Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson

Past Event: Wednesday, November 8, 2000

At Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

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Literary Arts

Sponsored by The Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas.

Jeanette Winterson had an unusual childhood. She was born in 1959 in Manchester, England and was adopted by Pentecostal parents, who brought her up in the nearby mill-town of Accrington. From an early age, her parents groomed her to become a missionary and by the time she was eight, Winterson was writing and delivering sermons at local church “tent meetings.” Reading was not encouraged in the Winterson home unless it was the Bible, which was one of six books in the family library. However, Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur was also in the collection, and it was reading this classic that spurred Winterson’s life-long fascination with reading and writing.

At 15, Winterson’s love affair with another girl was discovered and condemned by her church and community. She left home at 16 and supported herself for the next few years through various odd jobs, including working as an ice-cream van driver, a funeral parlor make-up artist, and a domestic worker in a mental institution. While working, she continued her education and eventually earned her B.A. in English from Oxford University in 1981.

After college, Winterson worked for the next six years in London for a theatre and then for a publishing company. During that time she wrote her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), which won the prestigious Whitbred Award for a first novel. With the release of her next two award-winning novels, The Passion (1987) and Sexing the Cherry (1989), Winterson established herself as a highly original new voice in contemporary literature. These novels, as well as her later works, explore the topics and themes of feminism, fantasy, sexuality, history, and myth, with lyrical and imaginative prose. The New York Times remarked that Winterson “possesses the ability to combine the biting satire of Swift with the ethereal magic of Garcia Marquez, the ability to reinvent old myths even as she creates new ones of her own.” Winterson is also the author of the experimental novels Written on the Body (1992), Art and Lies (1994) and Gut Symmetries (1997), as well as a collection of essays, Art Objects (1995).

Winterson is the recipient of numerous awards, including the BAFTA Best Drama and the Prix Italia awards for her television adaptation of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit; the John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize for The Passion; and the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for Sexing the Cherry. Her work has been translated into more than 16 languages. She resides in England in the Gloucestershire countryside and in London.

Excerpt from The Passion (1998)
There is a city surrounded by water with watery alleys that do for streets and roads and silted up back ways that only the rats can cross. Miss your way, which is easy to do, and you may find yourself staring at a hundred eyes guarding a filthy palace of sacks and bones. Find your way, which is easy to do, and you may meet an old woman in a doorway. She will tell your fortune, depending on your face.

This is the city of mazes. You may set off from the same place to the same place every day and never go by the same route. If you do so, it will be by mistake. Your bloodhound nose will not serve you here. Your course in compass reading will fail you. Your confident instructions to passers-by will send them to squares they have never heard of, over canals not listed in the notes.

Although wherever you are going is always in front of you, there is no such thing as straight ahead. No as the crow flies short cut will help you to reach the café just over the water. The short cuts are where the cats go, through the impossible gaps, round corners that seem to take you the opposite way. But here, in this mercurial city, it is required you do awake your faith.

With faith, all things are possible.

Rumour has it that the inhabitants of this city walk on water. That, more bizarre still, their feet are webbed. Not all feet, but the feet of the boatmen whose trade is hereditary.

This is the legend.

When a boatman’s wife finds herself pregnant she waits until the moon is full and the night empty of idlers. Then she takes her husband’s boat and rows to a terrible island where the dead are buried. She leaves her boat with rosemary in the bows so that the limbless ones cannot return with her and hurries to the grave of the most recently dead in her family. She has brought her offerings: a flask of wine, a lock of hair from her husband and a silver coin. She must leave the offerings on the grave and beg for a clean heart if her child be a girl and boatman’s feet if her child be a boy. There is no time to lose. She must be home before dawn and the boat must be left for a day and a night covered in salt. In this way, the boatmen keep their secrets and their trade. No newcomer can compete. And no boatman will take off his boots, no matter how you bribe him. I have seen tourists throw diamonds to the fish, but I have never seen a boatman take off his boots.

