The Get Lit! Festival has been a driving force in Spokane’s growing literary community – fostering a love of reading and writing in the area while celebrating talented local, regional and national writers – and this April marks its 20th anniversary.
The festival started small its first year, yet showed promise that Spokane was eager to become a literary powerhouse. With a modest $1,200 budget, Get Lit! held its first festival as an 11-hour, one-day event, and more than 300 people attended.
“To see something that you started, to know how small it was in the first years, and to see it blossom into a huge event with multiple venues and days and genres of writing, is powerful,” said Christine Holbert ’97, one of the individuals who had a hand in starting the festival.
The festival was created as the brainchild of Holbert, Scott Poole ’98 and Christopher Howell under the former EWU Press. With the continued support of EWU, Get Lit! has remained the premier literary festival in the Northwest for the past two decades.
Howell, an MFA professor at EWU, credits the success of Get Lit! in its first years to the generosity of the community. Many authors came to the festival free of charge, and the space for the venue, The Met (which is now the Bing Crosby Theater), was donated. Although the funds were not there, the eagerness, excitement and expertise were.
“I had some experience of this kind of thing, and Christine had boundless enthusiasm, and Scott was a very good organizer,” Howell said. “Between the three of us, we had the professional components that were necessary to get it going and keep it going.”
The second year, Holbert received a $6,500 grant from the Washington Commission for the Humanities that quickly grew the festival into a three-day event held in venues across the city. Regional writers included Denis Johnson, Nance Van Winckel and Madeline DeFrees.
Over the past two decades, Get Lit! has brought a host of New York Times best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning national and regional writers to the Spokane area, providing a space for enriching, diverse events to showcase and inspire writers.
Writers such as Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates, Salman Rushdie, Dave Barry and David Sedaris have participated in the festival.
The festival has also showcased emerging talent, often featuring authors on the verge of success.
Get Lit! brought Anthony Doerr in 2014 just prior to the official launch of his novel, All the Light We Cannot See. One year later, his novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.
In 2012, Colson Whitehead was paired with Jess Walter ’87 as headliners for Get Lit! Later, Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad, published in 2016, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
Get Lit! 2018
Here are just a few of the many ways to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Get Lit! from April 23-29, including readings, craft classes, poetry slams, book signings, children’s activities and panel discussions. For the complete schedule, visit getlitfestival.org.
Too Legit to Quit
The 20th anniversary of Get Lit! will kick off with a ’90s-themed reading, where readers will read their original ’90s-themed fiction, nonfiction and poetry. The line-up will include Jess Walter, Chelsea Martin, Hanif Abdurraqib, Juan Carlos Reyes, Leah Sottile and Nance Van Winckel. Attendees are encouraged to wear their favorite ’90s styles to celebrate.
IF YOU GO
Monday, April 23, at 7 p.m. at the Spokane Public Library, third floor.
Get Lit! Anthology
Don’t miss out on your chance to purchase the Get Lit! anthology published by Willow Springs Books, featuring loads of authors who have participated in Get Lit! over the past 20 years. The anthology will debut at the ’90s-themed kick-off party on April 23. Details at getlitfestival.org
An Evening with Anne Lamott
Spend an evening with bestselling author Anne Lamott. She will speak and read from her latest book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, followed by an audience Q&A. Tickets available at ticketswest.com.
IF YOU GO
Saturday, April 28, at 7 p.m. at the Bing Crosby Theater, Spokane, Washington
“One of the things I tried to be intentional about in building the festival was creating opportunities for local writers to interact with these big-name authors we were bringing in,” said Melissa Huggins ’11, former director of Get Lit! and current executive director of Spokane Arts, a local nonprofit. “We wanted to provide those opportunities for people to grow, build their profile, gain wider readership and connect with people.”
The festival provides local writers and students the chance to see the power of literature and experience Spokane’s vibrant writing community.
“Our writers know that they will be reading for audiences who are eager to listen and learn, and our audiences know that they will be able to find inspiration, insight and a sense of belonging from attending our events. Get Lit! has always shown us that Spokane wanted to be a literary city, and it has undoubtedly become one,” said Kate Peterson ’14, current Get Lit! director.
Get Lit! isn’t just for writers, though. The festival aims to have something for everyone each year – children’s events, poetry slams, book launches, themed happy hours, alumni panels and more. Get Lit! also provides year-round community programs that inspire young minds, such as its Writers in Residence and Author’s Tour, which provide children the opportunity to hear and learn from professional writers.
The Get Lit! festival and Eastern’s MFA creative writing program also work closely to help graduate students become more involved in the Spokane literary community. Graduates of the MFA program have also been staying in the area to live and work, further influencing Spokane’s literary scene.
“Get Lit! is not something that just happens once a year, it’s something that celebrates, fuels and feeds what is happening all the time in the community,” Howell said.
Inspiring creative minds for decades, the Get Lit! Festival has been incredibly beneficial to Spokane by highlighting the area’s gifted community.
“It’s my hope that Get Lit! can continue to be a tradition that brings our talented writing community together with writers of national and international acclaim in order to celebrate literature in all of its many forms,” Peterson said.