An End-Of-Season Message from Wier

Looking back, I don’t think anyone will remember Town Hall’s 2019-20 as easy, but it certainly started and ended in celebration. This eventful year featured our first (almost!) full season back in our beautifully renovated building, and a return to our nomadic, Inside/Out years with an (almost!) fully virtual program. I reflected a bit on the highlights of the year in the video below, and I hope you’ll take a look.

I’m in the building once-twice a week, and every time I experience a deep feeling of loss. I wonder when we’ll have a full audience in the Great Hall again; when the building will hum with the energy of multiple events, when we’ll gather for another party in the Reading Room or a pre/post-show drink in the Otto. We don’t know when it will be, but we’re already planning for the time that we can welcome you back, and envisioning how it might work. Here’s our commitment to you for the next season:

  • continued presentation of digitally-produced events
  • livestreaming events that happen once we’re back in the building, in addition to small live audiences when its permitted
  • sustaining our $5 ticket model

Since early March, we’ve offered our digitally-produced events completely free with an option to support us with a donation. Everything you’ve heard about the struggles of non-profits right now is true; and like other organizations, we’re facing decreased revenue and deep impact on our financial stability. Next year’s budget is 65% of our 19-20; to address this shortfall, we’re introducing a $5 charge for our digital events. Though we will continue to offer free tickets to anyone 22 & Under, reintroducing ticket income will allow us to continue to produce at our fullest capability.

Our programming will be dark—and our administrative offices will be closed—from July 3 – July 26. If there is a time-sensitive need while our office is closed, please send us an email at We’ll be back in the office on Monday, July 27 returning phone calls and emails. Before we go away for July, be sure to join us for Pramila Jayapal sharing stories of her political and personal history with Naomi Ishisaka on Wednesday, July 1 and a special live episode of Life on The Margins, featuring Ijeoma Oluo, on July 2. We’ll pick up the thread again with a cool program with the Institute for Systems Biology on July 30.

And so here we are—celebrating the start of a new chapter with a new building, and celebrating the start of a new chapter with a new online stage. Wherever we find each other in the year to come, thank you for being essential to Town Hall’s commitment to the truth; to civil discourse; and to strengthening our community, through shared experiences of ideas and arts, at a time when we surely need it.

With gratitude,

Wier Harman
Executive Director

Life On The Margins Special Editions

The Life on the Margins podcast features co-hosts Marcus Harrison Green, Enrique Cerna, and Jini Palmer as they share stories not just about marginalized communities, but from within, and alongside them. In each bi-weekly installment of this residency podcast, they engage with the narratives and experiences of our city, sharing them more widely with the Town Hall community.

In solidarity with the Black and Brown community in the fight for justice against police brutality and the institutionalized racism that enables it, the hosts of the Life On The Margins podcast have released two special edition episodes featuring discussions of police accountability, racism as a public health threat, the search for answers surrounding the death of Manuel Ellis while in police custody.

June 7, 2020

It Can Happen Here, Too

In this special edition of Life on the Margins, we probe deeply into the case of Manuel Ellis, a Black Tacoma man who died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody on March 3rd, 2020. The investigation into his death was seemingly dormant until it roared into the public spotlight this week after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee demanded a full investigation into the 33-year-old’s death. Since then, video footage of his fateful encounter with police, along with an audio recording of him saying the words “I can’t breathe,” have led the mayor of Tacoma to call for the firing of the four officers involved in the case.

We discuss the case and hear directly from the Ellis family, about their hard-fought battle for the truth. We also discuss how it relates to the national unrest currently raging around police accountability.

June 5, 2020

Rage, Riot, Racism : The Killing of George Floyd

The May 25 killing of George Floyd, a black man, by Minneapolis police sparked outrage and protests across the nation that sees no signs of abating. If anything, the demonstrations have intensified the longstanding desire for America to address chronic and systemic racial disparities.