Selected WorkThe Powerbook (2000)Gut Symmetries (1997)Written on the Body (1992)Sexing the Cherry (1989)The Passion (1987)Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985)

LinksJeanette Winterson’s own siteThe Modern Word’s biography on interview with WintersonThe Jeanette Winterson Reader’s Site

Event Details

Benaroya Hall — S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium

200 University Street
Seattle, WA 98101

View directions.

Transportation & Parking

This event will be held in the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium, the largest event space at Benaroya Hall. 

Benaroya Hall is located at 200 University Street, directly across Second Avenue from the Seattle Art Museum. The public entrance to Benaroya Hall is along Third Avenue.

By Car

  • From Southbound I-5
    Take the Union Street exit (#165B). Continue onto Union Street and proceed approximately five blocks to Second Avenue. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5
    Exit left onto Seneca Street (exit #165). Proceed two blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.
  • From Northbound I-5 via Westbound I-90
    Take the 2C exit for I-5 North. Follow signs for Madison Street/Convention Place and merge right onto Seventh Avenue. Turn left onto Madison Street. Proceed three blocks and turn right onto Fourth Avenue. Continue four blocks. Turn left onto Union Street. Continue two blocks. Turn left onto Second Avenue. The Benaroya Hall parking garage will be on your immediate left. The garage entrance is on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street.

By Public Transit (Bus & Light Rail)
Benaroya Hall is served by numerous bus routes. Digital reader boards along Third Avenue display real-time bus arrival information. For details and trip planning tools, call Metro Rider Information at 206.553.3000 (voice) or 206.684.1739 (TDD), or visit Metro online. The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, served by light rail, has a stop just below the Hall (University Street Station).

The 430-car underground garage at Benaroya Hall provides direct access from the enclosed parking area into the Hall via elevators leading to The Boeing Company Gallery. Enter the garage on Second Avenue, just south of Union Street. Maximum vehicle height is 6’8″. Blink charging stations are available for electric vehicles. The event rate is $16.

Parking is also available at:

  • The Cobb Building (enter on University Street between Third and Fourth avenues).
  • The Russell Investments Center (enter on Union Street between First and Second avenues).
  • There are many other garages within a one-block radius of Benaroya Hall, along with numerous on-street parking options.


Open Captioning is an option for people who have hearing loss, where a captioning screen displaying the words that are spoken or sung is placed on stage. This option is present at every event at Benaroya Hall in our 2019/20 Season. For digital streams of online events, all pre-recorded and live online events will have either open or closed captioning.

Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) are devices that people with hearing loss use in conjunction with their hearing device (hearing aids or cochlear implants). Benaroya Hall has an infrared hearing system, which transmits sound by light beams. Headsets are available in The Boeing Company Gallery coat check and the Head Usher stations in both lobbies.

Sign Language Interpretation is available upon request for Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing individuals. To make a request for interpretation, please contact us at or 206.621.2230×10, or select “Sign Language Interpretation” from the Accessibility section during your ticket checkout process and we will contact you to confirm details. Please note: we appreciate a two-week advance notice to allow us time to secure interpretation.

Wheelchair Accessible Seating and Accessible Restrooms are available in all sections at our venues, and our venues are fully accessible to ticket holders with physical mobility concerns. Among other features, Benaroya Hall has designated parking spaces adjacent to elevators in their parking garage. Elevators with Braille signage go to all levels within the Hall. To reserve seating for a specific mobility concern, you may select “Wheelchair Accessible or Alternative Seating Options” during ticket checkout, and we will contact you to confirm details. For more details on their accessibility features, click here.

Guide and service dogs are welcome.

Gender neutral restrooms are available.

We are pleased to offer these accessibility services at our venues, and they are provided at no additional cost to ticket holders. Please contact us with any questions and feedback about how we can be more accessible and inclusive. Our Patron Services Manager is available at, or Monday-Friday from 10:00am – 5:00pm at 206.621.2230×10.

For more accessibility information, please head to If you would like to make accessibility arrangements you do not see listed here, please contact our box office or select “Other Accommodations” from the Accessibility section during your ticket checkout process, and we will contact you to confirm details.