By Coll Thrush
(University of Washington Press, 2008)
It's Coll Thrush's claim that Seattle visualizes Natives more than any other major American city—from the wildly displaced Alaskan totem pole in Pioneer Square to those many, many manhole covers under your feet as you walk throughout downtown, all bearing Native designs.
But the city has visualized Natives as convenient fictions: romantic and disappearing, exotic and othered, combatant enemies. Seattle has failed to simply recognize the reality of the people native to its land and the people after whom it is named, and in fact the federal government still doesn't recognize its native tribe, the Duwamish.
Thrush's 2008 book is a rejoinder to all that, a vivid retelling of Native history in Seattle, and it is an incredible history. At one point, he tells the anecdote of a man hauled in front of a judge because he doesn't have his papers. He's Chinese, the judge says, and asks for his papers. I'm Chinese American, the man says; I was born here. Prove it, the judge says: Tell me where you live in English, Chinese, and Salish, the language system of the Native people here. The man does, and is released. This is the multicultural early Seattle that was wiped away throughout the late-19th and early-20th centuries. We have tremendous roots, we just don't know it. So read this. JEN GRAVES
By David D. Alt and Donald W. Hyndman
(Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1984)
The geological history of this state is fucking amazing, and this awesome little book lays it all out for you by region: the Northeastern Highlands (that's Spokane and such), the North Cascade Subcontinent (think Everett to Wenatchee), the Cascade volcanoes (Mount Rainier being the most prominent), the Willapa Hills (drive from Seattle to Portland and you'll find 'em), and the Puget Sound Lowland (that's us here in Seattle).
I could blab on for quite a while about the endlessly intriguing history of the ground beneath your feet, but instead of getting myself into "spoiler" trouble, I'll just suggest you go buy this thing, hang onto it, and slide into looking at life on a geologic timescale every once in a while. It's quite relaxing. ELI SANDERS
By Murray Morgan
(University of Washington Press, 1951)
You can probably find this book lying around the house of anyone who's been in Seattle long enough to get even a little bit interested in the city's past. Skid Road, written by an interesting character named Murray Morgan, looks at the city's first 100 years: relations between Native Americans and Seattle's "pioneers," the ruin of the Great Seattle Fire, the effects of the gold rush, the city's early newspapers, the General Strike of 1919, and more. It's not academic history—and far more enjoyable for it. At the time Morgan wrote this book, he was "moonlighting as a reporter-commentator for a small radio station and as a tender on Tacoma's Eleventh Street bridge." Exactly the kind of guy you'd probably enjoy having show you around town. ELI SANDERS
By Christopher T. Bayley
(Sasquatch Books, 2015)
My People Are Rising: Memoir of a Black Panther Party Captain
By Aaron Dixon
(Haymarket Books, 2012)
You may think that Seattle—the Progressive Utopia of the Pacific Northwest™—has never experienced the kind of corruption or police brutality that you see in cities like New York City or Chicago. Two recent books provide a useful reality-check. Seattle Justice: The Rise and Fall of the Police Payoff System in Seattle, written by former King County prosecutor Christopher Bayley, and My People Are Rising, by Aaron Dixon, the former captain of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party. Both paint a portrait of a city run by flawed human beings, and a town divided by race and class.
In Seattle Justice, Bayley recounts how police officers—and a King County prosecutor—allowed illegal gambling parlors to flourish in the city in exchange for payoffs in the early- to mid-20th century. Dixon documents his life growing up Black in Madrona, and how his experiences with racism led him to the Black Power movement in the 1960s and '70s. Both books overlap in their account of the police setup and killing of Black Panther activist Larry Ward in 1970. The similarities between that era and today, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, are unmistakable. These books provide context to the forces that helped shape some of the city's key neighborhoods—and make a compelling argument for why we need watchdogs for those in power. ANSEL HERZ
By Eli Sanders
This book isn't actually published yet (it comes out on February 2), but because I happen to know the author (The Stranger's own Eli Sanders), I've had the privilege of reading it already, and I can tell you that it's well worth adding to the canon of Seattle's history. It grows out of Sanders's 2011 Pulitzer Prize–winning story for The Stranger, "The Bravest Woman in Seattle," about a horrific crime that happened one night in South Park, and the courage of the crime's survivor.
That crime may be a scar on the city's psyche most Seattleites would like to forget, but in While the City Slept, Sanders weaves together a powerful narrative that shows why we shouldn't, and he accomplishes this by delving into the lives of the three individuals involved, as well as the forces—namely, the failures of Washington State's criminal-justice and mental-health systems—that caused these individuals to collide. As Sanders makes clear, this traumatic moment in Seattle history had impacts and implications that reach far beyond the people directly affected by the crime. KATHLEEN RICHARDS
Seattle City of Literature
Edited by Ryan Boudinot
(Sasquatch Books, 2015)
Ryan Boudinot, a local fiction writer, commissioned a bunch of essays from other local writers for this anthology on Seattle's literary history. The stories, which are mostly short, include authors such as Tom Robbins, Rebecca Brown, and Sonora Jha reminiscing about old haunts and the ghosts that hung around them. There are also fun interviews with booksellers and stories about those who are doing cool stuff today, such as Eli Hastings, the APRIL festival, and Vi Hilbert.
