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Seattle Loves Books, But Can It Be A City Of Literature?

Ryan Boudinot says books like Charles Burns' 'Black Hole' (Fantagraphics) helped lift comics into the realm of literature and convey a local perspective borne of Seattle's 'rainy, freaky weirdness.'
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

The past couple weeks have been a period of intense lobbying, as Seattle lawmakers prepare the city budget.

On Tuesday, City Council members will start revealing which causes and organizations they’ve chosen to fund with the city's limited pot of discretionary funds.

One small arts organization is trying to stand out from the crowd. They want the city’s support in getting Seattle’s literary scene recognized by the United Nations.

Writer Ryan Boudinot helped the group Seattle City of Literature. Boudinot used to publish his books in New York. But then, he discovered there’s a literary revolution going on right here in Seattle.

I asked him to prove it, so he brought me to a comic book store in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood.

"Oh, this is one of my favorite graphic novels ever,” he said. “This is 'Black Hole' by Charles Burns. And it’s this completely creepy tail of mutants in high school living in a '70s Northwest."

Boudinot said Fantagraphics Books elevated comics into literature. It was all part of a cultural renaissance that began with grunge.

Poet Steven “Jesse” Bernstein published his poems on grunge record label Sub Pop. Before he died, he lived just down the street from Georgetown, in an apartment on Boeing Field. As you can imagine, his apartment was very noisy.

"But instead of fighting it, he really embraced the noise and the commotion," Boudinot said. In his poem, Bernstein said of the constant rumbling from planes and factories and trucks: "Maybe I need the noise to make love and to fight and to eat. I’m going to hang a sign out my window that says 'More Noise Please.'”

The City of Literature program provides a way of marketing Seattle’s literary scene around the world. Boudinot said more Seattle authors would find their work translated into other languages, and international authors might choose a Seattle publisher like Fantagraphics. This merry-go-round of cultural exchanges means more book sales all around.

Boudinot estimates he needs about $17,000 to help offset the costs of applying to the U.N. program (which is administered through sub-agency UNESCO).

So he marched his love of Seattle literature into a City Council budget hearing and walked up to the podium where advocates sign up to speak.

"We were number 85 in the list of people who spoke," Boudinot said laughing. Boudinot also made his case to several council members' staff last week. 

Boudinot will learn next week if he swayed any council members to sponsor his cause. But even if he failed, he said his project has helped Seattle writers recognize the scene around them.

And even if they have to go to comic book publishers to put out their novels and to record labels to put out their poems, he said writers have everything they need, right here in Seattle.