Also needing to be addressed, is law enforcement’s accountability to communities of color. Those are issues we continue to have in our own backyard, as the family of a Tacoma man who died in police custody continues to search for answers.

In this special edition, an emotional conversation Dr. Ben Danielson, pediatrician, and medical director at Odessa Brown Clinic in Seattle’s Central District, about racism as a public health threat. We also hear from the family of Manuel Ellis, who are still searching for answers three months after his death in police custody. And Matt Chan has commentary on the relationship between the Asian and Black communities.

Town Hall Seattle Statement on the Deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd

Whether seen as individual lives tragically taken, or the latest examples of our nation’s 400 year history of systematic disregard for Black Americans, the heartbreaking deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd over just ten weeks have left our nation—and this community—convulsed with grief. As sad and shocking as these stories are we know that they are just the reported examples of an incomprehensible structural crisis, at once too big and too painful to comprehend.

As individuals and as an institution, Town Hall Seattle shares the pain felt by so many. We are in solidarity with our Black and Brown colleagues and community members in the fight for justice against police brutality and the institutionalized racism that enables it.

Town Hall is committed to becoming an anti-racist organization. We have made specific commitments around our present and future operations, with the goal of modeling the society we want to live in. We have a very long way to go toward this goal; more information about that process and our commitments is here.

Who Was The Joyce Girl? A Conversation with Annabel Abbs

Author Annabel Abbs writes powerful stories that capture the lives and struggles of remarkable women. Her first novel, The Joyce Girl, tells the fictionalised story of Lucia Joyce, forgotten daughter of author James Joyce. Abbs gives voice to Lucia and enables her to tell her own story—a fascinating, heartbreaking tale of thwarted ambition, passionate creativity, and the power of love to inspire and destroy.

Abbs will be streaming a Town Hall discussion of The Joyce Girl on 6/9/2020. To preface the conversation, she spoke with Town Hall’s Alexander Eby about the life of Lucia, what it means to be a self-taught writer, and the amazing but overlooked artists who Abbs finds inspiring.

AE: Can you tell us a bit about The Joyce Girl?

AA: It’s a fictional re-working of a critical period in the life of the only daughter of James Joyce (the Irish author of the great modernist novel, Ulysses), Lucia Joyce. The novel is deeply researched, but all of Lucia’s letters, medical notes, diaries were destroyed, so there was very little of her left. During this period—1928 to 1934—she lived with her family in Paris where she was training to be a dancer. She was supposed to be a very good dancer and had performed in dance tours in Italy and Belgium as well as at various theatres in Paris. But during this time she stopped dancing, and I wanted to understand why she had given up something she loved. At the same time her father was grappling with his final book, Finnegans Wake, which took 17 years to write. Lucia was also believed to have had an affair with Samuel Beckett at this time, and then with Alexander Calder, who became her drawing teacher when she gave up dance. Later on, she told other people she had been engaged to each of them.

AE: How much of the story is biographical and how much is fiction? Why did you choose a mixture of the two, rather than fully in a biography format?

AA: Lucia is already the subject of a biography written by a Joyce scholar, and although I relied heavily on it, the book is constrained by the absence of material in Lucia’s voice. No new material has come to light, so I felt wary about writing a second biography. I felt her story lent itself to a fictional re-telling where I could slip beneath her skin and imagine her experience—at the centre of an oddly dysfunctional exiled family but in the wild excitement of Paris at its creative apotheosis. All the characters are based on real people and all the main events of the novel actually took place, so the biographical facts acted as my scaffolding leaving me free to imagine Lucia’s thoughts, feelings and responses.

AE: What was it like to write the characters of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and Carl Jung? How did that experience compare to writing Lucia, particularly as a figure whose personal character is likely less well-known but is more central to this story?

