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Poetry in Spokane: Get Lit!, Tod Marshall, and Scablands Books

Posted on May 1, 2018 at 6:00 am

by Nathaniel Youmans

Spokane has been a vibrating hive of activity during National Poetry Month. Eastern Washington University’s Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing program has had another smash hit year of literary programming for the 20th annual Get Lit! Festival, featuring readings, workshops, and panel discussions all across the Spokane area.

Gonzaga creative writing professor Tod Marshall has concluded his stint as Washington State Poet Laureate, jointly sponsored by Humanities Washington and ArtsWA, handing over the poetic reins to Claudia Castro Luna, who serves from 2018–2020. In his time as state poet laureate, Tod Marshal gathered and anthologized a collection of Washington poets, WA129, available for check out from our libraries.

Still hungry for more local poetry? Scablands Books is a Spokane-based press, proud of its unusual geographic origins on the Columbia Plateau, atop these remnants of inconceivable volcanic activity and cataclysmic ice age floods that we call home. Each book designed and published by Scablands Books demonstrates equally unique voices from the Inland Northwest.

I recently had a discussion with Scablands Books founder and managing editor, Sharma Shields, a tremendous author herself, to learn a little more about the local independent press scene.

Nathaniel Youmans: What led to the creation of Scablands Books?  

Sharma Shields: For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted not only to be a novelist but also a publisher. I love seeing books produced from start to finish. Knowing the singular joy of having a first book published, it has been so exciting to help create that experience for other writers. A writer who loves how their book looks is a writer who will love sharing that book with the world.

NY: What is your press team like?

SS: I was an admirer of local artist and graphic designer Keely Honeywell and her designs for RiverLit, so I reached out to her about designing for us. The boldness of her jackets and interiors have really helped us define the press. She is incredible at understanding the writer’s vision and executing it in an exciting, visceral way.

Maya Jewell Zeller is a monster poetic talent in the region, and I knew she would bring power and purpose and fairness to the editorial process. She’s both one of my favorite poets, regionally or otherwise, always witty, always challenging, and she has been instrumental in the quality of these books.

NY: Who else has helped Scablands Books come into being?

SS: I learn a lot from the giants of the local poetry publishing scene, including Christine Holbert of Lost Horse Press and Christopher Howell of Willow Springs Books, and from Gray Dog Press‘s Russ Davis, who prints our books. Kevin Taylor, creator of the local anthology Spokane Shorties gave me incredible advice about how to get started, and this led to our first Lilac City Fairy Tales production.

NY: What do you look for in potential titles for Scablands Books?

SS: I started Scablands Books specifically because I kept hearing local poets read their work aloud and they were really blowing my mind. These local poets were as good as anything I’d heard anywhere. Their work excited me. It was funny, sharp, innovative. I’m from this region and I’ve returned to this region and it makes sense to highlight the incredible work here.

I really want this press to be an author-driven venture. I want this to be a jumping off point for our writers’ careers. They help put the Inland Northwest on the intellectual map

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Our libraries carry most of Scablands Books’ current titles, including Ram Hands by Ellen Welcker, Butcher Paper by Simeon Mills, and Without Warning by Tim Greenup.

In an upcoming post, we’ll widen the lens a bit and look at two other books of poetry—one set in Washington and the other set further afield in the Dakotas—that are extremely timely, tremendous artifacts of resistance and environmental justice.

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