The catchphrase of The Furnace reading series is descriptive, intense, and memorable: “One Writer. One Story. Read to completion (with vigor).” It’s oddly sexual in tone—I can think of no other reading series in Seattle that is described with the same language as a handjob—but vigor is exactly what you get when you show up for a Furnace reading.
Founded in 2012 by Seattle writers Anca Szilagyi and Corinne Manning, the quarterly Furnace series brings a writer to Hollow Earth Radio’s studios before a live studio audience to read a story that incorporates audio elements like music and sound effects. The reading is broadcast live on Hollow Earth, and audio recordings live forever on thefurnaceseattle.wordpress.com. If you’re looking for particular recordings to sample, the top two recordings on the Furnace’s Sound and Video page are great places to start.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s story “The Freezer Door” circulates through her interests: the increasingly conformist attitudes of modern American cities, sexuality, and the complexities of attraction. She moved to San Francisco in 1992 and joined the seemingly never-ending parade of hookup culture. Everyone, at the time, was kissing everyone. She explains, “This kiss didn’t necessarily feel like a radical act; it was just something you did when you were a faggot.”
And possibly the best Furnace is from October 2015: Anastacia Renee Tolbert’s story “The City.” In her introduction, Szilagyi calls Tolbert “a queer superhero of color,” and that’s just about right. Not many poets would have the guts to read a narrative poem featuring the city of Seattle as a protagonist, but Tolbert pulls it off and makes it look effortless. Over a droning retro electronic soundtrack created by local sound collective WINDOWS95SECONDEDITION, Tolbert reads, “This city sits on itself like a tired woman after a long day of being black … we are beautiful in the rain because the rain makes us blurry.”
It’s a Seattle in crisis, a Seattle trying to find its own voice, a city distracted by coffee and body image. It’s the Seattle out our window. Later in “The City,” Tolbert announces that in Seattle, “We all have a story to tell and that’s why there are so many writers here.” That could just as easily have been an alternate, non-handjobby catchphrase for The Furnace, too.
This Friday, Manning and Szilagyi will present the last-ever Furnace reading. (“Corinne and Anca love you forever but we are in our 30s and need to finish our books,” a notice on The Furnace site says.) In the finale, they’re violating one of the series’ cardinal rules: It will feature not one writer but an army of Furnace alumni, including Sycamore, Tolbert, Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Nancy Jooyoun Kim, and Buffy Aakaash. Szilagyi and Manning will fold contributions from all the writers together into a single story, with a soundtrack by WINDOWS95SECONDEDITION and The Shtick Figures. It will undoubtedly be read to completion (with vigor.) Hollow Earth Radio, 2018 E. Union St., 617-1683, hollowearthradio.org. Free. All ages. 8 p.m. Fri., Dec. 2. Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read dailybooks coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.