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SAL/on air


SAL/on air is a literary podcast featuring engaging author talks and readings from over thirty years of Seattle Arts & Lectures' programming. Seattle Arts & Lectures (SAL) is a literary nonprofit. We champion the literary arts by engaging and inspiring readers and writers of all generations in the greater Puget Sound region. Get tickets to SAL events at


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SAL/on air is a literary podcast featuring engaging author talks and readings from over thirty years of Seattle Arts & Lectures' programming. Seattle Arts & Lectures (SAL) is a literary nonprofit. We champion the literary arts by engaging and inspiring readers and writers of all generations in the greater Puget Sound region. Get tickets to SAL events at






Malcom Gladwell

In September 2019, Malcolm Gladwell stepped on stage at Benaroya Hall as part of SAL’s Literary Arts Series to discuss his book Talking to Strangers. That night, his talk brought us into the complicated layers that underlie our most fraught and violent interactions. The Los Angeles Times called Talking to Strangers “a compelling, conversation-starting read.” It’s a thoughtful and nuanced meditation on how we see others, and how we see the world. Like all of Gladwell’s work, brilliant storytelling and razor sharp-observations carry us to understand the world in new ways.


Amor Towles

In A Gentleman in Moscow, the subject of Amor Towles' 2019 SAL lecture, the ever-charming Count Rostov says, “By their very nature, human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration—and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.” It takes an extraordinary writer to create a thirty-year history of a Count trapped inside a Moscow hotel and make every page feel propulsive. But that’s exactly the plot of Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow—and that’s exactly the kind of writer Towles is. Amor Towles writes books worth considering and reconsidering, that delight in every possible setting, at every possible hour. Whether he is exploring Russian history or a 1950s road trip, Towles creates rich and nuanced worlds filled with both daily joys and fascinating characters. Join us for this episode of SAL/on air, which takes us through the research process of A Gentleman in Moscow, which spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list.


Richard Powers

Richard Powers’ characters are often both artists and scientists—disciplines he sees as intertwined. In a delicious moment in this March 2008 reading, he describes the commonality between art and science as a state of “bewilderment,” which happens to be the title of his new book, released thirteen years later in September 2021. In this recording, Powers shares a short story called “Modulation.” A story that draws on Powers’ knowledge of music and technology, “Modulation” centers on the global dissemination of a musical computer virus. Powers’ work embodies this spirit of marveling and wondering in a most bewildering way. His writing describes in Technicolor detail our most ephemeral human experiences, yet his precision doesn’t define; instead, it expands our awe and pondering long after his tales are over.


Dean Baquet, Timothy Egan, & Jim Rainey

Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times, and Jim Rainey, an award-winning reporter with the Los Angeles Times, spoke with hometown hero Timothy Egan in March of 2019 about the importance of investigative journalism and the path forward for media in this political era. These veteran journalists discuss how investigative reporting has changed over time, and what audiences expect and demand from the media today. They share challenges that reporters face when reporting from the field. “We allowed ourselves to become mysterious; as a result, people saw us as elites in an ivory tower,” Dean Baquet says. Jim Rainey agrees, adding, “When we go out now, it's not just what we write. It's how we conduct ourselves. How empathetic we are. And so—I think, correctly—we have a lot to prove.” These reflections set the tone for a lively conversation about transparency, credibility, and truth. With wit and honesty, they shine a spotlight on what the media can and should do better in an era of disinformation. They look to the future of newspapers: from print journalism (here to stay, they insist) and paid content, to podcasts and interactive digital storytelling. They also discuss ways in which journalists—young and old—mentor each other today.


Rita Dove

In this talk, recorded in March of 2010, former U. S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove shared poems from her then-new book, Sonata Mulattica. This collection tells the story of George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower. Previously just a footnote in Beethoven’s biography, Bridgetower—who was a Black violinist—had a sonata dedicated to him, and then, after a falling out over a girl, found that same sonata renamed. In this groundbreaking book, Dove tells Bridgetower’s story and restores one piece of lost history of African Americans in classical music. Without Dove to revive his story, Bridgetower may have been lost to time. Dove once noted, “There’s always been a special place in my work for people who drop out of history.” In this reading, which feels like an intimate fireside chat, she brings George Polgreen Bridgetower to life for an audience in whose minds he lives still. Let’s rekindle his spirit once again, and hear what Dove’s writings—and Bridgetower’s life and music—continue to tell us today.


