It’s a week before the 21st annual Get Lit! Festival begins, and program director Kate Peterson is in her office, which is also the eye of the logistical storm that comes with pulling off a major week-long festival. Get Lit! is no small undertaking, with roughly 50 individual literary offerings, from major author readings like Roxane Gay to small workshop settings — and of course, the ever-popular Pie & Whiskey reading (pictured).
“There’s so much to do today, it’s hard to even choose where to begin,” she says, laughing. “The highest priority is continuing to put the festival guide out into the world, so everyone knows when and where their favorite authors will be speaking. But there’s also creating custom itineraries for each visiting author, plugging an army of volunteers into each event, packing event-specific boxes… the list goes on.”
The region’s only annual week-long literary event, Get Lit! has been a highlight in Spokane’s arts calendar since 1998. One reason is the festival’s ability to balance its yearly slate of globally renowned authors with a taste of Spokane’s scrappy local writing community. Get Lit’s headliners read like a who’s-who list of early 21st-century American writers: Salman Rushdie, Anne Lamott, Colson Whitehead, Joyce Carol Oates, Anthony Doerr, David Sedaris, Jane Smiley, Jess Walter… and many more.
“This region has its share of great writers — and a public that craves literary and cultural events.”
But big-name events are less important than the big impact Get Lit! has on local communities of writers. During the other 51 weeks of the year, a Spokanite can’t go very long without hearing of some literary event happening around town — and many of them have some sort of connection to Get Lit! Programs, the Eastern Washington University-housed nonprofit that operates the Festival itself and two other programs that run throughout the year: a Writers in Residence program at local schools, and a Visiting Writers series for the broader community.
On ongoing example: Broken Mic is a weekly poetry slam formed by performance poets who were fostered, in part, by Get Lit! youth and teen poetry slams in the early 2000s. In 2011, this community began to meet every Wednesday to perform their work at Neato Burrito downtown. Today, Get Lit! has folded Broken Mic into the festival schedule, recognizing the young energy surrounding performance poetry. A fixture in the scene is current Spokane Poet Laureate Mark Anderson, a co-founder of Broken Mic.
“On a nearly weekly basis, we’re seeing great events that reach different sorts of writers and readers,” Peterson says. “There’s Broken Mic, the popular Pivot storytelling event, Lilac City Live, our Visiting Writers series at Spark Central, readings at Auntie’s Bookstore... it’s fun to see the community continuing to grow and thrive. Get Lit! shows that this region has its share of great writers — and a public that craves literary and cultural events.”
Get Lit! co-founder Christopher Howell, a local poet and EWU Professor, attributes the success of Get Lit! to the generosity of the Spokane community. This generosity takes many forms: strong partnerships with institutions North Idaho College and The Community Colleges of Spokane, reliable sponsorship from local businesses and grants, and ticket sales from the public. Through this generosity, Spokane has stepped up to make Get Lit! an annual tradition for writers and readers that mirrors what Bloomsday is for runners, or Hoopfest is for basketball players.
Before we let Peterson get back to work, we have to hear about her favorite moment from her time at the Get Lit! helm.
“It has to be last year. When we were backstage at the Bing [Crosby Theatre], Anne Lamott walked across the room and gave me her grapes,” she remembers. “She must’ve considered how hungry I was from the busyness of coordinating the festival events. She put them down and said, ‘Eat these.’
“It’s a pretty cool moment when one of your writing heroes gives you a much-needed snack,” she adds with a laugh.