Collage of two photos depicting the Seattle City of Literature Literary Map with the left photo showing the cover and the right showing the inside of the map.

Seattle City of Literature Debuts Map With Dozens of South Ends Spots and Literary Heroes

by Amanda Ong

Last month Seattle City of Literature launched the Seattle Literary Map in print and digitally. The Literary Map is a guide to the people, places, businesses, and organizations that have made important contributions to Seattle’s literary scene. Seattle is one of only two UNESCO Cities of Literature in the United States. The Literary Map honors Seattle’s writers, poets, and literary places, while inspiring residents and tourists alike to learn about them. South Seattle residents will find a plethora of spots right in their neighborhood. The map is available at local bookstores, libraries, and other points of interest throughout the city. 

UNESCO’s City of Literature is an honor that recognizes the importance and the vibrancy of literary culture in a given city, as well as the effort of creative industries to address intractable problems like hunger, poverty, and infrastructure. Over 90 literary points of interest are featured on Seattle’s printed map and over 300 points of interest are featured on the digital map. 

“When we undertook the project, which we started back in 2019, we gathered a group of community stakeholders to help inform the decisions about who would be included, what kind of things counted significantly, and how and where we should focus our efforts,” Stesha Brandon, program manager for Seattle City of Literature, told the South Seattle Emerald. “It is a treasure hunt, and it gives us a wonderful baseline to identify what’s happening in our literary community from year to year.”

The project honors both physical places and people that have helped shape the literary community, including organizations and community groups who are doing work in the literary space but may not have a brick-and-mortar store. For example, the African American Writers Alliance is included at the Columbia City Library, where they host their meetings. You can also find the birthplace of John Okada, author of No-No Boy, in Pioneer Square, and acclaimed science fiction author Octavia Butler is featured at her favorite Thai restaurant in the University District, the Royal Palm. In recognition of the colonization of both Seattle and literature, the Duwamish Longhouse is included in recognition of the enduring Indigenous practice of oral tradition, as is Wa Na Wari.

Photo depicting a section of the Seattle Literary Map in a watercolor design and illustrated portraits of John Okada and Vi taqwseb Hilbert.
Artist Erin Shigaki created the watercolor design of the map. There are 90 points of interest on the physical map, available at bookstores and library branches throughout Seattle, and 300 points on the digital map. (Artwork: Erin Shigaki)

Seattle City of Literature plans on featuring ongoing spotlights on their digital map of different organizations, such as Black, Brown, Asian, and Indigenous-led organizations, as well as neighborhood spotlights. Some other UNESCO Cities of Literature, such as Iowa City, Barcelona, Bucheon, Milan, Edinburgh, and Melbourne, have similar projects that utilize maps to reflect their literary heritage.

The project also sought to challenge colonial concepts of maps, taking a more creative approach. Artist Erin Shigaki created the watercolor design of the map, while cartographer 

Gregory Woolston tried to include more socially produced, temporary, or mobile places, either on the map itself or through spotlights on the website.

“Given the dominant expectation that most people have for maps, it has been difficult to completely break loose from colonial design patterns,” Woolston said in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. “For example, most often the view continues to be top-down and un-situated (no one actually experiences this all-seeing, perspective from above). Moreover, there is a drive toward increasingly ‘realistic’ imagery and precise measurements, and fixed, physical, and visible places are still privileged over ephemeral, social, and felt places.”

In a way, Woolston says the print maps are like books of their own, as the form enables Seattle City of Literature to distribute them throughout the city’s libraries and bookstores. Similarly, they are now working to organize the digital map as if it were an atlas, or a book of maps of neighborhoods, the city, and region. 

While the project has sought to be as inclusive as possible, it is also still in progress and evolves with our literary community. Brandon points out that while they held listening sessions with community members, the same opportunities to add to the map should be available to anyone in the community. The digital map features a place where anyone can submit their own suggestions for the map, and if you would like to request a copy of the map at your local bookstore or coffee shop, contact Seattle City of Literature through their website.

Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.

📸 Featured Image: What makes Seattle a literary city? This new map by Seattle City of Literature highlights notable locations as well as poets and writers who have all contributed to thriving literary communities over the years. (Artwork: Erin Shigaki)

Before you move on to the next story …
The South Seattle Emerald is brought to you by Rainmakers. Rainmakers give recurring gifts at any amount. With over 1,000 Rainmakers, the Emerald is truly community-driven local media. Help us keep BIPOC-led media free and accessible. 
If just half of our readers signed up to give $6 a month, we wouldn't have to fundraise for the rest of the year. Small amounts make a difference. 
We cannot do this work without you. Become a Rainmaker today!