Bumbershoot’s Literary Offerings: TV Writers, Poetry Battles, ‘Ask the Oracle,’ and More

If you want Bumbershoot to remain a cross-disciplinary arts festival, vote with your attendance.

During all the hoopla over Paul Allen’s Upstream Music Festival coming to Pioneer Square next year, I had to wonder why Allen didn’t just invest in Bumbershoot instead. Two years ago, Bumbershoot found itself in real financial trouble, and One Reel, its nonprofit organizer, had to partner with concert promoter AEG Live (decidedly for-profit) to keep it afloat. This pairing has caused a lot of consternation from Bumbershoot fans. Many of the complaints you hear every year are silly (sorry, nobody cares that you can remember when Bumbershoot was free), but people also worry that under AEG Live’s leadership Bumbershoot’s non-music side is getting short shrift.

Frankly, it would’ve made more sense for Allen to partner with One Reel rather than create another festival out of nothing. Why drag a South by Southwest to the Northwest when Allen’s money could have remade Bumbershoot—particularly if he were to invest heavily in its visual- and literary-arts component? Hell, Allen could have saved himself the funding for the Seattle Art Fair a couple of years ago if he’d incorporated both of his festival plans into Bumbershoot.

But that’s all in the past now; Allen doesn’t like to share a marquee with anyone, and AEG Live seems to be sticking with the festival. So when you go to Bumbershoot this year, it’s important that you remember to support the literary arts side of the festival. If you want Bumbershoot to remain a truly cross-disciplinary arts festival, you should vote with your attendance; nothing sends a message to promoters like butts in seats. And this year its literary side—the “Words and Ideas” stage—looks good.

Things kick off on Friday night with “Battle of the Word,” a mega-slam combining five local poetry competitions into one huge battle royale. Saturday brings two great literary-minded events: first, a panel discussion with the writers of the TV show Transparent. Bumbershoot has been featuring TV writers for a while now—I hosted the Parks and Recreation writers a while back—and nothing will convince you that writing for television is as much a craft as novel-writing as hearing about all the coordination, collaboration, and inspiration that happens in a writers’ room.

Second, Hugo House brings its Ask the Oracle reading series, wherein authors answer audience questions with selections chosen at random from their books, with a tantalizing trio of Seattle authors: bestselling novelist Garth Stein, short-story writer Kristiana Kahakauwila, and outstanding cultural critic Ijeoma Oluo.

Sunday night’s headliner is a reading presented by myself and my partner at The Seattle Review of Books, Martin McClellan. We’re bringing three of the most riveting Seattle-area readers we’ve ever seen—poets EJ Koh, Robert Lashley, and Sherman Alexie—together on one stage for the very first time. If you ever needed convincing that literary programming is an essential part of Bumbershoot, any one of these four events should provide all the proof you need.


Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.