Louise Erdrich at Seattle Arts & Lectures in 2012.
Louise Erdrich at Seattle Arts & Lectures in 2012.

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Seattle Arts & Lectures has been around since 1987. In its first season, John Updike, Calvin Trillin, Donald Barthelme, and Louise Erdrich came to town to give talks in the lecture series. Since then, the organization has grown in a bunch of ways—adding several education programs, including Writers in the Schools—but anyone longing to hear those earliest lectures, or any lectures over the years since, has been out of luck.

Now that's changing.

SAL just received $65,750 from the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust to make what it calls "long-awaited critical updates" to its technology infrastructure. That includes "preserving and sharing SAL’s rich literary legacy by digitizing our archive of past lectures and creating an online platform to begin to make lectures available to the community," along with implementing a new website and new ticketing system.

Al Gore at Seattle Arts & Lectures in 2013.
Al Gore at Seattle Arts & Lectures in 2013.

When asked by phone which lectures might be made available or when, Amelia Peacock, SAL's community event coordinator, said, "We don't have a true sense" of that yet. But she added, "We've almost digitized all of our records" already.

"All the lectures we had on tape or CD we've been archiving digitally over the past few months, and we're now in the next step of figuring out which lectures we can get the rights for, either from estates or from the writers themselves. And that's a major factor in who we can publish, and when. Ideally, we'd like this to be part of our next season, to celebrate our 30th year, but there are a lot of maybes."

Not all past lectures have been recorded, she said, but "most have."

Amy Tan at Seattle Arts & Lectures in 2013.
Amy Tan at Seattle Arts & Lectures in 2013.

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Other visitors to the lecture series over the years have included Marilynne Robinson, Nicholson Baker, Grace Paley, Seamus Heaney, Lorrie Moore, Jamaica Kincaid, Kazuo Ishiguro, Mary Karr, Salman Rushdie, Edward Albee, George Plimpton, Zadie Smith, Oliver Sacks, Art Spiegelman, Junot Diaz, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and George Saunders.

Next season's lecture series will include Colson Whitehead and Ron Chernow.

SAL was founded by Sherry Prowda in 1987, and John Updike gave the first lecture in 1988.

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