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Thu., April 9, 2009

Aspiring authors, fans share in the joys of Get Lit!

Most people consider literature to be a spectator sport – you know, sitting and reading. But the 2009 Get Lit! festival is, without a doubt, a participant sport.

Eastern Washington University’s annual literary extravaganza includes writing workshops, panel discussions, poetry slams, writing contests and an open mike for aspiring authors.

Next week’s headlining events might seem like spectator sessions: Big-name authors Jane Smiley, Charles Baxter, David Suzuki and Simon Armitage will read from their works. Yet even these readings are participatory, in their own way.

“People get to ask the authors questions,” said Danielle Ringwald, the Get Lit! programs coordinator. “And during the book signings, they get to interact with them.”

In other words, Get Lit! will do what it has been doing for the previous 10 years: turning the often solitary art of literature into a major, crowd-pleasing extravaganza.

This year’s Get Lit! features 50 events, including four ticketed readings – three at the Bing Crosby Theater and one at the Spokane Club.

Not everything is downtown. This year, Get Lit! has made a concerted effort to expand throughout the city, said Ringwald. Events will be held at Spokane area libraries, universities, restaurants, coffee shops and even at a movie theater (The Magic Lantern).

Ringwald also made an effort to expand the definition of literature beyond books and poems. Get Lit! includes graphic novels, documentary film-making, films inspired by books and a workshop on screenwriting.

Here’s a rundown of some of the key Get Lit! highlights:

Jane Smiley and other writing stars – Smiley, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “A Thousand Acres” and “Ten Days in the Hills,” is the festival’s biggest name, with a ticketed reading on April 16, 7:30 p.m. at the Bing Crosby Theater, 901 W. Sprague.

Baxter, author of “A Feast of Love” and “The Soul Thief,” reads on April 17, 7:30 p.m. Suzuki, author of 40 books and a documentarian best-known for hosting the PBS series “The Nature of Things,” reads on April 18, 8 p.m. Both are ticketed events at the Bing.

British poet, fiction writer and playwright Armitage closes out the festival on April 19, 11:30 a.m., with a ticketed event at the Spokane Club, 1002 W. Riverside.

“Armitage is the hidden gem of this festival,” said Ringwald. “He’s a huge poet in England.”

Writing workshops – Six workshops will be held throughout the day on April 18 at the Spokane Club, with topics including “Screenwriting 101” with Mark Steilen, “Finding the Funny in Life” with Laurie Notaro, and “Playwriting 101” with Sandra Hosking and others. The fee is $25 for adults, $15 for students; you must register in advance by going to and clicking on “register for classes.”

Panel discussions – Nine panel discussions, scattered around Spokane, will address issues including Jane Austen, censorship, children’s literature and the changing media landscape.

Poetry slams – Get Lit! has gone slam-happy, with three separate poetry slams for youths (Monday, 5:30 p.m., Kress Gallery, River Park Square, 808 W. Main), teens (Tuesday, 6:30 p.m., Empyrean Coffee House, 154 S. Madison) and college students (Wednesday, 7 p.m., Empyrean). Just show up 45 minutes early to register.

A Come-One, Come-All Community Reading – Here’s your chance to do your own reading of your own written work. All you have to do is show up. April 19, 3 p.m., Magic Lantern, 25 W. Main.

The David Suzuki Documentary Fest – A screening of Suzuki’s nature documentaries, Friday, 6:30 p.m., Magic Lantern.

The Get Lit! Film Festival – Screenings of “A Thousand Acres,” based on Smiley’s novel, and “A Feast of Love,” based on Baxter’s novel. Dan Webster hosts. Saturday, 5 p.m., Magic Lantern.

Festival readings – The backbone of the festival: dozens of free readings from local, regional and national authors, scheduled most days next week at a variety of venues. The authors include nationally known figures such as William Dietrich, John Keeble and Sherry Jones

A KPBX Kids’ Concert – Children’s author Margaret Lippert joins the Spokane Area Children’s Chorus in a celebration of stories from around the world, April 18, 1 p.m., Bing Crosby Theater.

“The End of Food” – Nonfiction author Paul Roberts, who wrote the influential “The End of Oil” in 2004, discusses his new book, “The End of Food,” in a free presentation at Spokane Community College’s Lair Auditorium, 1810 N. Greene, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

It’s an ambitious festival – yet nobody should take it for granted.

Get Lit! has not escaped the state college budget cuts. Earlier this year, there was talk of suspending the festival. As it turned out, the budget was reduced but the staff was able to keep the festival going through the generosity of donors and sponsors.

“We really do exist,” said Ringwald. “We’re alive!”

Jim Kershner can be reached at (509) 459-5493 or by e-mail at

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