AA: Lucia was the hardest character to write. Not only had her own letters and diaries been destroyed but so had hundreds of letters that mentioned her or discussed her predicament. I felt as though I was looking for her through an endless telescope. I had quite a few photographs and one snippet of autobiography that I used to look at in a London archive, but it was hard to fathom her from so little. Joyce, Beckett and Jung have tens of biographies between them, as well as collected letters, interviews, voice recordings and numerous scholarly works. I read four biographies of Beckett, and hundreds of his letters, as well as attending an entire season of his plays, going to something every day for a month. I had a much clearer sense of their characters, their foibles, their likes and dislikes.

Lucia came to me in that strange liminal time between wake and sleep. It sounds weird, but in those few minutes I found a version of her—my version.

AE: Many would consider James Joyce and Samuel Beckett to be household names—yet not Lucia Joyce. Why do we have so few details about her life? What initially drew you to tell Lucia’s story—and what draws you to continue that discussion today?

AA: Yes, Joyce and Beckett are household names, as is Carl Jung—who she was sent to in 1934 as she became more and more fragile. This juxtaposition made me uncomfortable—the way the men in her life had become legendary figures while she had been erased from history, barely a footnote in most scholarly works on Joyce. There was considerable evidence that Joyce had been hugely influenced by Lucia, and inspired by her dancing. References to it appear throughout Finnegans Wake. I felt this needed acknowledging. I was indignant at the attempts to wipe out all trace of her. But the stigma of mental illness was very strong then. Lucia’s story is really about what happens when you live in the shadow of another person, what happens when your own creativity is thwarted, and the dark underbelly of jazz-age Paris. There was an entire community of extraordinary dancers (mostly women) in Paris at the time, most of whom have been forgotten. We still think of 1920s Paris as being very much the playground of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Picasso. But there were just as many women trying to live in a new, more emancipated way. I’d like to see them all resurrected.

AE: How does your own work as a dancer compare with Lucia’s point of view? When researching Lucia’s life, did you find that you and she had any similar experiences from working in that field?

AA: I’d done some dance before but not the freeform modern dance that Lucia trained in. So I tracked down someone who had trained with the same woman as Lucia. She was nearly 90 and she introduced me to a group of dancers (most of them very elderly!) and a teacher who taught me to dance the same method. It’s called the Margaret Morris Method (Margaret Morris was the name of the woman who devised this style of dance) and it’s still going in some parts of the world. It’s a very expressive form of movement, with lots of improvisation. I loved it, and it gave me an immediate understanding of how Lucia must have felt when she danced. It’s nothing like ballet. It’s very free, very creative. It was Lucia’s voice, I realized. She spoke through her body while her father spoke through words.

AE: You mentioned that Lucia served as her father’s muse for Finnegans Wake. Can you elaborate on this, based on your research about their lives and relationship? 

AA: Joyce attended all Lucia’s performances and there are accounts of her dancing in his study while he wrote. Finnegans Wake is full of references to dance and when she was initially hospitalized he visited her every Sunday and they danced together. Later, Lucia said that all the bits in Finnegans Wake about dance, love and madness were about her. Dance seemed to be how they communicated when words failed them, it seemed to be a bond between them. What struck me was how they were both breaking boundaries. He was writing a book about the ‘dark night of the soul’ using language as it had never been used before (or since) and she was dancing using movement as it had never been seen before. Her dance was as radical as his writing.

AE: What do you think of the concept of “the muse” in general—as a typically feminine figure that’s been woven into our concept of authorship in classical and contemporary literature? Do you see the archetype as empowering? Damaging?

AA: The notion of the muse (usually female, often supine) seems quaintly old-fashioned now, thank goodness! It’s a notion that requires a person to be both subject and object, making it inherently problematic. I find it hard to see the traditional muse as anything other than passive and possessed. On the other hand, in the past being a ‘muse’ offered women the chance to do something a little more interesting than they might otherwise have done and to have exposure to a circle of artists and writers. So I’m reluctant to write them off. All too often they were aspiring artists themselves. They frequently had an enormous impact on the works they inspired, but received no credit for this. This is what bothers me—how little agency they seem to have had and how little credit they received.

