such as an initiative between Edinburgh and Melbourne where writers from one city may take up temporary residence in the other. If Seattle were to join, Boudinot hopes that a similar program would be instituted here.
“The way to think about it is that it’s a way to introduce our writers to the world, and a way to introduce the world’s readers to Seattle,” Boudinot said. “Hopefully it would provoke more interest in Seattle as a cultural capitol in the United States, give more people a reason to visit and explore what we have to offer in terms of literature.”
Despite the fact that only a few places have managed to become a City of Literature so far, Boudinot believes that the wealth of bookstores, literary educational programs within the city for both at-risk youth and adults, and Seattle’s robust library system merit addition to the list.
“The literary offerings we have, on their own merits, warrant inclusion in the City of Literature program,” Boudinot said. “Seattle cares about books; we’re a very well-read and literary town. It seems like every time I turn around I find a new organization dedicated to books; it’s really phenomenal.”
For the last few months, Boudinot has taken his campaign to places like The Elliott Bay Book Company, Richard Hugo House, and the downtown’s Seattle Public Library to spread the message on why Seattle’s addition to the program would be of great benefit to the city.
“So far, the response from the meetings we’ve had has been very enthusiastic,” Boudinot said. “If you want more exposure to diverse voices from around the world, if you’re interested in bringing authors from other places to the northwest, or if you’re a writer and you’re interested in making connections outside of Seattle, see other parts of the world and learn about their literary tradition, this is a project you can get behind.”
Currently, Boudinot and a board that he helped create to form Seattle’s bid is waiting for UNESCO to post its new application guidelines. Once that happens, Boudinot and his team will begin taking an inventory of the city’s various literary offerings, and prepare a statement of what the city will contribute to the program. After that, it will all come down to fundraising.
“At some point, we’re going to be raising money for this,” Boudinot said. “As someone who really doesn’t like asking people for money, I realized I have to make the first step, so a couple of things that I’ve pledged is that from here on out all of the royalties from my book, ‘Blueprints of the Afterlife,’ will be poured back into this project.”
Although it will likely be months of effort before any progress with the bid will be made, Boudinot said that the endeavor is one that will help the rest of the world recognize the northwest as a true cultural Mecca.
“I think this is really important as it would open things up for Seattle culturally in a way that will give us a platform on the world stage, and we’re more than prepared to do it,” Boudinot said. “But there’s a lot of work ahead of us.”