Jack Straw program celebrates decade of writers

What began as a series of readings to raise money for a now-defunct bookstore, has evolved into a successful multimedia program. Such is the legacy of Rebecca Brown, who sought to help the Red & Black bookstore and, in turn, created Jack Straw Productions.

The Jack Straw Writers Program is celebrating its 10th year on Sunday, June 25, with a reading and reception featuring writers from the program's past.

Merging words with sounds

A nonprofit audio center located in the University District, Jack Straw Productions offers three artist-residency programs in its professional recording studios.

The Jack Straw Writers Program was established as a component of the Artist Support Program, which assists artists in all disciplines who want to incorporate sound in their work. The program introduces writers of all literary genres to the audio medium through recording, radio, live readings, publication on its website and in its annual print anthology.

Each year an invited curator selects up to 14 writers on artistic excellence and diversity of style as demonstrated in their submitted work samples. Participating writers receive training in vocal presentation and microphone technique.

After a short period of preparation, the writers are expected to conduct a public reading, one that is also recorded for KUOW listeners.

"I think it is a terrific forum for Seattle writers to get their work out," noted Brown, who originally came up with the idea for the Jack Straw Writers Program with her neighbor Joan Rabinowitz. "I continue to follow the work of many writers whose work I was first introduced to because of the Jack Straw program - writers like Joan Fiset, Noel Franklin."

North End writers

Writers for the upcoming event were selected by the program's curators, including Brown, the first program curator. The writers who will read at the event include Anna Ba-lint, John Burgess, Laura Gamache, Bharti Kirchner, Kevin Miller, North End resident Donna Mis-colta, John Olson, Nu Quang, Trisha Ready and Barbara Thomas.

Kirchner, a Wallingford resident who participated in the program in 1999 and 2005, is the author of four cookbooks and four novels. She will read from her most recently published novel, "Pastries: A Novel of Desserts and Discoveries."

"It's wonderful that Jack Straw helps build a writers and artists community," Kirchner said. "It's a unique organization. My writing life has been richer because of my participation in it."

Olson - who will read some prose poems from his new book, "The Night I Dropped Shakespeare on the Cat" at the upcoming event - is the author of six collections of poetry and prose poetry. His essays, prose poetry, short stories, articles and literary criticism have appeared in magazines and weeklies.

"The literary arts are less immediately accessible than, say, the opera, theatre, dance or a rock concert," said Olson, a Roosevelt High School alumnus. "A presentation of literary work on the radio is invaluable."

His wife, Roberta, also participated in the program. They were chosen among 14 other applicants in 2004.

"The chief benefit is the opportunity to introduce my work to a much larger audience," Olson said. "But I believe the instructions and exercises in improving oral presentation have had an enduring affect."

Quang, a North Seattle resident and another reader at the upcoming event, was born and raised in Vietnam. She applied to the program and was granted a residency for 2003. She is a published playwright and author.

"The program has given me an opportunity to get involved in a writing community different from the one that I am in as a playwright - to know writers in other fields, such as poetry, fiction and nonfiction; to have my work read to audiences other than people who are interested in theater," said Quang, who will read some poems at the upcoming event.

New to the program this year, writer John Burgess applied for the program for the last five years hoping to get selected.

"Working in a recording studio was a real rush" he said. "I was able to challenge myself to find ways to present new work in my own voice."

Burgess, who lives in Fremont, will read from the new piece he wrote for the Jack Straw Writers Program called "The Johnny Poems," about growing up bored in a small town in upstate New York.

This year's curator, J.T. Stewart, is a poet, writer, playwright and editor whose work as a public artist includes poetry broadsides in the African Galleries at the Seattle Art Museum and "Raven Brings Light to this House of Stories," a commissioned collaborative permanent art exhibit in the Paul Allen Library at the University of Washington. Stewart is a co-founder of Clarion West, the nationally recognized Seattle-based workshop for science fiction writers.

Returning to the fold

To date, the Jack Straw Writers Program has included Pacific Northwest writers who represent a diverse range of literary genres.

Writers Program participants have included International Examiner editor Nhien Nguyen (2005), public-radio producer Elizabeth Austen (2003), acclaimed novelist Matt Briggs (2002), Writers in the Schools founder Kip Robinson-Greenthal (2000), playwright and humorist David Schmader (1998) and radio DJ Riz Rollins (1997).

Many of these writers have returned to Jack Straw to participate in Jack Straw's monthly reading series, which take place every third Wednesday of the month.

The anniversary celebration will take place on Sunday, June 25, at 2 p.m. in the Downtown Library's Microsoft Auditorium. For more information, call 634-0919 or visit www.jackstraw.org.

Jessica Davis writes about arts and entertainment for the Herald-Outlook. She can be reached via e-mail at needitor@nwlink.com.

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