Does anyone call themselves a muse now?

AE: You’ve famously decided against formal writing courses and MA programs, instead building your own curriculum and structure. How long did it take you to figure out what worked for you? How do you keep yourself motivated?

AA: I had too many family commitments to do a course, although I would dearly have loved the support network that comes with doing a Creative Writing Masters! Instead I bought some books and devised some creative writing exercises that I did whenever I was stuck. And I read like crazy, copying out lines and paragraphs and then dismantling them so I could better understand the author’s craft. I also edited and rewrote, over and over. I was kept motivated by my rage at how Lucia had been treated. Whenever I stalled (which was often), I took out a photograph of Lucia in the mental hospital where she died, and was re-fuelled with anger. Then I got back to work.

I think you need to be comfortable with a certain amount of chaos, uncertainty and isolation if you take this route. COVID-19 lockdown is a good dry run!

AE: Who are some female writers and artists from history who inspire you, but who have been overlooked or overshadowed in their time? Who are the female artists and authors who inspire you today?

AA: Oh so many…where to start? Overlooked…all the best-selling female poets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many women wrote and published hugely popular poetry, but very little made it into the cannon. It frequently lacks the muscular style of their male counterparts but why do we rate muscular more highly than emotional? Letitia Landon is my current favourite—she wrote under the initials L.E.L and died tragically at the age of 36. I’ve also been researching and writing about a painter called Gwen John who also worked in 1920s Paris but was completely overshadowed by her brother, Augustus John.

Finally, I’ve spent much of lockdown looking at the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe—all that open space has helped keep me sane in my London house—and reading Hilary Mantel, one of the best historical novelists writing today (in my view!).

Annabel Abbs will be streaming a Town Hall conversation about her book The Joyce Girl on 6/9/2020.


What Are People Doing? Commencement

Every week the Town Crier blog looks back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening, and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Mrs. Jane Douglas Champlin was the honor guest at an attractive luncheon” and, “There is the sort of an exhibition at the Fine Arts Gallery which will appeal to the various members of a family.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Throughout Seattle and across the country, stay-at-home orders have disrupted normal class schedules. Many students have found themselves gearing up to attend virtual graduations, or taking final exams remotely. Despite the strangeness of the times, it’s certainly nothing new for students to enjoy a well-deserved graduation. The same was true in 1920 as well, says the Town Crier. 

“The Saint Nicholas School held its Commencement exercises yesterday morning, June 4, for the class of 1920, in the Fine Arts Gallery,” mentions the ‘Crier in their June 5, 1920 issue. Renowned for its attendance by many of the most prominent families in Seattle, the Saint Nicholas School was a private girls’ school that prepared its students both for navigating  Seattle’s high society, as well as for pursuing their own courses of higher education.

“The School, under the direction of Miss Edith Dabney, has made an enviable reputation as one of fine Ideals that are being realized in the life of the pupil, and when it comes to the last analysis there can be nothing of higher worth gained from any school than the building of character.” Sounds like a worthy institution. 

Of course, we have many worthy schools today as well. One such establishment is Cornish College of the Arts, who are proudly broadcasting a graduation of their own. Cornish invites us to celebrate a fresh wave of burgeoning artists with a virtual commencement ceremony on May 16 starting at 11AM. The event will feature the work of talented performers and speakers from the class of 2020. The festivities also include addresses from President Raymond Tymas-Jones, Provost William Seigh, and Cornish alumna Skye Borgman. 

Sounds like a worthy way to spend a Saturday!


