In recent years in early spring, Capitol Hill has been the nurturing ground for a growing literature festival. The unconventional and sometimes raucous grassroots APRIL Festival focuses on “Authors, Publishers and Readers of Independent Literature” — a piece of the diverse make-up of contemporary literary culture and literary economies which rarely receives this level of focus.
“It’s like a farmer’s market for books,” said APRIL coordinator — and CHS veteran — Frances E. Dinger.
Grounded in a belief in the power of and the future of do it yourself literature in an infamously bookish city, APRIL seems like the kind of effort that could help define Seattle’s bid to be recognized as a UNESCO City of Literature. APRIL’s events go into territory most literature festivals may typically avoid, such as challenging common notions of how literature can be created and presented, how literature can interact with other art forms, and even where the boundaries between “literary” and “non-literary” art forms might be, Dinger says.
The fourth edition of the festival starts its week-long run Monday night on Capitol Hill, and ends on the Hill on Saturday. It will be bigger and farther reaching than ever this year.
The festival has expanded its terrain and added a writer-in-residence program in 2014, bringing Chicago’s Jac Jemc, whose follow up to her acclaimed novel My Only Wife will be release in the fall, and the number of publishers who be at APRIL’s independent book expo at Richard Hugo House on Saturday has more than doubled from 2013 to 2014.
Over the next six days, the festival will roll to spaces across Capitol Hill, some on First Hill, and, for the first time the festival’s short history, in the International District. The explosion of literary activity includes “happy hour”-style readings and facilitating unique multidisciplinary collaborations between writers and visual and performance artists. Once again, APRIL will pit a novelist, a poet and a playwright against a drag queen in a storytelling competition — in the latter corner this year is Seattle’s veteran mother, Mark “Mom” Finley. (Pro tip: buy tickets for the story telling competition in advance — $10 — if you want to be sure to get a seat. The event
will likely sell out again this year. was sold out as of Monday morning.)
The festival will culminate with APRIL’s largest independent book seller’s expo yet, with some 39 publishers bringing titles that in many cases can’t be found elsewhere in the city to Richard Hugo House next Saturday.
You can find the festival’s full schedule here.
Motivating all these events is APRIL Festival’s mission: “to connect readers with independent literature and the authors and publishers of this relevant and vitalizing work.” This is a mission the talented group of mostly Hill-based 20-something creatives on APRIL’s staff seem deeply invested in on a personal level.
“All of us have day jobs,” Dinger said about the all volunteer staff, who she said work on APRIL an average of 15 hours a week large portion of the year, and up to about 40 hours a week just before and during the festival in order to make it all happen.
The seed of APRIL Festival’s Capitol Hill roots was planted in early 2010, when the now defunct small-press bookstore Pilot Books, a celebrated hub for Seattle’s literary community during its two-year run on Broadway, put on its first SPF Festival, or “Small Press Festival.”
“The festival started four years ago as SPF,” creative director Willie Fitzgerald said. “It started as kind of an outreach program of Pilot books, and then when Pilot books closed down that year, Tara [APRIL founder and managing director Tara Atkinson] and I decided to bring on Kellen Braddock [APRIL’s finance and development director],” he said. “We renamed it APRIL, because there was already an SPF, which we had not heard about before — the Solo Performance Festival.”
Readings by Seattle-based poets Ed Skoog, Stranger Genius Maged Zaher, and Jemc, will provide the literary foundation at Monday’s opening party at Chop Suey. As APRIL seeks to push and question the boundaries of what “literature” is, is not, or might be, the Vis-a-Vis Society will perform and local indie-rockers Pony Time will provide a soundtrack to some of the Monday-night revelry.
Capping-off APRIL-week this year, after the independent book seller’s expo, another party will close out the festival, this time at Vermillion. Seattle’s DJ RES will play the house and “surprise readings” are to occur.
APRIL’s expansion beyond the Hill and bordering areas this year may point to some of what is next for the festival and of some of the goals its staff has in mind.
“I think because most of APRIL’s staff lives on Capitol Hill, and because it’s the neighborhood that has the most vibrant night life in the city, we will remain a mostly-Capitol Hill festival,” Dinger said. “But the desire is to slowly branch out, and to draw in more participants.”
The “All Made Up: Fiction Showcase” event on Thursday will be at the Lab @ INScape, on the edge of the International District and home of the Satori Group who will be co-hosting the event. The APRIL Happy Hour that day will be held nearby at Bush Garden and will feature readings from Darren Davis and Lauren Ireland.
Up-and-coming Capitol Hill writer — and Dinger’s fiance — Richard Chiem says being part of the event has helped him get noticed and reach a larger audience. “Last year, I got a review in The Stranger, and that was mindblowing. If it wasn’t for APRIL, I don’t think that would have happened,” Chiem said.
Stories like Chiem’s, one-of-a-kind events, and recognition show APRIL is succeeding in its mission to connect readers with independent writers.
“Everybody reacts in this wonderful way, and it’s good to have a lot of spectators participating as well. It’s a good rush. It’s great to people who love writing, language and books show up for these things, and they show up by the masses — it’s a great thing to see,” Chiem said.
You can learn more at aprilfestival.com.