Adam Zagajewski

At the start of this reading, which includes poems in English and Polish, Zagajewski says, “As long as you write new poems, you are alive. It’s the only proof of this.” Zagajewski died this March, but his poems remain with us—proof he was alive and lives still. In a poetic twist of fate, the date of Zagajewski’s passing was the same as the evening he read at Seattle Arts & Lectures—exactly nineteen years earlier. This reading by Adam Zagajewski, recorded in March 2001, was postponed from its original date by the forces of Mother Nature. On February 28, 2001, the Nisqually Earthquake struck. In wry form, Zagajewski banters about the interplay between reality and poetry, life and art. He notes thematic links between his book Tremor, his poem Lava, and the shaking earth that brought daily life in the Pacific Northwest to a halt. The pre-eminent Polish poet of his generation, Zagajewski’s early work was political in nature. He sought to illuminate conditions in western Poland post-World War II: “the bitter bread of urgency and contemporaneity.” With insight and imagination, Zagajewski’s poems depict the surreal experience of daily life in a totalitarian state following the Soviet takeover of his hometown, Lvov, in present-day Ukraine.


Wallace Stegner

This talk by celebrated novelist Wallace Stegner, recorded in 1990, is really a master class on the intermingling of life and art. With equal measures of charm and critique, Stegner questions the very nature of storytelling: is it method, perspective, experience, or technique? The writers he admires aren’t carpenters working from blueprints, he says, but sculptors in search of “the mystery implicit in the stone.” The questions Stegner raises in this lecture—about fact and fiction, life and art, craft and vision—are ones we continue to explore today.


Imbolo Mbue

"I live in a space between," Imbolo Mbue says in this talk. "It is the immigrant's burden to live with a body in one place, and the heart in another." In this episode, recorded on June 7, 2019, at Town Hall Seattle, Imbolo Mbue describes how her in-between began in Cameroon, where she was born, and continued in New York, where she traveled to attend college. She stayed, attended Business School, got a job in New York City and then in 2008, she lost her job in the Great Recession. She saw during this time the great economic stratification of New York and the seed for her book, "Behold The Dreamers," was born. The book went on to be a New York Times bestseller and an Oprah book club pick. The book asks the questions we all inherently struggle with. What is happiness? And what makes a good life? Why would we be willing to do or to give up for ourselves, for family, for love, and for dreams?


Maxine Kumin

Maxine Kumin, whom we lost in 2014, once said that, quote, “The garden has to be attended every day, just as the horses have to be tended to. Not just every day, but morning, noon and night. Writing, I think, exerts the same kind of discipline. I think of myself as a Jewish Calvinist. You know: salvation through grace, grace through good works and working is good, just that simple.” In this episode, recorded in April of 2005, we hear poems from across Maxine Kumin’s impressive body of work, including her collection Jack and Other New Poems. Acclaimed for her meticulous observation and her mastery of traditional forms, Kumin’s poetry draws comparisons to Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and Anne Sexton, her longtime friend and collaborator. But her voice defies easy comparisons. Often reflecting the dailiness of life and death on her New Hampshire horse farm, her powers lay in the unsentimental way she translated personal experience into resonant verse. “The paradoxical freedom of working in form…” as she says in this reading, is that it “gives you permission to say the hard truths.”


