Several years ago, when first I mentioned my then-new teaching position in Tacoma to a friend, he asked if I had been to Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. I had not. He explained it was one of the best bookstores in the world. Famous. He suggested that when I get there, I look at all of the black and white photographs of the authors on the walls of the main floor. See how many writers have come and gone through that place. Then go to the basement, to the room where the readings are held, and think of all the people who have read there.

So when I moved to Seattle, I went, and it was eerie. The room was silent in a way that felt ready to be filled.

Elliott Bay has since relocated, but in the past year I have seen great readings in the new basement: Steve Almond with a crowd of 100-plus, reading from Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life, blaring a soundtrack that included Gil Scott-Heron. Jaimy Gordon brilliantly answering a single question about horse-racing by tying together ideas about Hinduism, Picasso, and six other seemingly unrelated subjects. And Wendy Call reading from her fantastic book, No Word for Welcome. The folks who coordinate the events – Karen Maeda Allman and Rick Simonson – work relentlessly to promote authors, established and new.

The Front Door

On Saturday, when I returned to Washington, I read at Elliott Bay. I was so happy to see that The Stranger, Seattle’s only newspaper, had recommended the event. That night I paired up with fiction writer Melinda Moustakis, whose debut collection Bear Down, Bear North won the 2010 Flannery O’Connor Award for Fiction. In a book comprised of uniquely structured narratives and hook-sharp characters, her prose is at once delicate and bruising, and she is a terrific reader. Tonight was her first event for the book.

The evening opened with an introduction from Robin Krause of Alaska Quarterly Review, who co-sponsored the event,

and an introduction by Leighanne, who works at Elliott Bay.

Melinda went first
















I went next. For the first time, after warning the audience, I actually sang part of the chorus to “Guitars, Cadillacs” while reading a section from the chapter “Outlaws.” I felt if I was going to read at Elliott Bay, I needed to do something different.

Afterward we took questions








and signed books.


Part of the fun of getting to read at Elliott Bay is signing the guestbook reserved for authors, and I found that we were right on the heels of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. I literally screamed. Thanks Elliott Bay, AQR, Leighanne, and Casey for setting everything up! And thanks to everyone who came out and hung out afterward. Melinda and I both sold/signed many books, and it was a nice welcome back to Washington for me.