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My Message to the City for The Stranger

I welcome your thoughts about the ideas I shared in this ten-minute Message to the City, which concludes with a visual poem, and which is transcribed below.

Good morning, Seattle.

My name is Kristen Millares Young, and I am a novelist, essayist, book critic and investigative journalist. My debut novel Subduction is a lyric retelling of the troubled history of encounter in the Americas. Subduction came out on April 14th—not an easy time for anyone, but the dedicated indie booksellers at Elliott Bay Book Co and Third Place Books have helped me keep a sense of purpose.

I am also, newly, an editor thanks to Seattle City of Literature, which commissioned me to curate a collection of ten essays in which artists and storytellers reflect on what it means for Seattle to be a UNESCO City of Literature. This collection, called Seismic, is not a commemoration. It is a call to action. How can literary culture influence social change? Seismic is a living portrait of a city we love too much to lose.

If I had to tell you why Seattle is a literary city, I would say it is because I was able to become myself here. I learned how to inhabit my mind in this place. To hold space for your own story can be a revolutionary act.

The kindness and cruelty I have encountered in our region and history have compelled me to claim my responsibility in our era. When I first moved here in 2004, I became a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, now gone. Hurrying around town to conduct interviews on deadline, worried about the game of chicken that we play on sideroads, I learned to cope with the dark, wet chill of our winters. But I am haunted by the specter of a subduction-zone earthquake. Keep what you’ll need handy.

I didn’t always expect disaster, and I don’t know how we tolerate the cognitive dissonance of planting our lives in unstable soil. Those who moved here chose our fate within a seismic reckoning which I’ve come to see as myriad. Not just geologic but cultural. Not just topographic but economic. Not just historical but immediate.

This place helped make me who I am. Like so many settlers before me, I aim to stay. No es fácil. Food and shelter cost so much that people go without and are blamed for it. This, too, is a reckoning we must face—the compression of oncoming waves of workers in diaspora, come to seek jobs that may not provide. And yet, provide we must.

As a City of Literature, we carry stories for the unborn. What will we tell them of our time?

That in a pandemic we were asked to choose between profit and our vulnerable, elderly neighbors? That death forced us to keep a social distance? That to confront and heal our racial divides, we came together—or broke apart?

With gorgeous, evocative cut paper cover art by Mita Mahato, Seismic includes essays by Rena Priest, Jourdan Keith, Claudia Castro Luna, Charles Johnson, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Tim Egan, Wei-Wei Lee, Anastacia-Renée, Dujie Tahat and Ken Workman, the great-great-great-great grandson of Chief Si’ahl.

The essays collected in Seismic represent a vision for our city that channels their best hopes. This pandemic offers an unprecedented opportunity for cultural institutions with racist legacies to reorient their practices to center and serve historically marginalized communities, rather than rebuilding structures and programs that replicate histories which erased the contributions of peoples of color.

Future societies will study our time for clues about what and whom we protected. They will see whether we preserved and shared our abundance.

For too long, we have ceded control of the narrative. To what end?

We cannot answer that question alone. Together we must own up to our collective role in the long story of living. Resilience is a quality cultivated under duress, over time, against the odds and in community.

We, whether newly arrived to Seattle or generations deep, are on Duwamish land, now deforested and poisoned by the hands of settlers who straightened rivers, sluiced hills and flooded shorelines in the name of prosperity that has not been shared. It is time to honor the Treaty of Point Elliott.

Native wisdom has endured through stories that have lasted for millennia. And that is what we must reach for—the millennia, not just those which have already unfurled but those which remain for others to endure.

As an arts community, we have seen what nonprofit boards and staff can do when a vision has been clearly and publicly articulated and shared. Right now, we are living in a moment that brings long overdue public attention to the value of black lives. To hold space for these stories is a sacred duty and a real joy.

But creating equity will require more than attention. Equity requires shared resources and opened networks. Unfunded initiatives are not effective. Some of you who are watching have been part of capital campaigns that garnered millions.

As a community, we need to enshrine our values for future generations. Arts administrators, I am asking you to create equity endowments – socially responsible funds that are invested in the long-term health of our communities – used for honoraria, scholarships, increased salaries and opportunities for peoples of color.