What Are People Doing? Virtual Museums

Every week the Town Crier blog looks back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening, and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “One of the gayest parties of the season was the dance given by Mr. and Mrs. James Doster Hoge at the Golf Club” and, “Youngsters, taking advantage of the cold snap, have hunted up the old ice skates of various vintages and are indulging themselves in the rare sport of skating.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

Even a century ago, Seattle was no stranger to the arts. “There are three small but exquisite bronzes by Prince Troubetzkoy now on view at the Fine Arts Gallery, 1218 Fourth Avenue, which are well worth seeing,” wrote the Town Crier issue published May 8, 1920. “The work of this sculptor is accepted as being among the very best of its kind and of a marked individuality, so it is really a privilege for Seattle to be given an opportunity to see these bronzes.”

Prince Paolo Petrovich Troubetzkoy (1866-1938) was an acclaimed artist and a sculptor, described by playwright George Bernard Shaw as “the most astonishing sculptor of modern times.” Interestingly, back then Seattle valued free access to the arts just as much as we do today—even for viewing the work of a master such as Troubetzkoy. “Admittance is free and the public is cordially invited to attend,” the Crier informs us.

Troubetzkoy’s work is no doubt inspiring to behold in person, though perhaps it’s for the best that his sculptures have already come and gone. After all, if his work were here today our options for viewing it would be limited to livestream or video—a somewhat diminished experience for a medium as tactile as sculpture.

Luckily we still have access to fine art in Seattle today, even while sheltering in place. The Frye Art Museum had to suspend their exhibition of the work of video artist and photographer Agnieszka Polska, but an excerpt of the exhibit is still viewable virtually! A far cry from bronzes, this installation of Polska’s work follows a childlike sun who is a helpless witness to ethical and environmental collapse on Earth. 

The Seattle Art Museum is also presenting their own suite of ways to enjoy the arts at home. They recently released a virtual discussion reflecting on the ways that living in quarantine impacts our daily rhythms. Pam McClusky, Curator of African and Oceanic Art, ruminates on artwork propelled by walking, and the ways our rhythms adjust to each landscape we cross. 

Be sure to check out the websites for these local museums and keep an eye out for future videos. Though we can’t be there in person to enjoy these exhibits, it’s certainly easier to engage with inspirational art today than it would have been 100 years ago. 

Though, to be fair, we’re probably not doing anything Troubetzkoy wouldn’t have done if he’d had the internet.

Left On Red: The Month of Red May, Seattle’s Vacation From Capitalism

Seattle is a city that demands we think outside the box, and few series exemplify this idea quite like Red May. For the month of May, speakers gather to interrogate contemporary issues through the lens of Marxism, political economy, feminism, race, and philosophy. 

During a typical season, May at Town Hall would find fascinating conversations about capitalism and society making their way to our stages. We typically partner with our friends at Red May as part of their eponymous festival of radical art and thought, featuring local and national speakers helping Seattle turn red for a month. As they say, maybe we can’t move beyond capitalism by next week—but we can sure as hell take a vacation from it.

This year, while we won’t be able to keep up the tradition of bringing Red May speakers to our space, you can still take your vacation from capitalism—Red May is broadcasting their full calendar of events! Take a look at some of the highlights from this upcoming month of alternatives to capitalism:

The Antifada podcast (5/7) is a one-stop destination for “Ultra-Left-Post-Posadist-Nihilist-Anarcho-Communist-comedy and politics.” In this episode, our hosts delve into the effects of the coronavirus on our workforce and examine the future of work at a rare moment when almost nobody is working.

Negative solidarity: an aggressively enraged sense of injustice—the belief that “Because I endure lousy working conditions (wage freezes, no benefits, increasing precarity) everyone else must too.” Will this viewpoint expand in scope and intensity after the quarantine? Sit in with Jason Read, Jeremy Gilbert, Jo Isaacson, Steven Shaviro, and moderator Bruno George for a panel discussion on The Future of Negative Solidarity (5/9).

The Dig (5/15) is an acclaimed podcast from Jacobin magazine, featuring journalist and host Dan Denvir. He sits down with Holly Jean Buck from the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability for a discussion on global warming, technology, and the work ahead of us for repairing our relationship with our planet.