Soraya Chemaly

As with any condition, until we have language for what we are experiencing, until we can name it, we often feel controlled by it. In January of 2019 Soraya Chemaly renamed and redefined anger for us. In a riveting talk based upon her book, “Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger,” Chemaly puts female anger into its societal context, revealing it as a tool of transformation, an untapped resource for change. Soraya Chemaly is the Executive Director of The Representation Project. An award-winning author and activist, she writes and speaks frequently on topics related to gender norms, inclusivity, social justice, free speech, sexualized violence, and technology. In this illuminating talk and Q&A with journalist Carole Carmichael, Chemaly details the very real ways that women are taught from an early age to control and suppress their anger rather than harness it for change—and the way that this socialization is harmful to women and men, and especially to people of color.


Barry Lopez

When Barry Lopez died at the age of 75 this past December, we knew we had lost one of the greats. His writings have frequently been compared to those of Henry David Thoreau, as he brought a depth of erudition to the text by immersing himself in his surroundings, deftly integrating his environmental and humanitarian concerns. In his nonfiction, he examined the relationship between human culture and physical landscape. In his fiction, he addressed issues of intimacy, ethics, and identity. This new episode of SAL/on air was recorded in April of 2010. In it, Barry Lopez speaks about the anthology Home Ground, which Lopez edited along with his wife, Debra Gwartney. The anthology brought together 45 poets and writers to create more than 850 original definitions for words that describe our lands and waters. Eleven years later, those lands and waters are still under attack, in increasing need of our attention. “Our issue with the land around us,” he says, “is how to rekindle an informing conversation back and forth. And if we hope to develop policies that ensure our children will have a chance at a full life, alive, shaped as much by imagination as by need, we need to listen to what the land around us says.”


Rick Barot

“Every generation has to reiterate, rewrite what those genres are and what they mean in the vocabulary of the moment. So the elegy is not a set genre, it's not a set form. We each have to re-write that thing when we write. That's our job, in a way.”—Rick Barot On May 15, 2020, Rick Barot—the award-winning author of Chord, Want, and The Darker Fall—joined us for a virtual poetry reading in the midst of the pandemic. His latest book of poems, The Galleons (2020), was long-listed for this year’s National Book Award and, in honor of that, we’re pleased to present it to you now. His reading is introduced by SAL Associate Director Rebecca Hoogs, and then a conversation follows moderated by poet Jane Wong, the author of Overpour from Action Books, and How to Not Be Afraid of Everything, forthcoming from Alice James Books.


Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Have you ever had a slice of cake that had been soaked in a sort of syrup? Maybe rose-syrup? Maybe lemon? Dense and rich at the same time—soaked in joy—it’s almost not cake anymore. Every one of Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s poems, read at SAL’s May 2018 Poetry Series reading, was like that for us. Dense and light at the same time. Sweet and yet weighty. Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of a book of nature essays, World of Wonders, recently named a finalist for the Kirkus Prize in non-fiction, and four award-winning poetry collections, most recently, Oceanic from Copper Canyon Press. After her reading from Oceanic, a conversation followed between Aimee and Pacific Northwest poet Jane Wong, author of Overpour and the forthcoming How to Not Be Afraid of Everything.


Ijeoma Oluo

As our annual reading program, Summer Book Bingo wrapped up, we asked readers to reflect on their favorite reading experience of the summer. One of you wrote: “My favorite reading experience was reading So You Want to Talk About Race. It forced me to explore my white privilege and challenged me to really examine the ways I have thought about myself, how I view race.” Ijeoma Oluo, the author of So You Want to Talk About Race, writes that it was: “A grueling, heart wrenching book to write.” She gives us all a tremendous gift by sharing her personal stories of experiencing the pain and violence of racism at the hands of school systems and police officers, and even friends and loved ones. On January 25, 2018, the Seattle-based Oluo joined us at Benaroya Hall for the launch of what’s become an essential primer on the racial landscape of America. We’re excited to be able to share that talk with you today as the first episode in Season Three of SAL/on air.


Jericho Brown

Almost exactly a year ago, on May 21, 2019, we closed our Poetry Series with a reading by Jericho Brown, followed by a conversation with Copper Canyon editor and poet Elaina Ellis. It was a riveting and joy-filled evening in celebration of Jericho’s third book, The Tradition. That book went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Here we are, a year later, in a starkly different world. A world where we cannot gather together in the shared space of a theatre to hear poetry. A world where Jericho’s poems of rage and grief at the pandemic of violence against Black people in this country are newly resonant. The brutality of our country keeps coming back. But the best poetry—Jericho’s poetry—can be a space of healing and a space of learning—a space of revelation and anger that inspires action.


