Get Lit! Reading, writing & storytelling
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By Sabrina Mauritz
It wasn't hard for me to fall in love. As a twenty-year old English major, my $3 seat at the Bing Crosby Theatre-then the Met-was enough to win my affection. This was my first poetry reading and I was enchanted. Robert Bly, former poet laureate of Minnesota, read with the authority and liveliness of a favorite uncle, his white hair bouncing with the rhythm of his poems about love, war, and hockey. Rita Dove followed with her steady, sweet lyrics, proving why she won the Pulitzer Prize. When I saw Salman Rushdie read a few days later, quipping about his banned books, I believe I crossed a threshold. These events at the 2005 Get Lit! Festival transformed my ideas about reading and writing as private, personal activities, to a way to engage in a world much larger than myself.
Now, five years later, I work with Get Lit! Programs as a graduate assistant and understand much better the mission behind the literary festival the Inland Northwest has come to love. For the past twelve years, Eastern Washington University's Get Lit! Festival has featured events celebrating reading, writing, and storytelling for all ages. Each April, about forty published authors descend on the region and, for a week, the whole community buzzes with discussion about the power of words.
Bestselling Author Jane Smiley discussing her latest novel
Since its start in 1998, the Get Lit! Festival has grown from a day-long marathon of author readings, into a week-long celebration with over fifty events. The grass roots energy of local writers and publishers that was the genesis of the festival continues today with a small army of literature lovers housed through EWU's College of Arts and Letters. What the Spokesman Review called "the little literary festival that could" produced a strong legacy of bringing such authors as Sarah Vowell, Kurt Vonnegut, Marilynne Robinson, and David Sedaris, the festival has become an event awaited anxiously all year by readers and writers across the region.
A product of our region and its humble vigor, the Get Lit! Festival has broken down any perceived walls of elitism or pretention that one could associate with literary festivals. Most events are free and even ticketed events are within an affordable range, including a Festival Pass offering savings to all the headlining events. The festival utilizes community volunteers for all events, engaging anyone interested in holding a greater stake in the program. Workshops for adults and children as young as eight years old open up writing opportunities to any spirit looking for a creative outlet. Events take place in venues all over Spokane, as well as regional colleges, inviting attendees into many of Spokane's treasures.
The Get Lit! Festival offers an opportunity to engage with literature and the arts in an exciting way. Workshops, films, readings, panels, and performances throughout the week hit on topics such as fatherhood, sustainability, religion, and the various roles of writing today. These events reveal how the written word is ever-present in our lives.
Poet Simon Armitage sharing his work
A staple of any literary festival, author readings offer an opportunity to hear the voice behind the page. It can be so thrilling when an author stands up and shares his or her words and the stories behind them. Headlining authors for this year's festival include sustainability expert Anna Lappé, religions scholar and commentator Reza Aslan, Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Russo, award-winning author Jess Walter, acclaimed children's author Janet Wong, young adult author Victor Lodato, provocative nonfiction author Sallie Tisdale, New York Times bestseller Janet Fitch, and world-class performance poet Patricia Smith. In addition, over twenty other authors will read their work on Friday, April 16th and Saturday, April 17th, giving all of us an opportunity to see what new works are out there in the world of books.
On Saturday, the busiest day of the festival, there are thirty-seven events. A book lover can spend all day moving from panel to reading to workshop around Spokane's downtown core, exciting all her senses. In the morning, the schedule begins with workshops that offer writers a chance to engage with festival authors around topics that will strengthen their own writing. Some of these morning sessions include topics as evocative as "Poetry of Witness," led by activist and poet Susan Rich who will examine how one can consider "the other" in their investigations and writing. At the same time, high school students can learn skills for gaining admission to their college of choice with Rachel Toor, nonfiction author, writing professor, and admissions counselor. Professional development workshops also draw festival participants. Workshops on business writing, grant writing, and for teachers will help give a huge range of professionals even stronger skills for use at their work place. Most workshops are $30 for general attendance, $20 for students, and some are even free. With twelve different opportunities, anyone can find a workshop to help them their own writing.
One of many panel discussions offered at the festival
Regional experts will join the festival authors on panel discussions engaging in topics like feminism in romance writing, the changing trends in publishing, the influence of Mark Twain, and philosophy in pop culture. With a variety of voices and backgrounds, panel discussions are a lively way to join in the conversation.
The festival seeks to celebrate the creativity in all of us, so the poetry slams and Come One, Come All Reading will feature local writers of all ages, skill levels and genres presenting their own work. A supportive setting of fellow writers offers the perfect opportunity to share what's been hiding in that tattered spiral notebook. Why not get up there and give reading to an audience a try?
Even if you aren't an avid reader or writer, the Get Lit! Festival offers creative opportunities related to story telling outside of books. For theatre lovers, PRI's Selected Shorts features actors performing short stories and the Blue Door Theatre and Spokane Civic Theatre will offer poetry performances. Visual art exhibitions related to story telling will be showcased at the Jundt Museum, Bing Crosby Theatre, and the Empyrean Coffeehouse. Films associated with some of the festival authors will be shown at the Magic Lantern Theatre. All of these events contribute to the celebration and hopefully will spark some creativity in our community.
With such indulgence in the beauty and power of words, you may, like myself, begin to feel thankful. Get Lit! Programs offers a chance for the community to give back. Through partnerships with Numerica Credit Union, Westcoast Entertainment, and KXLY, Get Lit! Programs is holding a book drive for Page Ahead, a children's literacy organization, throughout the month of April. Since 1990, Page Ahead has collected new books for children age birth to twelve who are considered at-risk. For students from low-income families or who are reading below grade-level, a brand-new book of their very own can be what lights the spark for ongoing academic achievement. Don't forget to share the creativity and bring a new book to any Numerica Credit Union branch or festival location.
Come fall in love, like I did, and let your ideas about books be transformed. Dive in and take a deep breath of creativity.
Sabrina Mauritz is the Get Lit! Programs Assistant Coordinator. A lover of the written word and community engagement, Sabrina attended her first Get Lit! Festival in 2005. As an AmeriCorps Volunteer with Catholic Charities of Spokane, Sabrina coordinated creative writing workshops for homeless men and women and has since taught creative writing workshops to incarcerated women and elementary school students. She is in her second year of studying poetry in Eastern Washington University's MFA program.
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