When Teri Hein announced at a big party in late 2014 that her nonprofit youth writing center was changing its name from 826 Seattle to the Bureau of Fearless Ideas, one of the first things she talked about was place. She was no longer running a branch of the larger 826 National organization; instead, she had become the executive director of a Seattle-based organization headquartered in Greenwood. The BFI would continue to offer the same great free tutoring, writing classes, and other educational opportunities for kids that it always had as 826, but now it would celebrate its Seattle-ness in new and exciting ways; one of the first projects Hein mentioned was a book written by BFI students and local writers about the neighborhood.
Last year, the BFI started assembling the book that would be known as Encyclopedia Greenwoodia. They sent their students into the neighborhood to write about local businesses; they encouraged kids to propose ways to better the neighborhood; and they recruited local writers to think and write about Greenwood. Seattle authors including novelist Jennie Shortridge, poet Kevin Craft, essayist David Schmader, and former Mayor Mike McGinn contributed pieces. (Full disclosure: I’m honored to be a contributor, too.) A launch party was planned for March.
And how’s the book? As a kids’-eye-view of a neighborhood, it’s a delight. The first student piece is a celebration of beloved Greenwood restaurant Mr. Gyros written by Langley Fitzpatrick—the contributor notes inform us he’s 9-and-a-half years old—and it concludes with this incredible sentence: “Mr. Gyros is as amazing as the movie Transformers: Age of Extinction and I would recommend it to anyone who needs a place to eat.” Another student piece explains that the music in Gordito’s “has quiet voices that make you feel peaceful, like you’re moving slowly down a river; sometimes, a big octopus jumps out of that river as the music gets louder.” You’ll find moments of joy throughout.
But then, of course, disaster struck. The gas explosion that wiped out a block of Greenwood—including Mr. Gyros, among other local businesses—didn’t take any lives, but it did knock a hole in the neighborhood’s heart. The BFI is located directly across from the blast site, and the explosion shattered pieces of the plaster ceiling and knocked their famous wall of clocks to the floor. (The BFI is currently in temporary housing at the Phinney Neighborhood Association up the street.) Suddenly Encyclopedia Greenwoodia was more than just a tribute to a neighborhood. It was a rallying cry.
Thanks to a grant from 4Culture, Encyclopedia’s print run was enlarged and proceeds from its sale were pledged to Greenwood relief efforts. The launch party was moved to this Saturday, April 9, at the Greenwood Senior Center. Things are serious in Greenwood right now, but this isn’t a wake: Encyclopedia’s authors—kids and adults alike—will read from and autograph copies of the book, and they’ll celebrate Greenwood’s indomitable spirit by toasting champagne glasses full of milk. It’ll take more than an enormous explosion to knock the life out of this neighborhood, or these kids, or this irreplaceable Seattle organization with its uniquely Greenwoodian spirit. E
Greenwood Senior Center, 525 N. 85th St., fearless ideas.org. $10 (for a book). 2 p.m. Sat., April 9.
Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.