Bars in bookstores, lavish literary series, contemporary libraries, indie publishing houses—per capita, Seattle has the most arts organizations in the United States. The Emerald City even boasts a Seattle Civic Poet.
It wasn’t a total surprise then that Seattle was designated a UNESCO City of Literature in early November, only the second U.S. city to receive the distinction (Iowa City was the first). It joins 27 other UNESCO-designated literary cities around the globe, including Edinburgh, Scotland; Québec City, Québec; Dublin, Ireland; and fellow newcomer Durban, South Africa.
“It’s remarkable when you look at the inventory of everything happening in Seattle,” says Tree Swenson, executive director of Seattle literary center Hugo House. “Once you have a certain accumulation of energy, and a density of writers and literary organizations, it becomes a self-perpetuating phenomenon. People from all over the country should come check it out.”
Here’s how to enjoy Seattle’s wordy side at any time of day.
10 a.m. Start your day downtown with a downloaded self-guided tour at the Rem Koolhaus–designed Central Library, part of the extensive Seattle Public Library system. Friendly librarians probably won’t shush you over appreciative expletives, because this library is just that ducking cool. The soaring glass building (made from 10,000 panes), holds more than 1 million items and features a 10th-floor view of Elliott Bay, an indoor coffee and pastry cart, free readings and workshops, and yes, a writers’ room.
11 a.m. Enroll in a weekend workshop focused on poetry, fiction, or memoir at Hugo House. The literary center’s new $4.5-million-dollar home on Capitol Hill will be completed in mid-2018. (It's located, temporarily, in a building on First Hill.) You don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy the center’s offerings, though—85 percent of the literary center’s events are free, including open mics, readings, and book launches.
1 p.m. Afternoon is the perfect time to browse the sunlit-shelves at Elliott Bay Book Company. Fill your arms with a curated collection of indie and bestseller titles from the cedar bookcases, then snag a seat in the cheery Little Oddfellows Café in the store’s rear to enjoy a baguette and a house-made lemon-rosemary soda. Check Elliott Bay’s evening schedule; more than 500 authors per year breeze through for readings and signings.
2 p.m. Take in a matinee production from Book-It Repertory Theatre, which adapts classic and contemporary works for the stage; the narrative text is spoken as dialogue by the production’s characters. Upcoming productions include The Maltese Falcon (the detective thriller is performed in a culinary partnership with Nordo’s Culinarium in historic Pioneer Square) and The Picture of Dorian Gray.
3:30 p.m. In the trending Georgetown neighborhood, Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery is the storefront for the comics press Fantagraphics, “Publisher of the World’s Greatest Cartoonists.” The store is pop-full with Fantagraphics manga, series, graphic novels, and for-grownups-only Eros series. Readings, signings, and screenings also happen here, and you can find framed art on the walls.
While in the neighborhood, stop by the Georgetown Steam Plant, a National Historic Monument and the focus of a graphic novel commissioned by the City of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture and Seattle City Light. The plant is open for tours on the second Saturday of each month.
4:30 p.m. Head for happy hour at one of Seattle’s newer bookstores, the enormous new-and-used Third Place Books Seward Park, which has a wood-paneled restaurant, Raconteur, that’s perfect for bookworms. Fuel up with draft beer ($1 off) , a $4 burger, or a $5 house-made pretzel served with beer-cheese fondue while turning the pages of your new favorite cookbook.
6 p.m. Bring a book and join the Silent Reading Party at the 109-year-old Sorrento Hotel, which often hosts visiting authors. Held on the first Wednesday of the month in the mahogany-paneled Fireside Room, the party is accompanied by free music. So, maybe it’s not so silent, although people really do read (quietly). In partnership with Hugo House, the Sorrento also offers the quarterly event Ask the Oracle: Audience members ask burning personal questions and authors answer using randomly selected passages from books.
7 p.m. If it’s nerdy fun you want, Ada’s Technical Books and Café on Capitol Hill offers hundreds of geek-approved books and gifts, plus an in-store cocktail bar/event space called The Lab, which features a test-tube chandelier, and on select nights, storytelling and STEM-style edutainment. Trivia tip: The shop is named for Ada Lovelace, the founder of scientific computing.
7:30 p.m. Dress up and settle into a plush auditorium seat for a Seattle Arts and Lectures production, which may be a literary panel, a poetry reading, or a Q&A with such heavyweights as Sherman Alexie, Tom Hanks, or Isabelle Allende.
8 p.m. In Seattle, you don’t have to choose between hard liquors and hardcovers. Get lit at the Alexis Hotel’s Bookstore Bar & Café, where bar stools are surrounded by classic books. Try a Boo Radley Sour, a frothy concoction of espolon tequila, mescal, and egg white, or a Good Night Moon (scotch, carpano antica, lustau cream sherry, black walnut bitters) while poring over a book off the shelves or people-watching out the windows, gathering material for your next story.
8:30 p.m. If here in October, prep your liver for Litcrawl, a one-night series of outrageous, creative readings, performances, cocktail hours, and more that take place in pubs, museums, cafes, and libraries throughout Seattle’s Capitol Hill and First Hill neighborhoods.
11 p.m. Take a favorite book to bed at either the aforementioned Alexis Hotel (request this week’s bestseller list from the in-room Amazon Echo Dot) or the Sorrento, where avant-garde scenester Alice B. Tolkas is rumored to haunt the hallways.