Also, and this is critical, the private sector needs to more than match the public sector’s commitment to the arts. The city of Seattle sets aside one percent of capital improvement project funds for the arts. I am here to tell you that the minds and futures of diverse writers are the true capital. Double down on investing in them, and start getting that money out the door. Artists are in need, and they have already shown us the way forward.

This multiyear effort will require you to confront and heal the racial divides that have plagued historically white-led organizations. As an artist and a nonprofit co-founder myself, I honor the work that awaits us all to make this vision a reality.

I’m glad The Stranger asked me to share my thoughts this morning. Today is as good a day as any to enact the changes we all know need to be made. Seismic will debut on September 15th as part of a virtual performance hosted by the Seattle Public Library.

I’m also grateful for The Stranger’s recommendation of SUBDUCTION’s virtual book party, offered on Friday, October 2nd by Hugo House, Red Hen Press and Elliott Bay Book Company, which like the Paris Review named SUBDUCTION a staff pick.

I am going to share a three-minute visual poem I made in collaboration with the Bushwick Book Club’s Geoff Larson, who plays an original composition on bass alongside visual animation by Jak McKool and photos by Anne Frias.

Today, I ask that you buy, read and invest locally. Even at a social distance, we are a community in thought. If the personal is political, then the local is global. Happy Friday.

 

Pa’lante,

Kristen Millares Young

 

P.S. Find me on Facebook, Insta & Twitter

 

 

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SUBDUCTION named a staff pick by The Paris Review

SUBDUCTION is a staff pick in The Paris Review. It’s a real joy in a hard time thanks to West Coast editor Christian Kiefer, who read my novel like a writer and valued my book’s explorations. I have *always* wanted to be part of The Paris Review.

I’ll be frank. With more than a third of my 35 event tour cancelled, one third deferred and the last third in limbo, I have been feeling like a fraction of myself. I spent a year planning those panels, readings, performances, signings, conversations, engagements…planning to be present, to converse in person, which is what I do best.

But this is a bright moment, and so I want to honor the generosity of another writer who made space for me in a fraught season. It satisfies my heart and gives me a deep gladness that my book has been seen for its complexity. What a gift to be listed alongside Carl Phillips, Rosalía, Ina Garten and Fred Hersch.

You can buy SUBDUCTION by clicking on the cover image below.

 

 

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News

Ms. Magazine Preview: Feminist Books of 2020

 

Feminists held space for me to develop my own consciousness. When I was a girl in central Florida, Ms. Magazine reached me, and I knew I wasn’t alone in thinking this way. To be understood was a relief that gave me the freedom to explore my own ideas and the work of other women.

I am grateful to gender and women’s studies librarian Karla Strand for including my “utterly unique and important first novel” in her 2020 preview of feminist books for Ms. Magazine.

Subduction isn’t feminist because my Latinx character, an anthropologist named Claudia, does and thinks the right things. She doesn’t. Subduction is feminist because Claudia is complicated and contradictory, as is Maggie, the Makah tribal member who lets Claudia work with her family.

Their fraught relationship is too rare in published depictions of Latinas and indigenous womxn. To be read and seen for “themes of love, intrusion, loss, community and trust” is a comfort. To be among such excellent company will sweeten my tour.

Pa’lante.

(And yes, you can get free shipping on preorders from Red Hen Press, a much better deal than Amazon.)

 

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Seattle Magazine Celebrates the New Hugo House

That’s me on the left, standing next to one of my heroes.

Hugo House Executive Director Tree Swenson realized a dream for our community: a permanent place for the literary arts in Seattle. Many thanks to Seattle magazine’s Gwendolyn Elliott for sharing news of Hugo House’s grand opening in September. I will have an office and teach classes at the new building, located by Cal Anderson Park in Capitol Hill.

“The new Hugo will also house a writer’s salon, a 150-seat performance venue and staff offices to serve a student population that’s nearly doubled since 2012, something Swenson attributes to uncertain times. “It’s essential for people to identify what really matters, and to do that you have to make time to reflect,” Swenson explains.

The center’s growing student body will also be served by Hugo’s next writer-in-residence, Columbia City’s Kristen Millares Young, who changed course from an award-winning career in journalism (for outlets such as The New York Times, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Guardian and Time) to pursue the craft of personal essay, fiction and creative nonfiction. As she puts it, “current events forced me to get personal.” She now writes about feminism, cultural identity and justice, and her debut novel, which she describes as “a lyric retelling of the troubled history of encounter in the Americas,” is due to be published in 2020 by Red Hen Press.

