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Electric and fire-filled books

Locally crafted non-fiction books set the bar

Photo courtesy of Red Letter Press

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Photo: A photo from High Voltage Women, in which Electrical Trades Trainee (ETT) program participants at Seattle City Light in the 1970s, speaking at a press conference to protest layoffs. (Left to right) Jody Olvera, Jennifer Gordon, Megan Cornish, Teri Bach, Angel Arrasmith and Heidi Durham.

There's a current running through the literary community this month, and it's filled with high-powered creative energy. If you haven't felt it yet, you may not be picking up the right books, friends. But you don't have to worry, because we've got three highly charged, regionally crafted book recommendations ready for you:

High Voltage Women by Ellie Belew

Fresh off the press, this non-fiction book gives readers a detailed account of how 10 pioneering women fought their way into Seattle's electrical trade in the 1970s. Published by Red Letter Press, High Voltage Women sheds light on the decades-long struggle for equal and fair representation of women at Seattle City Light (the city's publicly-owned utility), where sexism and racism were rampant during the 1970s and 80s. The book includes an impressive array of research, interviews, first-hand accounts, and correspondence between female civil rights activists, union representatives and city employees involved at the time. It's an homage, a nod to local feminists who paved the way for other tradeswomen by refusing to be shut out of the Seattle City Light for no other reason than their sex.

At just over 200 pages, High Voltage Women is also a surprisingly quick and easily digestible read. Belew writes for the laywomen, steering clear of confusing jargon and tediously long chapters that sometimes bog down non-fiction works. If you're still feeling riled up after finishing the book, head to King's Books May 30, where the author and several of the women featured in the book will hold a reading and signing.  7 p.m., Thursday, May 30, King's Books, 218 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma, Free, 253.272.8801,

Woodland by Knox Gardner

Take a break from the power struggle and pick up a copy of Woodland, a poetry collection by Seattle-based activist and author Knox Gardner, with accompanying music by Aaron Otheim. That's right, a poetry collection with accompanying music ... and it's good, really good. Published by Entre Rios books, Woodland is a themed poetry collection. Its poems were inspired by the fires in British Columbia and California in 2017. Woodland's poems feel dark, romantic and sultry, and they include strong ecological imagery that'll leave you swooning after every page. Throw in images of partially burned sheet music (which you'll find scattered throughout the book) and the haunting melodies of keyboardist Aaron Otheim (which you can download from the publisher) and you've got yourself one hell of a book. A few of my favorite poems include "O the bed and buckskin," "Two: A Swift Willing Light," and "Eight: Deserted Farm." Readers will instinctively know Woodland is about climate catastrophe, but they'll also come to recognize a deep-rooted warning in Gardner's poems: there is beauty coiled in danger, and we must look at it dead-on.   

Human Condition, Issue 3

There's something magical about this independently published, art-centric magazine from Seattle. If you've never heard of Human Condition, you're not alone. The bi-annual magazine is only three issues in the making, but boy-oh-boy is it poised to break onto Tacoma's art scene this summer. Human Condition, Issue 3 includes photography, creative writing, visual art, and artist profiles from regional creators, all with the intent to build community among regional, emerging artists. Issue 3 centers on the theme, "The Fallacy of the American Dream," with creative works featuring varied perspectives on nationalism, ethnicity, freedom, inclusion and exclusion, and freedom. Readers will be delighted to find a lengthy interview with Rose Mathison and Clarissa Grace Gines, co-founders of Culture Shock Collective (a Tacoma-based artists collective supporting queer trans people of color (QTPOC)) inside. Other highlights include "Morning Service," an extended poem by Troy Osaki; and stunning photography by Raphael Gaultier and Avi Loud, featuring Seattle-based ballet dancer and activist Randy Ford. By the time I thumbed through the last pages of this artful magazine, I felt a much stronger connection to the arts community of the Puget Sound.

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