Wednesday, November 28, 2007

It's About Time moves to Ballard Library

[for more info about the series, go to our new It's About Time blog]

Peggy Sturdivant's Nov. 22, 2007, Ballard News Tribune column:

"I was already jazzed about a longtime Seattle reading series `It's About Time' moving to the Ballard Branch - the subject of this week's column, Still About Time. Since I first started attending the reading series in 1996 there have been so many times I wanted to attend but couldn't drag myself to the other side of Greenlake to attend. No more such worries.

"In my mind this week's column was a mere nod to the Ballard Library nonetheless I got a nice note from a member of the architectural team. He considers it one of his most rewarding projects:his message follows the copy of column.

Still About Time

"Let me count the ways that I love the new Ballard branch of the Seattle Public Library. At least half of the year, when our days are short, nighttime events held in the community meeting room create an outside glow as though the top of the Space Needle had landed on Northwest 22nd. Even if we're not inside that room for the District Council meeting or the author appearance, we can appreciate from the outside the importance of that space and what it delivers, in addition to all the other riches of the library system.

"A year ago in September my daughter forced me on an after-dinner run to Bartell's for school supplies. From across the street I could see that the meeting room was at capacity, the library lobby was filled and people were even standing by the exterior bushes. Who is over there, I wondered. What if it's somebody famous and I don't even know? I learned later that it was Nora Ephron reading and discussing her book, "I Feel Bad About My Neck." The Nora Ephron of book and movie fame - "Hearburn," "When Harry Met Sally," - a movie called "Sleepless in Seattle." She was at the Ballard Library. Our Ballard Library.

"I can turn down many solicitations that come by mail or telephone, but I can never turn down a phone call from a librarian. The libraries are incredible assets; if I can provide money that purchases a few more books or goes toward more open hours, I will always contribute what I can. I should write a book on libraries or start the first ever TV series set in a public library. Just imagine the dramatic potential. I even heard something from a librarian this week that gave me a sense of civic pride. The City of Seattle considers the libraries to be part of "essential services" even during a winter storm event.

"Given my admiration for the library system in general and the Ballard Branch in particular I was truly thrilled recently to learn that two of my favorite things are about to converge. Starting Dec. 13, the "It's About Time" Writers' Reading Series will make its monthly home in Ballard's community meeting room. Conceived and launched in 1989 by poet, teacher and scholar Esther Altshul Helfgott, the reading series will mark its 221st event on its Ballard debut. Mark this in the plus column as Ballard gains a Pacific Northwest literary asset.

"I was introduced over 10 years ago to this reading series, which always offers an "open mike" opportunity to attendees. Since its inception, the series dedicated to an end of racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, homelessness and war has been a welcoming venue for beginning and experienced writers to read from their work. Although assisted by supporters over the years, the writing series is still coordinated by its original founder Esther Helfgott.

"A longtime teacher, Helfgott was frustrated by the way that her students, often retired professional women in her classes at senior centers and community colleges, tended to demean themselves and their writing efforts. Helfgott was inspired by their accomplishments in life and the writing that they produced together. She asked Nelson Bentley at the University of Washington if her students could participate in a campus reading but it was reserved for enrolled students. It was Bentley who suggested that Helfgott start her own reading series instead. And so the series began in the library of then Ravenna Bryant Senior Center in 1989.

"While `It's About Time' has always been welcoming, the venues have not been as accommodating. The first location could only sit 20 people; branch libraries were sometimes subject to early closure and acoustics have been a problem in the last two locations. Despite the facility challenges the series has never faltered. Until the windstorm last December not a single event had been cancelled in 17 years.

"The reading series has also evolved over the last 18 years, never losing sight of its core mission to provide a safe place for writers to share their work on equal standing. Originally geared to women, the series now includes men and women, beginning and experienced writers. As of 2001 the series adopted its current model of four featured readers and a fifth writer presenting The Writer's Craft on process, with open mike opportunities throughout. Many of these talks are available in electronic form on the series' Web site at

"The library branches have considerable leeway in establishing their programming and the Ballard branch is showing itself to be a strong supporter of poetry and literature, as seen through its ongoing poetry events and increasing author appearances in conjunction with Secret Garden Bookstore. The calendar is filled with story times, readings, book club meetings and now, "It's About Time." Discussions about the moving the series began after a poetry event in October and Helfgott is greatly relieved to have found a worthy home for the series, ensuring its continuity. With commitment from branch librarians and the public relations support of the Central Library, the Ballard Branch will be able to advertise the event and provide an accessible and outstanding venue.

"Helfgott's motto is "Everyone has a voice. Everyone has a story to tell." Her teaching is predicated on that belief along with the conviction that those stories also deserve to be heard. In 1989 she felt that it was literally about time for there to be a venue for that expression, and it's still as vital as it was eighteen years ago to create that time and place for writers. Yet another reason to love the Ballard Library. Look for the glow of the meeting room lights from the sidewalk, and then go inside where you belong.

"It's About Time" details can be found at The Dec. 13th event features John W. Marshall, Emily Warn, Mike Hickey, Holly Chiron and Christine Deavel on The Writer's Craft, and runs from 6 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. at Ballard Library.

I was fortunate enough to be the Project Architect of the Ballard
Branch. My role didn't have as much to do with design so much as it
had to do with shepherding the project through - from Design Review
meetings, Permitting, Construction and Grand Opening, through Warranty
issues, etc. The Ballard Library was and continues to be one of the
more rewarding projects I have had the opportunity to participate in
during my career. And I have been lucky to be involved in many great

I just now received today's Google Alert notifying me of your article
in the Ballard News-Tribune. As it happens, I am presenting the library
project tonight to a University of Washington Architecture class. I
will share your fine article with them!

Best regards,
David Cinamon, AIA

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
Architecture Planning Interior Design

Posted by At large in Ballard at November 22, 2007 11:00 a.m.
#69191Posted by maryw at 11/22/07 7:54 p.m.

Thanks for another informative column on our Ballard community. The "It's About Time" program sounds wonderful! I, too, am proud that it will be held at our beautiful new library.

Regarding the library building itself, I agree completly--it is beautiful. Our library is the living, beating heart of the Ballard community--warm, inviting and possibly the only place where everyone is welcome and you can mingle with folks you might not have an opportunity to meet otherwise--and you don't have to spend a cent.

A belated thanks to Mr. Cinamon and everyone involved in the planning and design.

1 comment:

rilera said...

Esther, is everything OK? You haven't posted in a while.