In 2019, Seattle Arts & Lectures was in full swing. The renowned local non-profit literary organization, which for more than three decades has brought prestigious authors like John Updike, Joan Didion and Colson Whitehead to adoring crowds of thousands, has achieved “the biggest sales we have ever had had,” said Alison Stagner, SAL’s events director. and awareness. At the time, she says, the events were “selling out steadily,” but that “incredible, honestly sometimes shocking momentum” came to a screeching halt with the onset of the pandemic.
Over the past two years, SAL has strived to bring what it does best – smart, meaningful events featuring the brightest names in literature and the arts – into the digital realm through online-only and hybrid online-in-person events. Like many arts nonprofits, “we’re struggling right now,” Stagner admits. “Our subscriptions and the number of ticket sales are down maybe 50%, which is a really dramatic decrease.”
This summer, after what Stagner calls “a few years of transition, change, and learning,” SAL announced the slate of writers appearing at Seattle City Hall for its 2022 and 2023 seasons. With names drawn surveys of SAL supporters and suggestions from local booksellers, it’s one of the most ambitious and diverse ranges in the organization’s 35-year history, featuring world-renowned icons like the musician Patti Smith and celebrity chef Nigella Lawson; beloved bestselling novelists including Amor Towles, Maggie O’Farrell, Celeste Ng and John Irving; and famous journalists, historians and cultural critics, including Masha Gessen, Jon Meacham and Reginald Dwayne Betts.
While Stagner acknowledges that “the feeling and vibrancy of a crowd sitting in a room together is its own kind of transformative experience,” SAL has emerged from the pandemic with a new commitment to presenting all of its events online and in person. . “Digital programming makes SAL so much more accessible to people with disabilities, people with children and people in rural communities,” she says.
The literary arts series, which is the crown jewel of SAL’s programming, continues to feature some of the biggest names in world literature, including 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah, who will present his latest novel, “Afterlives”. And Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabelle Wilkerson, whose historical exploration “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” became a centerpiece of the American conversation on race in the summer of 2020, will appear on stage for a recording. special of the popular “On Being” by Krista Tippett. ” podcast.
To celebrate the organization’s 35th anniversary, SAL has invited some of the most popular authors in its history – including Towles, novelist and Zen Buddhist priest Ruth Ozeki and travel writer Pico Iyer – for return engagements as part of from the Encore series. And SAL’s poetry series has broadened its appeal with best-selling poet Kate Baer and multi-hyphenated author Chris Abani.
But Seattle audiences have come to expect the biggest names in SAL literature. Stagner says the organization is now intentionally trying to branch out to “present special literary delights that strike a different note” in its mainstream SAL Presents series, including “a musical performance with Patti Smith, a solo performance piece that is a critique of the prison system with Reginald Dwayne Betts, an evening of travel with Rick Steves and a murder mystery with Louise Penny.
Years ago, it would have been unthinkable for genre writers like Penny, young adult novelists like Jason Reynolds, or podcasters like “Stolen: The Search for Jermain” host Connie Walker to take the stage. at SAL events. Part of this change comes from the fact that the literary world’s distinction between critically acclaimed artists and popular authors has gradually eroded. But the pandemic has also inspired SAL to throw its doors wide open, creating a reading series that truly reflects the bookshelves and interests of all of Seattle — not just serious, straight white men who have historically guarded the doors of literature.
Tickets for the series are on sale now for in-person and online readings at lectures.org, including the four-ticket “Create Your Own” series and individual SAL Presents tickets. Subscription prices start at $529 for “Grand Patron” tiers to $279 for general admission, plus $149 digital subscription packages and a more inclusive “Pay-What-You-Can” tier that allows anyone at the bottom of the income scale to attend SAL events.
In a new development, Pay-What-You-Can tickets are now available to everyone who needs them – not just young students, as has been the rule at SAL for the past three decades – and Pay -What-You-Can will be to receive first-time copies of the Presenting Author’s book with ticket price, like all other ticketing tiers.
Ultimately, SAL decided to bet big on accessibility because “we want people to come together with us in whatever format is right for them — financially and physically,” Stagner says. “We are committed to making SAL a place to belong, a gathering space where true transformation can happen.”