Five Questions: Pam Jolley, SAL Board President
December 17, 2015
By Simon Tran, Development Intern
As Development Intern at Seattle Arts & Lectures, much of my time is spent writing grant renewals and working on mailings (lots of mailings…). Having major holidays fall during the duration of this internship, I’ve had practice folding letters and working a magical machine that meters the postage. But I can’t complain—I am quickly learning why all the behind- the-scenes work of the development department is so important. It really does lead to great moments connecting with the community through art and literature.
I thought a lot about these moments when I recently had the chance to speak with Pam Jolley, SAL’s Board President. Currently in her sixth year with the board and her second as president, Pam is a lifelong resident of Seattle. She attended the University of Washington, where she met her husband Jack. Although she moved away from the city for ten years, she came back with fervor, becoming involved with many community organizations upon her return. She has volunteered with Seattle Opera, engaged with the work of local schools, supported capital campaigns across the city and chaired a number of charitable auctions.
Pam began our interview by telling me that she is “not a writer, and [she] will never be a writer.” However, her prowess of storytelling and her passion for literature was palpable and very exciting to experience first hand. Plus, I came out of the interview with a terrific reading list.
Simon Tran: What was one of the first things that inspired you to get involved with SAL on a deeper level?
Pam Jolley: After attending lecture series events, I would always leave uplifted and inspired by these writers. I just loved everything I saw!
And then, I would say my turning point in how I view the organization came a few years ago, before I was on the board. My husband Jack and I had been invited to SAL’s fundraiser, Words Matter. Jack was the winning bidder for a dinner for eight with David Domke, journalist and Chair of the University of Washington’s Communications Department. We invited my husband’s book club and their spouses to the dinner, who had all read David’s book, The God Strategy.
That night, we had the opportunity to talk to David about anything we wanted. It was incredible to hear him discuss his research, what he’s working on, and everything in the book about religion and politics—it was a pretty lively conversation. And, I just thought, Wow. What Seattle Arts & Lectures is doing with the benefit auction is incredibly special, because it allows people to have this unique access to writers, and you can’t just go out and buy that.
That led me to really look at the whole way Seattle Arts & Lectures opens the door to the public, to view the creativity of writers and their processes. I also realized how unique the whole organization is, with its programs, the Writers in the Schools (WITS), and how it opens its doors for teenagers and young children to get in touch with their creative processes.
ST: What is one of the most memorable moments in your work with SAL?
PJ: Since I’ve been on the board, I’ve started to make a point to go to the year-end readings by WITS students at the Seattle Public Library in May. It’s amazing to me that such beautiful poetry can come out of young people who have yet to really experience much of life as adults view it. I’m in awe of people who can tap into their innermost feelings with poetry and, even to this day, several of those poems stick with me. These poems are about things most of us just couldn’t fathom—they express these moving, personal experiences that these kids and teenagers have had. It’s not all so emotional—there are some happy poems, too—but it just runs the gamut.
ST: What is a book you remember reading from your childhood that affected you?
I would have to say Heidi. It’s a book that all girls read. That book takes place in the Alps—I have family in that part of the world—and reading that book helped me feel closer to those family members, like my grandparents whom I rarely got to see. I loved reading about the featherbeds, and the mountain flowers, and the woods. In the book, Heidi is taken from her mountain home to be a friend to a girl with disabilities named Clara, who lives in Frankfurt, and she is taken away from her grandfather. I just loved reading it. It just kept me.
ST: What are you reading now? What is on your nightstand?
PJ: I am almost done with The Prize by Jill Bialosky. It’s about an art gallerist and his prize artist. All kinds of relationships are falling apart in this book. His marriage, his relationship with his star artist. He’s meeting all these women from his past, and he says, “Oh God, what am I doing?” And, it has this huge cast of fascinating characters. After that, I’m going to read Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb.
But, I have to tell you, I’m kind of cheating, because the real top of my stack is Lapham’s Quarterly—their fashion issue. The other night I read about a Japanese gentleman who really invented the Ivy Style. In1950s-era Japan, it was really hard to get those styles made. Because this designer didn’t have the patterns or the material goods, he had to rummage through discarded piles of G.I. clothing—Khakis, and neckties, and Seersucker jackets. And, he tried to copy those styles.
ST: What is the need for readers and writers now?
PJ: I think that everyone has a story to get out, even if they’re not writers. I told you that when we first sat down, I am not a writer, and I never will be. But, I have an amazing story in my head that centers on someone I met a few years ago, who happens to be a professor at Notre Dame. He was a former sniper for the Yugoslavian army. And now, he’s living in the United States teaching physics! So I just thought, that’s an amazing story.
The other part of why writers are important is writers who can really develop their characters serve a purpose in allowing us, as readers, to identify with so many more people than we meet face to face. I mean, how many characters have we read, thinking, “Oh, my gosh. This is an amazing person, I completely identify with this person.”
My advice for readers is, if you have a passion, dive into that passion. My son just devours books. He reads philosophy. He works in investment banking, but when he comes home, he just reads all of these books that get him thinking, how does this apply to my daily environment? Reading is the best opportunity for people become more knowledgeable about their passions.