Get Lit! Festival makes Spokane 'a literary city'
By Marijke Fakasiieiki
Over its 25-year history, organizers designed Eastern Washington University's Get Lit! Festival to highlight writers.
Get Lit! covers many different genres from the traditional fiction, nonfiction and poetry to memoirs, playwriting, prose, journalism, true crime and personal coming-of-age stories.
Festival events take place Thursday to Sunday, April 20 to 23, primarily in venues like The Bing Crosby Theater, the Central Library, the HIVE, the Montvale Event Center and Kendall Yards sites. It features more than 40 events and more than 80 authors.
"As a community and regional tradition for 25 years, Get Lit! has helped make Spokane the vibrant literary city it is today," said Kate Peterson, Get Lit! director.
The highlight for Get Lit! 2023 is that U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón speaks at 7 p.m., Saturday, April 22, at The Bing Crosby Theater, 901 W. Sprague.
"We are especially happy to celebrate poetry in a time when some people try to say poetry is dead," she said. "We want to celebrate our 25th by highlighting the ways poetry can connect us and show us our humanity."
Kate hopes that will draw people who have not normally attended and allow Ada to "elevate, celebrate and speak to poetry's role—the power and potential of this art form."
Spokane poet Laura Read and Seattle poet Gabrielle Bates will read from their poetry and converse on the power of poetry to connect people.
Ada will also offer "How to Start a Poem: A Craft Class," from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., Friday, April 21, at the Spokane Central Library.
"Her poetry connects us with the wider world. She is a people's poet. Her work is accessible as she shows all sides of humanity in her work, the scary and wonderful parts," said Kate.
"The festival celebrates the power of the written word. We aim to inspire writers to be creative and show how an idea or an essay can take hold to help a community better understand a topic. We want to create space for conversations where people can learn from each other," she said.
An event, "25 Years Later: Celebrating the Festival's Founders," at 10 a.m., Saturday, April 22, at the Montvale Event Center, is a conversation with two of the Get Lit! Festival founders, writers and editors, Christopher Howell and Christine Holbert, moderated by Dan Butterworth.
They will share how they wanted to create a "literary vortex" in this region, how the festival came to be and how the scene has changed in 25 years. It has become a space for best-selling authors, small presses and decades-long poetry open mics. Christopher will also read from his latest poetry collection.
Get Lit! also celebrates how Spokane writers' works make this community "a vibrant space for writers, a place where they can be inspired to write their own work or even make their own zines," said Kate.
"There is a lot going on in Spokane for writers and artists. Live events are coming back to life now after years of dealing with COVID restrictions. We hope that a space like our Book Fair, which brings together more than 20 local and regional bookish organizations, can help to remind us how strong our community still is," said Kate, who moved to the Pacific Northwest from New Jersey in 2012.
In 2010, she received a bachelor's in writing arts at Rowan University in New Jersey and in 2014, a master's in fine arts in the Eastern Washington University (EWU) creative writing program in poetry.
In her two years at EWU, she volunteered for the Get Lit! festival to enhance her experience as a graduate student. She was also an adjunct professor for several years. With her experience as regional coordinator for the Poetry Out Loud and as a Get Lit! volunteer, she became interim director from November 2016 through the 2017 festival. After that, she became the director.
"I've always had a passion for literature and writing. Reading was always part of my life. My parents read to me every night, and I remember always having several books on my desk at school and lots of wonderful, supportive teachers and librarians in my life," said Kate.
"As a kid, I wrote many short stories about horses. I didn't come to poetry until I was more into the emo music scene in high school and college, and realized that the lyrics were just like poetry and that I could participate in this genre without musical talent. That eventually led me to study and now work at EWU and direct Get Lit! for which I am thankful," she said.
The Get Lit! Festival looks for submissions from the community and region, while also connecting with authors from around the country. They find headlining authors by word of mouth from agents and publishers. They pay for the festival through grants, community partnerships, ticket sales and fund-raising efforts.
In thinking of topics important in today's world, organizers include conversations that should be happening.
"It's important to celebrate the power we have as writers to educate our community," she said.
For instance, Toni Jensen, a nonfiction writer, will offer "Combining the Personal and Political: A Craft Class" on how to communicate issues of Indigenous land rights and gun violence from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., Friday, April 21, at the Spokane Central Library.
Some writers, including ones from the region, will talk about climate change and explore histories of the Inland Northwest and women of the West.
This year's Get Lit! Festival includes some tabletop role-playing events that help show the creativity of people who play the games, come up with a story in their heads and present in real time.
At another event, Betsy Aoki, a fiction writer, poet and game designer, shares how she combines technology, poetry and Japanese folklore.
Laramie Dean, a Missoula writer, will participate in a panel on underrepresented writers in fantasy, horror, post-apocalyptic fiction and science fiction.
There will also be a virtual Ukrainian poetry session, in which writers from Ukraine will share poetry on their experiences.
Cascadia Field Guide will offer two sessions to engage with art, poetry and stories, connecting readers to the landscape of Cascadia, and life in the region from Southeast Alaska to Northern California.
"Cascadia Field Guide: Art, Ecology and Poetry," at 1 p.m., Saturday, April 22, in the Montvale Event Center, is a conversation with the guide's contributors and editors.
"Walking Spokane's Wilds with Cascadia Field Guide," an immersive outdoor nature hike with poets in the wilds of downtown Spokane, starts at 4 p.m., Sunday, April 23, at High Bridge Park.
At 7 p.m., Sunday, April 23, a session at the Central Library celebrates local writers with authors Jess Walter—The Cold Millions—and Leyna Krow—Fire Season—in conversation with best-selling Spokane writer, Sharma Shields.
Many events are free and ticketed events are low cost. To encourage young people to attend, EWU offers free tickets for students at email@example.com.
For information, visit www.getlitfestival.org.