Eavan Boland

Four weeks after her passing in her hometown of Dublin, we want to celebrate the ways Eavan Boland drew up a new science of cartography for Irish poetry—one that included women in their everyday lives. One that depicted children, the routines of the suburbs, marriage, and then radically, that laid this map over received ideas about Irish history, about poetic form. Her poems elegantly re-charted the tensions of history, memory and legends, with the unnamed. In this episode of SAL/on air, we hear Eavan Boland's 2007/08 Poetry Series reading with Seattle Arts & Lectures, followed by an interview with SAL Associate Director Rebecca Hoogs.


Ross Gay

In a time like this, where do you look to for joy? In a recent episode of Krista Tippett’s podcast, On Being, poet Ross Gay recently said, “It is joy by which the labor that will make the life that I want, possible. It is not at all puzzling to me that joy is possible in the midst of difficulty.” Besides being a disciple of joy, Ross Gay is a gardener, a painter, a professor, a basketball player, and a founding member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a free-fruit-for-all non-profit focused on food, justice, and joy. He is the author of three collections of poetry. The title poem in his most recent, "Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude," is a long piece which, Ross told the Los Angeles Times, was begun as a “way to publicly imagine what it means for a person to be adamantly in love with his life. I wanted to realize joy as a fundamental aspect of our lives and practice it as a discipline.”


Valeria Luiselli

What drives storytelling? What is the story—who gets to tell it—and how? In a twist on the American road trip genre, Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive explores these tensions. As an artist couple and their children embark on trip from New York to Arizona, wrestling with their family’s crisis, a bigger one comes to them through the car radio: that of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American and Mexican children arriving in the U.S. without papers. Author Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City and grew up in South Korea, South Africa and India. She was only able to write her new novel, she tells us, after writing a work of non-fiction first, Tell Me How It Ends. That book, a polemic about the US-Mexico border, is structured around the 40 questions that she translated and asked undocumented children facing deportation as a volunteer court translator. After Valeria’s talk about these two works she’s joined by Florangela Davila, news director at the Seattle-Tacoma NPR station, KNKX, for a Q&A. This event took place at Benaroya Hall in April of 2019.


Adam Davidson

What the 20th century economy typically required of Americans who wanted success was to step away from their passions and embrace sameness. Now, in this new century—amidst concerns about our jobs being stolen by computers, about the middle class vanishing, and about the super-rich getting richer, Adam Davidson sees another narrative. Davidson, who is the founder of NPR’s Planet Money and an economics writer at The New Yorker, argues that living a passionate life and living a financially stable life aren’t as separate as they used to be. Despite the pain and anxiety of around our current economy, Davidson admits that he sees a lot to be optimistic about in his new book, The Passion Economy. In this talk, he explores what’s next for Americans, from Amish furniture makers to accountants after the invention of AI, social media, outsourcing, and global trade. After Davidson’s talk, which took place at Benaroya Hall in January 2020, he’s joined by Jon Talton for the Q&A. Jon is a novelist and former long-time economics columnist for the Seattle Times.


Rachel Maddow

When Rachel Maddow, host of the Emmy Award-winning Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, set out to research her latest book, "Blowout," she wasn’t necessarily looking to write about the oil and gas industry. Instead, the question she was asking was this: At a time when democracy is falling and authoritarianism is rising globally, what do we do? In October of this year, Maddow gave a lecture and had a conversation with multi-media journalist Joni Balter at a packed Benaroya Hall. From man-made earthquake swarms in Oklahoma, to Ukrainian revolutionaries, to Russians hacking the 2016 election, Maddow unwinds the skein of the unimaginably lucrative and equally corrupting oil and gas industry worldwide, and warns us what’s at stake if we leave the industry highly subsidized—and largely unregulated.