In a city known for its music and art culture, lovers of literature are coming out to play.
Joining the art exhibits and concerts that Olympia is known for, bars have taken to hosting book clubs, storytelling and diary readings.
Writers will be in the spotlight Saturday night at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, which is tapping into Olympia’s growing literary scene with its first salon Saturday night.
The event will offer poetry readings, a brief scene from Bryan Willis’s play “Bicycle Love” and the first reading of celebrated novelist Jim Lynch’s soon-to-be-released “Before the Wind,” which is set partly in Olympia.
The best part? The talent is all local.
“A lot of the work that’s going to be presented is Olympia-based,” said Willis, the event’s organizer and the playwright-in-residence for the Northwest Playwrights Alliance, which is helping to produce the salon. “It’s pretty rare these days for any community to celebrate its own stories and its own artistic voices. We live in culture in which often we have to have something preapproved by other major theaters or publications.
“That’s not the case with these. These are our stories,” he said.
Besides Lynch and Willis, those set to be showcased Saturday are poets Joanne Clarkson, Brian McCracken, Patty Kinney and Cindy Weinstein; artists Nathan Barnes and Becky Knold; actors Heather and Michael Christopher, who will perform in the scene from “Bicycle Love”; and musician and conductor Claudia Simpson-Jones, who will play piano.
“I’m really proud to be in league with this group of artists,” Willis said. “I think people will be astounded by the quality.”
It’s pretty rare these days for any community to celebrate its own stories and its own artistic voices. We live in culture in which often we have to have something pre-approved by other major theaters or publications. That’s not the case with these. These are our stories.
Bryan Willis, event organizer
Lynch — whose first novel, “The Highest Tide,” was an international bestseller in 2005 — is the evening’s featured speaker.
“It’s really exciting to have a world-class novelist,” Willis said.
“Before the Wind,” Lynch’s fourth book, is due out in April. But Saturday’s audience will get an early opportunity to hear more about the author’s take on their town. The book, which moves back and forth in time, is about an eccentric family obsessed with sailing.
“About half of the book is set in Olympia,” Lynch said. “Most of that is in a boatyard, in a marina and on Budd Inlet. It’s all kind of immersed in the boating subculture of Olympia.
“The marina bears a striking resemblance to West Bay Marina.”
When he agreed to appear at the Center Salon, Lynch didn’t plan on giving the hometown crowd a preview.
“I thought I would write something different,” he said. “Then, ultimately, I just decided that it was a nice opportunity to air out the Olympia side of the book in Olympia before it comes out.”
Lynch has read at some of the playwright group’s salons Willis organized in Seattle and is looking forward to this one here at home.
I thought I would write something different. Then ultimately, I just decided that it was a nice opportunity to air out the Olympia side of the book in Olympia before it comes out.
Novelist Jim Lynch
“I found it fun and inspiring to see writers creating all this good work from all these different angles,” he said. “It’s nice to mix it all up.”
“Playwrights have a lot to gain by reading and writing poetry and vice versa,” Willis said. “This is a chance for all of us to expand our horizons.”
This isn’t Olympia’s first salon. The alliance’s yearly events, featuring playwrights and other writers, began here 11 years ago. But after a few years, the events were moved to Tacoma and later to Seattle.
This event breaks new ground in that the center is producing it — Jill Barnes, the center’s executive director, approached Willis with the idea.
The playwright said he’s thrilled to see the center hosting this kind of local event.
“I love having acts come in,” he said, “but it’s also great to have a home for local talent.
“This is really a mini-celebration of the arts in Olympia,” he added.
The Center Salon
What: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts and the Northwest Playwrights Alliance host an evening of literature, theater, music and art, featuring novelist Jim Lynch reading from his soon-to-be-released novel, “Before the Wind,” set partly in Olympia. Proceeds benefit the center’s education programs.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: The Black Box Theater at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. S.E., Olympia.
Tickets: $22. There’ll be a no-host bar, and the event open only to ages 21 and older.
Information: 360-753-8586 or washingtoncenter.org.
Workshop: In conjunction with the salon, playwright Bryan Willis and poet Brian McCracken are teaching “Is a Poem/Is a Painting/Is a Play,” a cross-genre writing workshop, noon-3 p.m. Saturday in the Black Box Theater. Tickets are $15 and space is limited. Call 360-753-8586.