If it’s March, that means it must be time for APRIL, the annual small-press literary festival that smashes drag queens, fancy clothes, and booze together into an orgasmic explosion of books and art. This year’s APRIL (the name stands for Authors, Publishers, and Readers of Independent Literature) is the fifth annual festival, and it demonstrates a few signs of maturity. For one thing, the early-evening happy-hour readings that used to be an integral part of the APRIL experience have disappeared this year, leaving a leaner and more focused schedule in its place.
But don’t expect a subdued affair. This is the same festival, after all, that once concluded an event with Ed Skoog reading poetry in a parking garage while the audience circled him like some sort of literary Fight Club. They ended one dark, death-obsessed reading with a joyous surprise Ezell’s fried-chicken feast. Last year, they produced a literary séance hosted by Rebecca Brown that delivered the spirits of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas to the Sorrento Hotel’s Fireside Room in a goofy, romantic celebration of literary love. APRIL is all about putting writing into uncomfortable places and seeing what happens.
On Tuesday, APRIL hosts an opening-night party at the Pine Box, and as always they’ve assembled a killer lineup to kick off the festival: Olympia poet and translator Alejandro de Acosta; Sarah Jaffe, whose coming-of-age novel Dryland was ecstatically blurbed by no less a titan than Argonauts author Maggie Nelson; APRIL writer-in-residence Jenny Zhang; and Short Run co-founder and cartoonist Kelly Froh. So right there, you have a translator who publishes essays in anarchist journals, a subversive young-adult author, one of the city’s finest cartoonists, and the New York-based Zhang, whose precise essays, fiction, and poetry mark her as one of the hottest up-and-coming young names in NYC literary circles. What happens when you pack them all in a bar and get some booze in them? Who knows? You have to show up and see; that’s part of the fun.
But there’s sure to be more than just a few impressive names at this party; in five years APRIL has proven itself genetically incapable of putting on a boring event. Their opening parties have involved mind-bending drag performances, shiny Mylar balloons, music from fun bands like Pony Time, pizza, and the occasional giddy burst of hair metal. “Expect the unexpected” is more than a shitty bumper sticker—it’s the one rule in the APRIL Festival guidebook.
The opening-night party kicks off what looks to be a gratifying week of festivities: a fifth-anniversary party bringing back some of APRIL’s greatest hits including Skoog, Galvin, Maged Zaher, Robert Lashley, and many more; a visual-art show inspired by Zhang’s poetry; a talk by David Schmader about the depiction of writers in movies; and the climactic APRIL Book Expo at Hugo House, which for one day will become the largest non-corporate bookstore in the entire state of Washington. The cherry trees are blooming, the days are getting longer, and APRIL is arriving in March. It’s time to get excited. The Pine Box, 1600 Melrose Ave., 588-0375, aprilfestival.com. Free. 21 and over. 7:30 p.m. Tues., March 15.
Paul Constant is the co-founder of the Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.