A Last Letter From Ruth
April 30, 2021
I arrived at SAL in the summer of 2013, and my very first SAL event was Malcolm Gladwell at Town Hall. I was so nervous that Rebecca basically had to push me out onto the stage to introduce him; I put my remarks in a heavy file folder so no one would see my hands shaking. There were just four of us on staff then, and when we moved our offices that summer, it was all of us moving boxes with the help of Expedia volunteers and a kind intern driving our rented U-Haul.
In the years that have followed, there have been so many extraordinary memories—the collective cathartic scream with Marina Abramovic a week after the 2016 election, a whole audience dancing to James McBride’s Good Lord Bird Band, Anthony Doerr talking about creative failure, 2,500 people at Benaroya Hall silent and leaning in as Jesmyn Ward spoke softly about her hopes that her son will live “to 16 and 26 and 36.”
I’ve read and fallen in love with so many authors through SAL, loved listening to them, scribbled their words in what I call my “glitter file,” and continued to go back to think about and learn from them. And then there have been the magical behind the scenes moments—Elizabeth Gilbert climbing in the back seat of my car to snuggle my dog on the drive to the airport, Teju Cole spontaneously swirling me into a dance after a late dinner at Marjorie’s, hearing Viet Thanh Nguyen transfix a group of high school students, being stuck in traffic on I-5 with Cheryl Strayed, watching Alison Bechdel sign a drill a theatre teacher had named in her honor, learning Ben Fountain takes care of a feral cat colony in Austin. Backstage, I’ve gotten to watch every visiting author greet the WITS student who was about to open the evening as a literary superstar and peer, and I’ve been handed the phones of what feels like half the population of Seattle to snap pictures with our incredible guests.
Over these years, SAL has grown and changed, and my life has changed as well. I lost my mom to cancer, I got divorced, and my dog died. Yet also, I published my first book, I learned to walk onstage without trembling, I adopted a new dog. Through each sorrow and each joy, there were books—books that inspired me, books that brought comfort, books that changed how I saw the world, books that helped me imagine new possibilities. Throughout my time at SAL, I’ve been awed and humbled by the power of books and of community. How coming together to deeply listen is a sacred and transformative thing. I’ve heard from so many of you about books you’ve loved, books you’ve hated, books that have moved you. It’s been an honor to get to share your reading and your lives, and to share my reading and my life with you.
SAL for me has been a place where we’ve gotten to come together in curiosity and love of books, and that has been an incredible gift and joy. I’m forever indebted to my colleagues and co-conspirators in this work—each person who has worked at SAL during this time, each person who has served on our board, our many interns and volunteers, the donors and partners who have supported our work, the colleagues and thought-partners who have helped me puzzle through challenges and grow. It has been a privilege to learn from and with all of you, and to get to be part of this extraordinary community.
I’m grateful to pass the SAL baton to an incredible team and strong organization, with Rebecca Hoogs’ fabulous leadership as Interim ED, a talented staff of 11, a marvelous board, a clear vision of the future, and an engaged community of partners and supporters in the work ahead. I’ll continue to be a SAL superfan and donor and cheerleader from my new post at the National Book Foundation—I hope you’ll stay in touch, and particularly if you have ideas about how NBF can help support readers everywhere and the national literary ecosystem. You can find me going forward at [email protected].
Meanwhile, thank you for all the kindness and support you’ve shown to me and to SAL, and I wish you each books that bring you the world, and rich webs of conversation and connection to nourish and sustain you.
All my warm and grateful best,
SAL Executive Director