The Rendezvous Reader: Northwest Writing
edited by Novella Carpenter, Paula Gilovich, and Rachel Kessler
(10th Avenue East Publishing) $15
When my father buys a book, he immediately writes in it: his name, the date, and the city where the book was purchased. The intimacy of this gesture is meant to inscribe his presence onto the blankness of the book, to claim it as his own. But if my father were to buy The Rendezvous Reader, he would hesitate before penning his name in it--hesitate or even possibly abandon the gesture, because the book would present to him not an impersonal text but one whose authors were intimately and forcefully tied to the book and its world: the Pacific Northwest. With this book, adding one's name to the list of other names would be much like adding graffiti to a bathroom wall.
"I really didn't want all of this stuff we were doing to go without documentation and acknowledgment from each other," says Paula Gilovich, the book's coeditor and publisher (now living and studying in Chicago), "[that] everyone is successfully fulfilling their wacky, absurd decision to choose to write."
Back in the late 1980s, Frances McCue (who later cofounded the Richard Hugo House) and local poet Jan Wallace discovered the tiny Jewel Box Theater inside Belltown's Rendezvous Restaurant. The venue's low lights, strong drinks, and comfortable atmosphere made it perfect for a reading series. Novelist (and cofounder of Clear Cut Press) Matthew Stadler soon joined the team, and the three developed a series, pairing emerging local writers with bigger names like James Purdy and Robert Glück. Throughout the mid-'90s, the readings acted as a bridge between the UW and the Red Sky Poetry Theater--as a new place where readings were loud and raucous, yet serious.
In 1998, Gilovich and writers Novella Carpenter and Rachel Kessler took over the series as curators. The three had, according to Gilovich, "terrible, panicky fun," making homemade glittery invitations to their events and parties, and hosting stars like Eileen Myles and Chris Kraus. Readings were richly cross-pollinated by The Stranger (indeed, many of the pieces in The Rendezvous Reader were initially published in this paper) and the local rock scene. Eventually, this formed the platform for 10th Avenue East, the publishing collective Gilovich created with Evan Sult.
The editors see The Rendezvous Reader as an extension of their curation. "We were interested in getting the list of writers who read for us during our term as curators and seeing what a book did to that history--if such a grouping said anything about the series or, yes, even the place we live," says Gilovich.
And though one is struck by the individual brilliance of particular pieces--Marjorie Hogan's poems, Bret Fetzer and Juliet Waller's play, Emily White's poetic investigation--it's hard not to search for some common thread, something that might mark the book as substantively Seattle.
Sult puts his finger on the book's use of a particular form: the fiction-nonfiction hybrid. In Rebecca Brown's "Learning to See," Jamie Hook's "Bad Dog," and Rachel Eggers' "Memoirs of a Sweettooth, Pt. 1," for example, information is recounted with the rigor of functional journalism, yet governed by the irregular laws of poetry. According to Sult, this is a form that might be tied up with this place.
"I can't remember which one of the writers mentioned at a party that the Northwest is a shallow fictional environment--that is, as a setting, it's been a hard one to invest with multiple meanings.... I think I agree, and the result has been that a lot of the personal stuff that would have been seeded under fictional soil is just spread over the surface."
"In Seattle, fiction isn't going to make you money," explains Carpenter. "Pragmatists have turned to nonfiction, [and] writers who want to write interesting nonfiction might turn to the concept of embellishment--or, as Evan describes it, that weird fiction-nonfiction hybrid. I think that's fabulous, and maybe it will become a Northwest signature style, replacing nature poetry."
"I think Seattle language culture is really shaping new possibilities," Sult says. "If Northwest writers trust themselves, and really just ignore the fact that they've left behind distinctions like fiction, nonfiction, essay, review, [and] interview, there will be a new form born from this crop of writers.... It's all slumbering right here."
On Nov 30, the Rendezvous Reading scrutinizes the MYTHS OF GLUTTONY with Brian Goedde, Megan Purn, and others at the Little Theatre, 610 19th Ave E, 675-2055, 3 pm, $3.