Tree Swenson, on the left, is the executive director of Hugo House and co-founder of Copper Canyon Press. This photo was taken at a Copper Canyon event at Hugo House in 2012. The tall guy in back is Ed Skoog.
Tree Swenson, on the left, is the executive director of Hugo House and cofounder of Copper Canyon Press.

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Seattle is a literary city—that’s clear.

The literary conversation here is a roiling cacophony. Discussion, debate, and dispute are essential to keeping the ecosystem healthy. We need individual writers writing about injustices and imbalances, about the over- and underrated, the pretentious and the wasteful, the precious and the sacred. We need some writers to be provocateurs, and some to be preservationists.

Why should we care about joining the UNESCO Creative Cities Network? Because we don’t want to leave it to governments, corporations, and the military to forge our international connections. We need people connecting to people—people who play music, create crafts and folk art, make films, design our world, and cook, and especially people who write, because literature helps us understand each other.

The goal is far larger than any one individual or group of people. It’s bigger than a board of directors. It’s bigger than any single nonprofit organization.

Ryan Boudinot initiated Seattle’s bid to be a UNESCO City of Literature and he devoted many months of his time and a lot of his own money to it. Ryan championed the importance of literature in this work.

The article he wrote for The Stranger after he decided to quit teaching upset many. A conflict arose between a statement he made as an individual writer and the needs of a local organization he founded.

Starting a nonprofit is not nearly as easy as it seems. An organization not only needs ideas and a mission, it needs ambassadors and diplomats. Missions are larger than founders, and they are larger than boards.

In addition to needing writers, our culture needs groups organized to publish, promote, present, and support those writers—the presses, magazines, libraries, bookstores, reading series, writing centers, agencies, and boards of directors. In part, these groups work to protect writers and their right to write whatever they damn well please.

The goal of the City of Literature was to build international bridges through literature and honor the world’s diverse literary traditions. The future of the bid is uncertain, but if there’s a way Hugo House can help, we will do it.

Seattle becoming an official City of Literature is a goal that needs to be kept alive. All writers, all literary organizations, all people who believe that writers and writing play an important role in shaping ideas, informing our actions, and shepherding us toward the future, should unite to support Seattle’s bid to be recognized by UNESCO for what we are: a City of Literature.