By Tim Kukes for CHS
The APRIL Festival and Book Expo is breaking with tradition. For the first time — and the last time — the uniquely Capitol Hill literary festival will be confining its celebration to one day only — April 1st.
The Authors, Publishers, and Readers of Independent Literature festival, traditionally held in the later part of March to honor National Small Press Month, is coming to the end of its tale after a six-year journey of bringing eclectic reading events and diverse small press publishers to the people of Capitol Hill and Seattle.
“We feel like this is a good time to end the festival,” Frances Chiem, acting director, said. “We’ve done a lot with it and the small press community is a lot more vibrant than when we first started. We feel there are other community voices that will step in and fill the void.”
The story of the festival starts with Pilot Books, once located on Broadway, and Willie Fitzgerald and Tara Atkinson. The small press bookstore had a reputation as a vibrant community space and hosted a Small Press Festival in 2011 — essentially the first APRIL event and renamed after Pilot Books closed in the summer of 2011.
“They [Fitzgerald and Atkinson] started putting on the festival after Pilot Books closed as a way to continue the mission of the bookstore,” Chiem said. “Bringing a wider readership to small press books.”
One important element in “wider readership” is diversity. From one bookstore, the festival expanded into a multi-venue event covering a whole week.
“We try to do unconventional literary events to bring in a more diverse audience for people who don’t identify as academics, literati, or whatever –- the traditional reading can be uninviting,” Chiem said. “We wanted to put on events that were fun and still showcase the works of the great authors we were bringing to the festival.”
Fun, as in a literature-crawl that started at Piecora’s Pizza, meandered to the Crescent Lounge, and then ended up in a parking garage under an apartment building because the crowd outgrew the original end destination.
“It incorporated Capitol Hill places that didn’t exist anywhere else in the city,” Paul Constant, co-founder of Seattle Review of Books and then book editor for The Stranger, said. “Piecora’s was huge, but it was a fun, local place, and I can’t see IHOP hosting a reading or something like that.”
Constant said that situational awareness is very important to everything the APRIL folks do. The famous séance to summon the spirit of Alice B. Toklas, the lover of Gertrude Stein, in the Sorrento Hotel on First Hill is mentioned as an example, which happens to be one of Chiem’s favorite events.
“This séance we had with Rebecca Brown, it was a really fantastic event because there were crazy props – Rebecca Brown made Gertrude Stein masks for everyone to wear and she invited a medium to summon the spirit – but at the same time it was also the work of Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein shared and recommended.”
None of this could have been created alone. APRIL has had support from Hugo House, which provides space for the book expo, the Washington Ensemble Theater, and they have collaborated with Vignettes, a Capitol Hill art series. The event was also nominated for a Stranger Genius Award in 2013.
And if numbers are proof, then APRIL has more than a few friends. Chiem estimated that over a thousand people came through their reading events during their best year, and 400-500 people are drawn through the book expo in a course of a day. She credits the fact that Seattle is one of the most well-read cities in the nation.
Then why end it?
Because the staff are all volunteers, holding down fulltime jobs or are moving on, and are writers themselves. And writers must have time to write.
“One of the Catch 22’s of being an arts administrator who is also an artist is you spend a lot of time promoting other people’s work — not leaving very much time for your own creative practice,” Chiem said.
But APRIL is going to try to go out with a bang. Twelve straight hours of literary fun at Hugo House’s interim First Hill location with all the page-turner events APRIL is famous for, like the “A Poet, a Playwright, a Novelist, and a Drag Queen” storytelling competition. And there will be tents.
“I think it is important to notice when things go away,” Constant said. “But I also think I am not going to shed any tears for APRIL because it was a healthy run – and they all are doing things they love and that’s super important.”
For more info on APRIL on April 1st go here: aprilfestival.com.