While this collection of barroom stories is a bit whitewashed (there are only a few contributions by or about writers of color), it does point out some important facts about Seattle's distinctions in the writing world, such as the strong academic poetry scene in the 1970s, the generally strong fiction scene (especially in the realm of sci-fi), and a fantastic comics scene (thanks, Fantagraphics!). You'll also learn that Seattle loves Haruki Murakami, Sherman Alexie is everybody's favorite performer, and that if it weren't for Seattle's cafes, industrial lofts, houseboats, and constant rain, no one would've ever written anything. RICH SMITH
Jackson Street After Hours
By Paul de Barros
(Sasquatch Books, 1993)
The corner of 12th Avenue South and Jackson Street is home to Vietnamese restaurants and supermarkets, Szechuanese eateries, as well as a taco truck. Cultural commingling on Jackson Street is nothing new, though its history as the center of Seattle's thriving jazz scene in the 1940s and '50s is not widely known. Paul de Barros's book is a loving and meticulous look at the musicians (including Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, and Ernestine Anderson) and the venues that drew in crowds of Seattleites—black, white, and Asian—night after night. ANGELA GARBES
Images of America
For some reason, the Arcadia Publishing Company in South Carolina has decided it's going to publish delightful little books on just about every little city and neighborhood in America. Roll your eyes if you want, but this is actually a great idea and has resulted in hundreds of individual offerings that home in on Washington State—including most, if not all, of the neighborhoods in Seattle.
If you're a serious bookstore browser, you may have seen these books already. Walk over to Elliott Bay Book Company's Seattle section and they'll be hard to miss: a long row of slim, sepia-toned paperbacks focused on the history of Rainier Valley, Seattle's floating homes, the Greenwood-Phinney neighborhoods, West Seattle, and so on. Heavy on historical photographs, and with no pretensions of being much more than the best some Arcadia-hired person could do for Arcadia's millionth neighborhood write-up, these books provide a great grounding in the micro-history of Seattle's various communities. It's a little bit like decades of super-important highlights from your best neighborhood blog all rolled up in one tiny bound volume (that is, if your best neighborhood blog had actually existed for decades, which, I promise you, it has not). ELI SANDERS
By Gary L. Atkins
(University of Washington Press, 2003)
The first chapter title of this essential history by author Gary Atkins reads, in part: "Sodomy on the Mudflat." Do I need to tell you more? This book covers the long arc of Seattle's gay community, from saloons "where men could explore the pleasures of friendship" to relatively more recent places like Shelly's Leg (rejected name: "The Great White Swallow"), which was a disco that in the 1970s drew so may straight people that the owners, according to Atkins, had to post a sign to make sure gays would still "feel welcome." The history of the Double Header in Pioneer Square? Check. The story of Cal Anderson? Check. A look at the frightening Initiative 13, the early years of the AIDS crisis in Seattle, and Capitol Hill's evolution into a gay neighborhood? Check, check, and check. Unless you know everything there is to know about sodomy on mudflats and all the rest—which I find HIGHLY unlikely—you need to check this one out. ELI SANDERS
By Sarah Galvin
(Sasquatch Books, 2015)
If you want to hear a voice that could've emerged only from this corner of the country, you need to seek out everything Sarah Galvin has ever written. She's known around town for her poetry, but The Best Party of Our Lives reveals her gift as a storyteller and a political thinker as well.
The book consists of 23 stories of queer couples who married shortly after same-sex marriage was legalized in Washington State. Galvin overcomes the coffee-table format by bringing a poet's ear and eye to her interviews, drawing details only she could elicit. One of the book's subjects, for instance, tells the story of proposing to her partner with a grill basket instead of with a ring.
What does the book say about Seattle? That there's a history of accepting queer love here, but also that there's still plenty more work to do: Trans folk are getting beaten up on Capitol Hill, and youth homelessness rates among queer people are staggering. Still, the book celebrates the legalization of same-sex marriage as a big win that made lots of peoples' lives better. RICH SMITH
By Alice Wheeler
(Minor Matters Books, 2015)
Alice Wheeler landed in Washington State in the late 1980s, just in time to document—with her signature eye for bright colors and her tough-as-hell black-and-white photography—the riot grrrl world that was bubbling up here at the time. Featuring a foreword by Kathleen Hanna, Outcasts and Innocents is Wheeler's first hardcover photography book, and it's 144 pages of real-deal 1990s Northwest. In addition to incredible portraits and live shots of lady punk bands such as L7, Bikini Kill, and Babes in Toyland, Outcasts includes many bold images of the Northwest's outsider culture—a rugged terrain full of rain, mountains, queers, punks, rebels, anarchists, and maybe her most famous photo subject: Kurt Cobain. "I've always been interested in photographing people on the margins of society," Wheeler recently told me. "Outsiders whom I most respect." KELLY O