Small Wonders at Seattle’s APRIL Festival

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At the APRIL book festival (the acronym stands for Authors, Publishers, and Readers of Independent Literature), I met a reader. Not a student, artist, teacher, or writer (I asked!) — just someone who enjoys reading. It felt kind of like glimpsing an exotic bird or maybe something more slow-moving, like the time I saw a sloth in Costa Rica. She was probably in her fifties, with blunt-cut bangs and a caftan-esque outfit, and had read about the event in The Stranger. We chatted about our favorite authors as we waited at Chop Suey, a divey Seattle bar, for the kickoff party to begin. As writers, we so often have our work heard and read only by other writers — I always love to hear what people outside that world think. An independent book fest didn’t strike me as something that would attract people who weren’t also writers or artists, but one of the cool things about APRIL was that it bled into the margins of non-literary life more than I’d expected.

Launched with a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, APRIL has steadily gained a pretty large following of independent literature lovers for its annual, six-day party. The festival includes readings, theatrical performances, art shows, dance parties, and more celebratory events held in a smattering of venues across Seattle.

By the time the kickoff party was over, the reader and I had drifted our separate ways, so I didn’t get to hear what she thought. To me, the readings felt surprisingly interconnected, a collection of linked meditations on sex and death, bodies and art. Maged Zaher’s poems about “the madness of the everyday … and how we work like work matters”; Ed Skoog’s reflection that “poetry is showering at night: something not really necessary but cleansing and preparatory”; and Jac Jemc’s narrator comparing himself to a “fluctuating compass” between good and evil.

At another APRIL event I attended, the bar (Bush Garden, another divey Chinese place) was full of non-literary types — ladies who clearly have a standing happy hour there. They intermittently chatted and listened. The background noise might have been annoying to the readers, but to me it made the reading feel cozy and warm, as if it were woven into something larger, rather than existing entirely on its own. I really wanted to ask those ladies what they thought when Darren Davis read an essay about his obsession with video games: “I know that after grad school I wanted to become the Dragonborn.” (I thought it was hilarious.)

All told, the events I attended felt intimate and yet not, like attending a dinner party where you don’t know everyone. They had their awkward moments (the “meet and greet” where everyone stayed seated at long tables, talking to their friends), but that is also part of the festival’s small-batch kind of charm. Overall, the vibe reflected the type of literature APRIL celebrates — small and well-made, full of the odd and unexpected. And I hope it stays that way for a while.

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