SoulFood Poetry Night

On 18 July 2006, I started the monthly SoulFood Poetry Night at SoulFood Books in Redmond, Washington. The bookstore had just opened in April or May, and when I saw the beautiful stage and sound system they had (plus live video streaming), I immediately thought it would be a perfect place for a poetry series, and the store owners agreed. A nod of thanks to Clint McCune and Sara Pelfrey for making this possible, with later thanks to Kevin and Makia Oaks. More recently, the store changed its name to SoulFood CoffeeHouse, though plenty of books and other soulful items are still available. Lana Hechtman Ayers helped me curate the series from 2006 to the end of 2011, and then Tanya McDonald helped until September 2014.

The readings take place on the third Thursday of each month. A distinctive aspect of the series (Lana’s great idea) is that we ask one featured reader to choose his or her own coreader, thus bringing fresh voices to the series. Another distinctive aspect, for the first decade at least, was that we asked each featured reader to read a poem of their own that they designated as their “soulfood” poem, and to bring a printout of it to add to the poetry notebook we kept in the store. With so many years of two featured readers nearly every month (snowstorms have cancelled it a couple of times), that’s a lot of soulfood poems! However, we stopped asking for soulfood poems in 2016 or so, when we started featuring groups and organizations more often than individual readers. This change helped to revitalize the series and boost attendance after the 520 bridge toll to cross Lake Washington that started at the end of 2011 eventually took, ahem, too much of a toll on our attendance. Since then, our attendance rebounded from about 20 people each night to sometimes 30 or more.

The readings commence with each of the two featured readers, followed by a break for refreshments, then our open-mic. Videos of nearly every reading have been streamed live, and a limited selection of them can still be viewed by reading date on the SoulTribeTV site or on YouTube. We’ve had as many as 55 people show up (when we had Washington State poet laureate Sam Green as our guest), although usual attendance has been about 20 to 35 most months. From March 2020 through 2022 we held our readings on Zoom, which enabled us to invite readers and audiences from farther afield, but our focus remains on local poets. Our long list of featured readers is a who’s who of the Seattle-area poetry scene. For more information, please visit SoulFood Poetry Night.

  • See photos of SoulFood Poetry Night and SoulFood CoffeeHouse from 2009.

  • See also the 18 March 2021 reading on YouTube.