Two writers from Jefferson County finalists for Washington Book Award

Posted 9/10/22

Jefferson County has a storied past of being a literary mecca, pun intended.

The area has gone back and forth as having the highest density of small presses per capita of anywhere in the country. …

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Two writers from Jefferson County finalists for Washington Book Award

Kelli Russell Agodon has lived in Port Ludlow since 2016 after growing up in Seattle and moving to the Olympic Peninsula in 1997.
Kelli Russell Agodon has lived in Port Ludlow since 2016 after growing up in Seattle and moving to the Olympic Peninsula in 1997.
Photo courtesy of Kelli Russell Agodon
Posted

Jefferson County has a storied past of being a literary mecca, pun intended.

The area has gone back and forth as having the highest density of small presses per capita of anywhere in the country. This rich cultural heritage has now blossomed two new books that have won the honor of being named finalists for the Washington State Book Awards, Kelli Russell Agodon’s poetry collection, “Dialogue with the Rising Tides,” and JoAnne Tompkins’ novel, “What Comes After.”

Tompkins’ book has been causing a stir for a while now ever since being named one of Oprah’s most anticipated books of 2021. The book begins with the shocking death of two teenage boys in a Pacific Northwest community coinciding with the mysterious appearance of a pregnant girl who emerges from the woods and into the lives of those same boys’ families.

Tompkins career was spent working as a lawyer and mediator in Washington state and it was there she first began grappling with these heavy issues.

“I had gotten a reputation, not planned, as a mediator for cases involving high trauma,” she said. “I dealt with a tremendous amount of what you might say is evil.”

Instead of getting bogged down in the darkness, Tompkins was startled by the resilience of the people she worked with.

“A surprising number of people could recover from things that to me seemed insurmountable,” Tompkins said. “I was very curious about how people do forgive when horrible betrayals and violence is inflected on them and/or their families, and how they move on and move back toward life and connection and love.”

“So I set that up. I set up the characters and determined to watch them and see who showed up on the page.”

This is Tompkins’ first novel to be published, though she has been writing for years.

“I probably started writing about 20 years ago,” she said. “I had written another novel that I didn’t find an agent for and I was really seriously thinking about giving up on writing. I ended up deciding, no, I’m going to write a different novel and I think I could write a better novel, so I’m going to do that.”

Agodon, on the other hand, has been not only writing but publishing at length for years. She even co-founded her own poetry press, “Two Silvias Press” which released their first anthology in 2011: “Fire on Her Tongue,” the first ever eBook anthology of women’s poetry.

This is also not Agodon’s first time being named a finalist; her third collection of poems, “Hourglass Museum,” also earned that honor and was also shortlisted for the Julie Suk Poetry Prize.

Of course, no poet is ever in it for the awards.

“I’ve heard back from a lot of readers that have really connected with it and that’s always my hope when I write a book; that it makes other people feel less alone. That’s really payment for a poet, to have an actual reader respond well to your book,” she said.

Agodon has also taught poetry extensively and now offers a unique selection of writing workshops online through Two Silvias Press.

The next poetry retreat they’ll host begins Oct. 3 and runs for four weeks with daily prompts, a chance for a critique by either Agodon or her fellow editor, and a print copy of one of the presses poetry publications. For those interested only in stimulating their own creativity without feedback, they also offer a “Just the Exercises Package” at a lower cost.

Agodon’s latest collection, “Dialogue with the Rising Tides,” also happens to have been published by local small press giant Copper Canyon.

“We’re really lucky to have them in this community. I just love that they’re here and putting art into the world and that they would support a Washington poet,” Agodon said.

Both authors’ work can be found at bookshop.org.

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