Faces of SAL: Vicki Glant
October 20, 2020
By Jenn St. Claire, SAL Board Alumnus
What an over the moon, joyful, and educational experience it was interviewing Vicki Glant, who partnered with Sherry Prowda back in 1989 to help realize Sherry’s dream of starting a literary arts organization in Seattle.
Vicki was one of the original three board members of SAL, along with Michael Stansbury, and local author Marilyn Stablein. Since leaving the board, she has been an invaluable sounding board, cheerleader, and supporter of all things SAL.
I got to chat with Vicki the afternoon of the Margaret Atwood lecture so there was already a good mood, Friday-feeling about the Wednesday afternoon. And once Vicki answered the phone, the day just got better. After the usual Covid, ‘no really… how are you?’ check-ins, we got down to business.
I started the quest to know all things Vicki Glant by asking how she heard about SAL. While laughing, Vicki noted how funny it still is for her to hear Seattle Arts & Lectures referred to as SAL—that loving nickname hadn’t come to be while she was serving on the board.
And, as for her intro to Seattle Arts & Lectures? It feels like this story could start out with the line “Once Upon a Time.” In the late 80s, Vicki and Sherry had kiddos who attended the same pre-school. After dropping their boys off one morning, Sherry asked Vicki to join her for breakfast. (I asked where they’d had this auspicious meal and while Vicki didn’t recall with 100% certainty, she felt it was likely the Hi Spot Café in Madrona. And if it was the Hi Spot—she knew for certain she would have had one of their amazing cinnamon rolls!)
Once they had sat down, Sherry brought up the idea of launching a series of author lectures in Seattle and ended her pitch with, “Wanna help?” to which Vicki enthusiastically replied, “SURE!”
“This idea encompassed many areas and hit many buttons for me, “ Vicki said. “I love literature, I love to read and read widely, I love Seattle and thought this would be something that this city would embrace, and I love working with good friends and people I admire and respect. It was easy to say yes.” Sherry had worked with Portland Arts & Lectures as they were getting their start and had recently moved to Seattle where she didn’t yet know many folks. Vicki, on the other hand, knew everyone. A perfect union.
Vicki’s first Seattle Arts & Lectures event was not only her first SAL event, but the first SAL event. And who was the author for the first SAL event in 1988, you may ask? John Updike. Yes, that John Updike. A promising beginning if ever there was one. Updike became a fan of Seattle Arts & Lectures and talked it up with his fellow authors, telling them they must go west. His efforts helped to launch SAL, and this was the beginning of authors coming out to do a San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle tour. It’s hard to imagine now, but this was rare at the time.
Talk of Mr. Updike led to stories of other authors from those first years, and Vicki shared a few standout moments. I’ll confess, hearing Vicki share memorable happenings of the early days of SAL gave me a serious case of delayed FOMO (fear of missing out, for those who at some point had to Google that). Vicki spoke of dinners at her and her husband Gary’s home, hosting the authors while they were in Seattle to speak. Late night, laughter-filled meals with Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, Louise Erdrich (with her new baby swaddled to her side), Isabel Allende, Donald Barthelme, and more. Over the years, Mary Oliver became a friend. Vicki ended the list by simply saying it was an “incredible privilege.”
Vicki also shared her memory of Salman Rushdie coming to speak at Plymouth Congregational Church (which was Seattle Arts & Lectures’ home for the first few years). Vicki noted the incongruity of having metal detectors at the church and dogs who came in to search before Rushdie arrived. Vicki noted that he demonstrated the value of words and that she felt she had “an obligation to hear what he has to say.” This history makes clear SAL has a long tradition of raising up the voices we need to hear, the voices speaking the hard truths and challenging us to think and be better.
My favorite question to ask of any literary lover is what they are reading. Vicki had just finished what she described as “the most amazing story with trees as the main character.” The Overstory by Richard Powers, while quite a lengthy book, was an incredible one worth the time, and it spurred her to think differently about the world. Her current read is Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. Science fiction was not a genre Vicki had spent much time reading, but she described this book as powerful and thought-provoking.
It’s always fun to ask folks to step into the role of the Seattle Arts & Lectures programmer and ask who they would bring to lecture at SAL. Vicki replied generously that she feels she has seen so many authors speak through the years, now it’s like she is “almost keeping up with Seattle Arts & Lectures.” They are “doing such a great job of introducing new writers to me,” she commented, “I would just let them do it.” High praise indeed from one-half of the dream team that created SAL.
Thank you, Vicki—for taking the time for this interview, for your years of SAL support and for being such an amazing human. I told the SAL folks I wanted to be the president of your fan club after talking with you.