China/Seattle/Reykjavík: Ryan Boudinot on Seattle as a Global City of Literature
October 8, 2014
Ryan Boudinot, author of Blueprints of the Afterlife
, and The Littlest Hitler
, has spent the last year or so spearheading Seattle’s 2015 application to join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. These cities, recognized in one of seven categories (Seattle is going for Literature), work together on international programs fostering creativity, cultural diversity, and a sense of preserved heritage. So far, the only UNESCO City of Literature in the United States is Iowa City. Boudinot’s been working to change that, and this week in particular has seen him busy crossing the globe to meet with arts advocates and bringing international voices back to the local stage. He was kind enough to stop for a moment and answer some questions.
So you just came back from the UNESCO Creative Cities Network Conference in Chengdu, China. It sounds like the conference had a pretty elaborate real time translation setup. Waiting for the discussion to trickle down to English, did you notice anything interesting about the atmosphere? Cool nonverbal moments?
I was amazed at how quickly I adapted to the real-time translation. Most of the delegates spoke English, but the ones who didn't were translated on the fly and broadcast into a single headphone speaker. So you're hearing them in their native language in your left ear while simultaneously hearing the halting, start-and-stop English version in your right ear. It was very easy to communicate with everyone in general. One funny moment - at the opening night banquet, I was seated beside a couple delegates from Kobe, Japan. When I introduced myself and said "Seattle," they said, "Seattle? Ichiro!" At which point I said "Ichiro Yankees!" and mimed crying. This got a good laugh.
What did you notice about the way the representatives from various places talked about their cities’ respective brands of creativity? How do you think your American/literary background was perceived?
I think all the delegates were working through the same sorts of issues, which stem from asserting the economic value of creative industries. It's difficult to quantify the benefit of investing in the arts to municipal governments, but the conference was full of believers in the importance of creative expression. The cities who attended had different angles for sure. Some cities sent their mayors, or city council representatives, who were the drivers behind their bids. Other cities' bids rose from their tourism boards, like Paducah, Kentucky. There were academics, marketing professionals, directors of arts based nonprofits. Our bid is sort of rare in that it originated from an artist (me) working in the discipline in which we're seeking designation. My partner in this, Rebecca Brinson, comes from the nonprofit sector.
As far as how Seattle was perceived at the conference, I felt nothing but good will. Galway, Ireland, for instance, is preparing a bid to join the network as a City of Film. Before the conference, Seattle's Office of Intergovernmental Relations put us in touch with the organizers of Galway's bid, and we met with them the first night of the conference. Coincidentally, while we were in China, Ed Murray was in Galway. I understand that Galway's mayor gave a shout-out to our effort to get Seattle designated a City of Literature. We really appreciated that.
Now that you’re back in Seattle, you’re hosting another globally-minded UNESCO get-together, the Reykjavík Writing Jam this Friday. You’ve teased that Icelandic writer Bragi Ólafsson and hometown writer Karen Finneyfrock will be reading work based on one another’s characters. Any more you can tell us about what that’s going to look like? Is this a fan fiction sort of setup? How would you characterize the writing styles that are coming together here?
The Reykjavík Writing Jam is going to alter everyone's perception of reality forever, maybe even make folks question their religious beliefs. These writers are THAT GOOD. Basically, we had both Bragi and Karen come up with one-sentence descriptions of a character. Then they swapped them. Then they each wrote a story featuring both characters. After their reading, you'll be able to put together a zine of the work you just heard, thanks to ZAPP, the Zine Archive and Publishing Project
. Karen's work is getting translated in Icelandic and will be published online by Reykjavík UNESCO City of Literature. Both writers are veterans of the stage—Karen is our phenomenal performance poet who makes my jaw drop every time I see her perform. Bragi was one of the founding members of the Sugarcubes, who of course launched the Icelandic musical renaissance. I have never been more excited for a reading.
Anything else you’d like people to know? Any ways you’d like lit lovers to get involved?
Check out seattlecityoflit.org
for updates, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
to get on our mailing list, and read and write your brains out, people.