The Behind The News podcast (5/21) brings together Asad Haider, Jodi Dean, Leo Panitch and moderator Doug Henwood for a wide-ranging panorama of the current moment: how will the coronavirus affect our country, and what strategies should the Left follow to derail the next push for more austerity?

Dissent magazine has been called one of America’s leading intellectual journals and a mainstay of the democratic left, with a mission to cultivate the next generation of labor journalists, cultural critics, and political polemicists. They bring us an episode of their Belabored podcast (5/24), delivering punchy labor journalism from Cal Winslow and Emily Cunningham with Michel Chen and Sarah Jaffe.

In her book Capital is Dead McKenzie Wark poses a provocative thought experiment: what if we are not in capitalism anymore—but something worse? Political theorist Jodi Dean sits down with Wark with a forward-looking conversation on Communism or Neo-Feudalism (5/25).

Coronavirus has shone a harsh light on the US carceral state. Just like with nursing homes and elder care facilities, the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at jails, prisons, and penitentiaries are ideal conditions for the incubation and spread of the virus. Red May convenes a panel of local experts for a discussion on The Covid Crisis and the Carceral State (5/30).

Still curious about Red May? You can take a look at their full festival calendar on their website—or dig into previous Red May events at Town Hall with a look into our archives.

What Are People Doing? Seattle Shakespeare

Every week the Town Crier blog looks back at Seattle’s near-forgotten Town Crier magazine to see what was happening, and talk about what’s happening now. One of the largest sections of the original Town Crier was “What People Are Doing,” highlighting things like, “Miss Pollock spoke of ‘Experiences and Opportunities in France’” and, “Mrs. Castlen, one of the active promoters of horseback riding in the city, carried off the blue in the polo class and was the only woman competing against the army officers.” In this series we’re revisiting the old column and tying it to our community’s current happenings, asking: “what are people doing?”

“Next week the Shakespeare fans are going to have their innings and there will be a whole week given over to the plays of the immortal Bard of Avon at the Metropolitan,” wrote the Town Crier on May 7, 1921. Seattle’s love of Shakespeare, then and now, certainly can’t be denied. 

It’s been documented that Shakespeare wrote some of his plays from home during the 1603 outbreak of bubonic plague. Would that we all had the resolve to write a masterpiece right now—but second best to that is watching some of the Bard’s plays in action. Luckily, Seattle Shakespeare Company has us covered. They’ve put together a collection of streaming options for viewing Shakespeare performances at home, and have partnered with local artists to present “Ruff Reads” of classic plays. And for those who want to put on their own productions, they’re even offering resources for teaching Shakespeare’s work.

Of course, the ‘Crier had its own idea of what a good performance looked like. “John E. Kellerd comes again with his company and those who have heard him will remember the delightful simplicity with which he reads his lines. In his creed, ‘The Play’s the Thing,’ and he never smothers it with upholstery and mouthings.” A high bar to beat, indeed.

“Incidentally, you’ll be surprised to see the number of Shakespeare devotees in this town. ‘Best people,’ you know, and all that sort of thing.” 

Stay healthy, all you best people out there.

Town Hall Livestream Tips & FAQs

With the recent switch from in person to livestreamed events, we’ve received a few questions about where and how to watch events on our digital platform. We understand that livestreaming is a brave new world for some folks, so we thought we’d include a few tips and tricks to make your event viewing just a little easier.

How to watch an upcoming livestream event in Crowdcast 

  1. Visit our Event Listings page.
  2. Choose the event you would like to watch.
  3. Enter a contribution. All events are pay what you will, so any amount from $0-$100 or beyond(!) is welcome.
  4. Next you will be prompted to enter your email address or social media login. 
  5. An email will be sent to confirm your registration, along with the option to add the event to your calendar.* 
  6. Click on the link in the confirmation email to join the event. 
  7. Enjoy!

