What is PNW Literature?

I’ve been asking myself that a lot since returning home to Washington last summer. My first book, Siblings and Other Disappointments, is my most characteristically Pacific Northwest. It’s hard to imagine my characters’ stories being lived in other small towns, near other mountains and rivers, across other agriculturally dependent landscapes. But perhaps that is what every author thinks of their creations, and if you plucked my truck driver or gambling addict out of Washington and dropped them in some other location they would fit in there too.

So if it’s not the physical setting, what is it that makes a story feel like it came from here? Who are the quintessential PNW authors? For me, it’s Raymond Carver and Tom Robbins. Carver grew up here, left for golden California, and later returned, died, and is buried in Port Townsend. Robbins came from across the country and settled in a funky little town north of Seattle. Carver wrote bleak stories set in rural Washington about men who drank and fished the Tieton River. Robbins’s novels tend to stretch farther geographically, but their styles and structures are like the Wild West in book form, boundary-pushing pioneers of prose.

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I don’t have a definitive answer for this question, but I do look forward to the process of searching for an answer as the newly appointed PNW editor for literary magazine Joyland. From the website: “Based on the idea that fiction is an international movement supported by local communities, Joyland is a literary magazine that selects stories regionally.”

In this role, I serve as a curator, carefully collecting the fiction I think best represents a region where I’ve spent most of my life. I am the gatekeeper of PNW literature; my gate is made of Douglas Firs. Check out the magazine to learn more and read a story or two, and if you’re a PNW fiction writer, send me a submission!


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