“In a world that rewards cruelty,” Millares Young says, it’s places like Hugo House and a love for literature and stories that bring “us back to the hopes we formed before experience tried to teach us to dream smaller.”

Swenson notes, “One of the best tools we have to envision the kind of world we want to live in is through language, which can convey empathy, compassion and the ability to view the world through someone else’s point of view.”

Hugo House Grand Opening. With Maria Semple. Saturday, September 22. 5–10 p.m. Free. Hugo House, Capitol Hill, 1634 11th Ave.; 206.322.7030; hugohouse.org

 

 

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Writer-in-Residence at Hugo House

 

I’m thrilled to share this news from Hugo House, where I will serve as the newest prose writer-in-residence for one of the longest running programs of Seattle’s hub for writers. Here’s their announcement:

Young is the author of the novel Subduction, a lyric retelling of the troubled history of encounter in the Americas, forthcoming from Red Hen Press in spring 2020. She is known for bold and intimate personal essays that have appeared in the Guardian,Crosscut, Hobart, Moss, and the New York TimesNew & Notable book Pie and Whiskey. Her prize-winning investigations have been featured by the Guardian, the New York Times, KUOW 94.9-FM, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,and soon, the Washington Post.

“Kristen has not only been an important part of Hugo House but of the literary community at large,” noted Executive Director Tree Swenson. Co-organizer of the inaugural Seattle’s Writers Resist, and co-founder and board chair of InvestigateWest, an award-winning nonprofit news studio known for creative storytelling, Young brings multidisciplinary skills and knowledge to Hugo House along with her experience as a creative writing instructor.

As writer-in-residence, Young will organize and oversee outreach to communities with little access to the arts.

“Emerging writers – particularly women – need safe mentors. I look forward to creating mentorships between writers at different stages in their careers. I’ll also coordinate Spanish-language reading and writing circles to engage fellow Latinxs.”

Young will receive office space and a monthly stipend to meet Seattle-area writers for free hour-long appointments while working to complete her second novel and an essay collection.

“Fascinated by the interplay of ambition and assimilation, I’m drawn to the stories we tell to hasten or counteract our loss of cultural identity,” said Young. “My work investigates the body as a site of resistance and making.”

Joining poetry writer-in-residence Amber Flame, Young’s term begins September 15 and runs through June 2019 with an option to renew for an additional year.

 

About Kristen Millares Young

Kristen Millares Young is the author of Subduction, forthcoming on Red Hen Press in spring 2020. An essayist and journalist, her work has been featured by the Guardian, the New York TimesCrosscutHobartMossCity Arts MagazinePacifica Literary Review, KUOW 94.9-FM, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Miami Herald, the Buenos Aires Herald and TIME Magazine. Her personal essays are anthologized in Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter & Booze (Sasquatch Books), a New York Times New & Notable Book, and Latina Outsiders: Remaking Latina Identity (forthcoming on Routledge).

Kristen has been a fellow at the University of California at Berkeley’s Knight Digital Media Center, the Jack Straw Writing Program, and the University of Washington Graduate School. Kristen was the researcher for the New York Times team that produced “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” which won a Pulitzer and a Peabody. Her reporting has been recognized by the Society for Features Journalism, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

Hailed by the Stranger as one of the “fresh new faces in Seattle fiction,” she graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in History and Literature, later earning her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Washington. She teaches at Hugo House, the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference and the Seattle Public Library. Kristen serves as board chair of InvestigateWest, a nonprofit news studio she co-founded in the Pacific Northwest. InvestigateWest’s reporting has led to the passage of more than a dozen new laws to improve the environment and the lives of foster families, people of color caught in the criminal justice system, health care workers, and advocates for government transparency.

 

About Hugo House

Hugo House opens the literary world to everyone who loves books or has a drive to write — giving people a place to read words, hear words, and make their own words better through writing classes, readings and events, residencies, resources, and youth programs.

hugohouse.org

Facebook.com/HugoHouse

Twitter: @HugoHouse

Open hours: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and during classes and events

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