Kate Berwanger is a strange woman. Those are her own words. She just can’t really explain what it means, exactly. She just knows that like many other women writers in Seattle, she identifies with the epithet.
“One of my favorite writers is Aimee Bender, and I feel like her writing is kind of strange,” Berwanger offers up as an example of a strange female writer she admires, while she swirls around the whiskey in her small shot glass. It’s only four o’clock, but in the darkened back of bar-cum-art gallery Vermillion, it feels like the clock jumped to midnight.
Here, in the back bar, she hosted the two first iterations of Surreal Storytelling With Strange Women, a new literary event she’s created. For a pay-what-you-can-price, Berwanger —who uses the online alias ‘The Coy Hyena’, is dressed in all black, wears a hat and at least five rings— curates a mix of known and lesser known writers from “different pockets of the literary community,” ranging from established poets like Anastacia-Renée to multidisciplinary writers such as Amanya Maloba, aka Kenya Ku$h.
Surreal Storytelling With Strange Women returns to the Hill for a third iteration Saturday, December 8th at Ghost Gallery. Readers will include G.G. Silverman, whose short fiction was most recently nominated for the Best Small Fictions anthology and writer and singer-songwriter Symone La Luz, among others.
“If I weren’t curating it, this would be an event I’d go to,” says Berwanger, who also organizes a new pop-up art show during Capitol Hill Art Walk, Scream for Queer Art.
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“Fuck, if I want to attend an event like this, I’m sure there are people out there that want to attend an event like this. So I figured I’d bring us all together.” By “us”, of course, she means (strange) female writers. She didn’t see a space dedicated to them, so she created it herself. “If there’s something that you want, chances are other people want it too. And if it doesn’t exist—why don’t you just create it?’
This DIY approach has permeated Berwanger’s creative writing work since childhood. First, there were poems about the sky, much later, a 100-copy zine packed with words and twigs from the Cincinnati woods she’s since left for Seattle. Though Berwanger’s been living here for over seven years, she only really burst onto the literary Capitol Hill scene in the last year or so.
It’s hard not to notice all she’s doing. A little over a year ago, she started a new, twice-monthly open mic at Screwdriver Bar in Belltown and Corvus & Co. on Broadway. Half of the Assembly Literary Open Mic nights are specifically dedicated to women and non-binary folks or LGTBQIA writers.
“A lot of literary, open-mic events are heavily saturated with men,” she said. “I think a lot of women are apprehensive to go to these kind of events because you’re in a room full of men waiting to speak.”
None of that at Assembly. There, she’s created, she says, an intentionally open, welcoming space. One that’s open too to creatives who don’t necessarily identify as writers. “When I ask those folks, who will have something written down, if they’ll read, they say no. But they usually do end up reading, because it’s a comfortable space. A space for people who are not on the stage to just jerk off and walk away and go out for a smoke. People who actually want to be there.”
Though she’d been organizing Assemblies for about a year, it wasn’t enough. Last June, around her birthday, she quipped that to make her literary dreams —more events, a bigger platform for the local literary scene— come true, she “just needed five grand or so.” She joked to her partner she just needed to get a Kickstarter campaign rolling.
“Soon, I realized: this could actually be a good idea.” She started a campaign this summer. Supporters ended up funneling more than $6.200 dollars into the campaign, which has since then helped fund Facebook advertising, flyers and pay the writers who read at the events. For the third Surreal Storytelling, Berwanger’s moving the event to Ghost gallery at Chophouse Row. She’s also introducing ticket prices for the first time.
“People will be like: I don’t know any of the people reading, why do I want to pay seven bucks?” Berwanger says. “Well, that’s a latte. Give up latte. Support the arts. You will literally be putting money in women’s artist’s pockets.”
After the event, Berwanger will be taking December off only to ramp up the number of 2019 events while finishing an anthology of her own creative work. She’s hoping to organize a Surreal Storytelling every other month, and dreams of expanding it beyond Capitol Hill and perhaps even city limits. Most of all she hopes she creates space for people who “perhaps don’t read or write that often, but can get a creative outlet as writer or listener,” she says. “I hope I can help give a voice to women that identify as strange. In a space full of enjoyment.”
You can learn more and keep track of future events at thecoyhyena.com.