*Note you may have to download the Crowdcast app if you are watching the event on an Iphone. 

How to watch an upcoming livestream event on Youtube

  1. Visit Town Hall’s YouTube Page.
  2. Click on the event you would like to watch.
  3. Enjoy!*

*If the event is in the future, set a reminder for yourself with the date and time to be sure you don’t miss it!

Want to watch an event after it occurred?

We have a wide range of videos in our archive and most events can be watched after the livestream has occurred. Visit our Media Library archive to enjoy our previous events.

Running late to an event?

On Crowdcast or Youtube, it’s easy to rewind an event if you are joining in late.

Just hover your cursor over the video and drag it back to the beginning of the event.

Still having complications?

If you have any trouble logging in, or joining the livestream please feel free to email Our friendly Patron Services team will be online before and after each event to assist with any event questions. 

Thank you so much for being patient and willing to try new things as we develop systems to continue community conversation in the new world!

Stay safe and be well,

– Your friends at Town Hall

Shouting From The Margins

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many historically marginalized groups are finding themselves facing prejudice, animosity, and rejection by a system already stacked against them. But South Seattle Emerald founder Marcus Harrison Green is stepping forward as proof that if you speak loudly enough, your voice can still triumph, even from the margins. 

In a typical Town Hall season, we select Artists or Scholars in Residence and give them the literal keys to the building so they can engage with our programs and develop original events for the community. This year, in consideration of the current global crisis, we’re altering our Residency platform to present a podcast residency.

In partnership with South Seattle Emerald, Town Hall presents Life on the Margins. Co-hosts Marcus Harrison Green, Enrique Cerna, and Jini Palmer share stories not just about marginalized communities, but from within, and alongside them. In each bi-weekly installment of this residency podcast, they engage with the narratives and experiences of our city, sharing them more widely with the Town Hall community.

Alexander Eby: Back in 2017 you served as Town Hall’s Scholar In Residence. What’s got you excited to be working with Town Hall again?

Marcus Harrison Green: It’s great, to be honest with you I feel almost as if I never left. Town Hall is such a central hub of the city when it comes to civic engagement, when it comes to featuring  public intellectuals, provisions of space for communities to come to and gather together and feel as if they are a part of the fabric of the city. Even after I left as the Scholar In Residence I would still go and participate in talks, I would go to and attend talks that were very insightful life affirming and challenging. And, well I’m not a really religious person, but I imagine it’s like the feeling of having worked at a church for a while as a youth minister or what have you, and then shifting to becoming a congregant. So even though I wasn’t necessarily there in an official capacity anymore, I was certainly there in intellectual or an emotional one. So it’s almost as if I never left.

I think the Beach Boys said something like this once, trying to create an experience where people can go from it, but can never leave it. And that’s really what Town Hall is to me. Even though I’ve gone from the physical space, it stays with you. It makes an indelible imprint upon you.

AE: Can you tell me a bit about Life On The Margins? What inspired this project?

MHG: I think for us—myself and my co-hosts Enrique Cerna and Jini Palmer—I think like anyone, we’re all consumers of media, whether that’s broadcast or printed or digital. For us, this podcast came about because we were seeing a need that wasn’t met, and conversations that weren’t being had with any regularity on a lot of mainstream platforms. We really wanted to hone in on what’s been going on with marginalized communities, on their stories. Our city and county, certainly before the coronavirus, have been seeing this shift and reconfiguration. And even now I think it’s more important when you have this pandemic that we’re all experiencing, and the potential for certain communities, especially communities of color, to be disproportionately hurt. 

I know that the early local numbers don’t quite match to what’s been going on nationally—I think in Louisiana, 70% of the deaths that have been recorded are African-America, and there’s been a huge surge of COVID cases in the Latino community. If these numbers are any indication, it’ll be communities of color who will be hurt the most. And I think that even though we are empathizing with and featuring the stories of communities of color,  this is still something that affects people who are within our community, within the fabric of Seattle and King County. These are stories that affect us all, so we’re just trying to bring some light where darkness once was.

