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Castalia reading series brings UW’s best writers to Capitol Hill

Years from now, as you browse the local authors section at Elliott Bay Book Company, one writer’s name after the next will carry the warm familiarity of a long-lost friend, and you, with a self-satisfied smirk, will turn to your partner and say, “Yeah, I saw them when.”

Tuesday night is your chance to boost your Seattle literary street cred, when UW’s Creative Writing graduate students present Castalia, the monthly reading series co-sponsored by the Richard Hugo House, at 8 p.m. at the Hugo House (1634 11th Ave). Admission is free, and bar proceeds benefit HH, while merchandise sales benefit Castalia directly.

The May program will feature current students Debs Gardner, Mia Ayumi Malhotra, and Lisa Nicholas-Ritscher, as well as UW professor emeritus David Wagoner and alum Kevin Craft.

Though Castalia readings occurred on the UW campus since 1970, in 2008 the event’s then-curators relocated the series to Capitol Hill’s own Hugo House, Seattle’s hub for writers and readers. In January, Hugo House formally expanded its role from host to co-presenter. Castalia readings take place at Hugo House the first Tuesday of every month during the UW academic year.

“I think they really wanted the reading series to be more community-oriented, and to not feel so insular and closed-off,” said current co-curator William Fox Camponovo. “I think they really felt like it could be a part of the broader Seattle literary scene. And, of course, Hugo House is just a lovely house, so why wouldn’t we move it there?”

The partnership has helped Castalia immensely, Fox Camponovo says, better integrating UW’s writing community into the city at large while legitimizing the reading series . Locating in Capitol Hill delivers other, more social benefits too. He adds, “It’s nice to have the series in a neighborhood where people can just go out afterwards and shoot the shit and hang out. It’s one thing to have a person say, ‘Hey, I liked your stuff’ while you’re coming off stage. But it’s quite another – and better – when a person says that while bringing over a pitcher and then grilling you about it.”

The benefits go both ways, says Hugo House Marketing and Program Manager Brian McGuigan. “Castalia, like another co-sponsorship of ours, Cheap Wine and Poetry, brings in a diverse and lively crowd to Hugo House, and it’s the kind of reading we’re excited to have at the House.”

McGuigan says that Castalia offers UW’s creative writing students a unique opportunity to perform their work. “Writing programs, in general, focus on the success of the work on the page, the technical aspects of writing and the workshop process,” McGuigan said. “But through live readings, writers learn just as much about their work as in a class, and for student-writers, Castalia may be their first chance to read in front of a packed audience made up of more than just their peers in the program.”

Nicholas-Ritscher, a long-time resident of Seattle, describes the piece she will read as “whimsical and self-deprecating” and says that Hugo House has been a lifeline to her. “Reading at Hugo House is a way to connect with some of the most talented and generous reader/writers; it takes the solitary work, out there in the dark, and brings it into the community. This is something that, as a writer, I long for and treasure.”

Upcoming events at the Hugo House include: Finding Your Readers in the 21st Century, Hugo House’s first writer’s conference, May 21 – 23; the five-year anniversary of Cheap Wine and Poetry, featuring Ryan Boudinot, Keri Healey, Nicole Hardy, and others, at 7 p.m. on May 27; and All My Children, a new solo show from Matt Smith, directed by Bret Fetzer, at 8 p.m. every Friday and Saturday from May 28 to June 12.

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