Near the intersection at 85th Street and Greenwood Avenue, Teri Hein pulled over and we got out of her car. Old trees, old city storefronts, young people, buses, a bar. Hein approached a storefront with an "AVAILABLE" sign still stuck to its window and said, "Isn't this great?" We stepped inside. It was twice as wide as I'd expected—the size of two side-by-side storefronts, with a commanding view of the street. It was great. It is great.
The Greenwood storefront, well served by bus lines, is where 826 Seattle will open in October. It's the local chapter of a national chain of writing centers modeled on 826 Valencia, the San Francisco writing center for teenagers founded by Dave Eggers that's now been replicated in Brooklyn, L.A., and other cities. (The centers rely on volunteers. I'm already a volunteer.) Every 826 has drop-in tutoring and workshops and a storefront that challenges description. 826 Seattle's will be called Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co. and it will sell space-travel supplies.
Hein has been working around the clock. She had time to drive me to Greenwood thanks to a last-minute cancellation with someone else, but before we could go, she had a meeting with Rob Lightner, a volunteer coordinator, on Capitol Hill. They talked about training tutors, volunteer manuals, and legal stuff. "I don't think we need to fingerprint if there's a certified teacher present. So I plan to take a sleeping bag and be there 24/7," Hein said, and then, in characteristic deadpan: "What if I go next door to the Pig & Whistle and drink, but I'm still under the same roof, does that count?" As the meeting ended, Hein asked Lightner, "Are you going away for several weeks at a time this summer like everyone else I know except for me?"
Lightner said, "Nope. I have no life." He's also coordinating the repainting effort and is looking for volunteer carpenters, sheetrockers, people like that.
Hein said, "Great, I'm so happy."
Outside the coffee shop, Hein popped her trunk. It was packed with boxes from Time Warner Books. "Look at all those copies of The Historian," she said, referring to the Elizabeth Kostova novel that just jumped to number one on the New York Times bestseller list. "We're dropping them off for a fundraising house party." Additionally, Kostova will dedicate her July 18 reading at Elliott Bay to 826 Seattle. There are other 826 fundraisers in the works, including a Bumbershoot event with Dave Eggers, Sarah Vowell, Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket), and some famous musicians I'm not supposed to mention.
"The idea that we're basing our organization in the North End—well, you know, it's not necessarily done," Hein said on the drive. "But there's no question that there's need." During a recent visit Hein paid to nearby Ingraham High School, which has the highest immigrant population of any high school in Seattle, one kid raised his hand and told her, "I will be there on the first day." ■