AE: With the quarantine directly affecting everyone’s lives right now, the first episode of Life On The Margins is very much reflective of this moment in time. What kind of direction do you hope to take the show in future episodes? 

MHG: We definitely want to make this a longer-running podcast series, and this is just season 1. We felt that, given the current state of the world, that would certainly be a good topic to explore in this 6-episode run. So that will be the thrust of it for the first few episodes, but obviously life is large, so we want to try to highlight other things that are going on. And we’re definitely acknowledging that people are experiencing some COVID fatigue, shall we say, and many folks want to take their minds off of what’s going on around them. 

AE: I’m curious about your thoughts on this—the idea of self-isolation and quarantine as a sort of blueprint for collective action. Once the quarantines are lifted, how can we use this shared experience to motivate ourselves and others to show up for other causes and make change in other parts of society?

MHG: We keep hearing this mantra repeatedly right now, “we’re all in this together.” One of the things this time of quarantine has given us is to be somewhat introspective and contemplative. I think that’s allowed people to interrogate and examine what that actually means, for all of us to be in this together. What does that look like in practice? Lots of people are scanning fundraising pages for different organizations and thinking about their $1200 stimulus check, thinking maybe they don’t necessarily need all of it. I know this is all indefinite, but I think when all of this is over it will have shown us that if we can come together in the worst of times, why can’t we in the best of times? 

I think we’re going to see an awakening, an acknowledgement of other people’s humanity and empathy. I people on my daily walk, people who used to hurry to pass you by—now their cadence is slower and more deliberate, and they actually wave and say hi. This is a period where we can use this time to look within ourselves and learn to extend our locus of concern to other people.

AE: What’s on your quarantine reading list? 

MHG: Right now it’s a lot of the Stoics. I’m in the middle of reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. It poses a question a question to me that’s applicable not just to this time period but to life in general, which challenges me to wake up every morning and face this strangeness and uncertainty and ask myself “how do I want to be remembered in this time, and how do I want to remember myself in this time?” Was I a better friend, a better son, a better roommate? Did I cultivate resilience? Was I kind, was I generous? Was I somebody who I was proud to be? And I think anything that can challenge you day by day to be a person who’s better because they’ve endured the worst. I know it’s a 3000-year-old text, but that still resonated with me.

I’ve also been reading How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi, Nickel And Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. Then there’s Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas, and I’m about to start Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Maree Brown—I’m trying to knock out about one a week. 

AE: Who do you have lined up for future guests on the show?

MHG: We’re definitely trying to get a range of people, to strike a balance between the sort of well-known figures and everyday people, if you will. We’ll certainly have a mixture. At the end of the day, what we sought out with our guests was people who had an interesting story, or an interesting take or stance to share with our listenership. We do have Luis Rodriguez coming up actually on the next episode. He and his wife Leona are very prominent because of their famed and venerable coffee shop called The Station coffee house, which is continuing to help serve people in need and bring people together.

AE: What’s one message you want to send to listeners of Life On The Margins, and to Seattle in general? 

MHG: I would say that we have an opportunity here to really sit still and really examine life as it is, and ask if we want it to continue to be this way. I think it’s time to really focus on what matters, and to maybe rethink things. We’re always in this frenzy of life, we barely have time to think because we always have to move on to the next thing and the next thing after that. And now we have the time to not take things for granted—just saying hello in a coffee shop, sending a message to a loved one expressing that you care. This is the kind of time where we can value life more than we have done and cherish it more than we have done. How do we want to show up in this world today, how do I want to be present, what do I want to take away? That’s something we can do now, and I hope it’s something we can bring forward into the future.

Listen to Marcus Harrison Green, in conversation with Jini Palmer and Enrique Cerna plus special guests, every two weeks with new episodes of Life On The Margins

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