Bumbershoot's literary lineup this year? Quite possibly the best it's ever been. For years the festival has been promising really great literary arts programming—It's not just about the music! organizers would insist—but for years the programming always turned out to be, well, entirely about music, with the occasional reading by Matthew Stadler in a low-ceilinged room. Nothing wrong with a Stadler reading (seeing him read from Allen Stein in 1999 ranks among my favorite Bumbershoot memories), but a Stadler reading in Seattle is just not hard enough to come by to justify the financial and psychic costs of Bumbershoot. There have always been tons of national music acts. Where were the national literary acts?
Last year, Dave Eggers, Sarah Vowell, Daniel Handler, and Death Cab for Cutie did an event together at McCaw Hall, which was obviously a step in the right direction. (Sarah Vowell reading her essay about the many-times-revised lyrics to "Battle Hymn of the Republic" while Death Cab performed each variation? Glorious.) You missed it? Lucky you: Eggers, Vowell, and Handler are back this year, along with Stephin Merritt (the Magnetic Fields frontman/genius), John Hodgman (the Daily Show's "resident expert" and the funniest writer currently living), and other surprise guests I'm not allowed to name (Death Cab was the surprise last year, to give you a sense of caliber). This event is a benefit for 826 Seattle and, unlike last year, requires a separate, $30 ticket. I'd recommend you get on it: 628-0888, www.ticketmaster.com (McCaw Hall, Friday, Sept. 1, 8 pm).
But that's just, like, icing. Within the festival itself—and covered under the regular ticket price—are at least half a dozen events that no one in their right mind would miss. On Saturday, Chuck Palahniuk is doing a reading, which is not necessarily something I'd insist on (the last time I saw him at Bumbershoot, coincidentally enough reading alongside Stadler in 1999, Palahniuk talked a lot about how much "Brad" loved reading Fight Club and how much fun he and "Brad" had on the set), except that Palahniuk is reading with Charles Burns (brilliant creator of Black Hole, illustrator of The Believer's covers). That night, Brent Hoff, the editor and producer of Wholphin, the DVD quarterly from McSweeney's, is giving a talk about screenwriting. (That's not very "literary," I guess, although Hoff did once coauthor a reference book called Mapping Epidemics: A Historical Atlas on Infectious Disease.) On Sunday, George Saunders, whose short stories are awesomeness itself (read Pastoralia or CivilWarLand in Bad Decline) and Mary Gaitskill (Because They Wanted To, National Book Award finalist Veronica) are being interviewed on stage by yours truly (who can't believe his luck).
I'm running out of room! There's also Charles D'Ambrosio (formidably good), Gary Shteyngart (Jewish, hilarious), Eileen Myles (and other good poets), Sean Wilsey (memoirist, married man), Alison Bechdel (celebrated graphic novelist, dyke), Anna Maria Hong (a surrealist with a wicked laugh)...