There are thousands of hardworking historic bridges of all shapes and sizes scattered across North America. However, when it comes to literary recognition, a small handful of creek-spanning covered bridges in the middle of rural South Central Iowa have long hogged the spotlight. (Thanks a ton Oprah).
The Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, in partnership with the Seattle Department of Transportation, is looking to switch things up by drawing much-deserved attention to a quartet of historic drawbridges that traverse the Lake Washington Ship Canal, a navigable passage that cuts through the heart of the Emerald City. A beloved part of Seattle’s urban fabric (beloved unless you’re snarled in traffic waiting for one of the bridges to close), these spans are amongst the busiest — and most frequently opened — vehicular drawbridges in the world.
As it approaches its centennial year, the busiest and bluest of the bunch, the Fremont Bridge, will serve as the site of an artistic residency in which one lucky scribe will be selected to spend the summer holed up in the bridge's northwest tower. The residency, open to professional (sorry, no students) published writers of poetry, fiction or creative nonfiction, will take place from June through August. It also includes a $10,000 stipend. Not bad — certainly a decent chunk for a summer writing gig that entails scribbling away from the confines of a drawbridge tower.
Here’s the catch: the writer selected for the Fremont Bridge residency can’t spend their days toiling away on an unrelated YA tome, a sci-fi trilogy or a work of fan fiction concerning the Oregon militia standoff. That is, unless said YA tome, sci-fi trilogy or Oregon militia fan fiction directly involves the Fremont Bridge. As detailed by residency organizers, the work must be about the Fremont Bridge — an “in-depth exploration of the bridge” that’s written “in response to the experience.”
Built in 1917, Fremont Bridge opens and closes an average of 35 times a day making it one of the most active drawbridges in the world. (Photo: Rob Bertholf/flickr)
In addition to producing a written work that “shall represent or illuminate some aspect of the bridge and the bridge’s history, be it real or metaphorical,” the artist-in-residence is also expected to maintain a blog or social media presence and participate in community engagement events.
Whatever the case, this certainly doesn’t mean that a steamy, infrastructure-themed romance novel is totally out of the question. “The Bascules of King County,” anyone?
In addition to clarifying that there is not a troll dwelling under the Fremont Bridge (he lives under the nearby Aurora Bridge, a much larger cantilever and truss bridge which also connects the neighborhoods of Fremont and Queen Anne), it should also be made clear that the residency isn’t a 24/7 stint.
Basically, the Fremont Bridge’s northwest tower will serve as a writing studio, not a habitable apartment. Despite what some headlines about the residency have suggested, the chosen writer/poet isn’t allowed to actually live and/or host slumber parties in the tower. Rather, the tower — measuring 13-by-8-feet, the space lacks running water but is outfitted with a desk, chair, overhead lights, and window AC unit — is to be used as “a studio, a platform for observing the bridge and its surroundings, or as a base from which to interact with the community.”
Applicants also must reside in Seattle proper or within a 100-mile radius of the city.
The northwest tower of the Fremont Bridge: Welcome to the most unique writing studio in town. (Photo: Brett Lider/flickr)
Tasked with opening and closing the bascule span an average of 35 times per day to allow maritime traffic to pass underneath, the Fremont Bridge’s operator works on the opposite end of the bridge, in the southeast tower.
Applications, which must include a formal letter of interest, work samples, resume, and references, must be submitted to the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture by Feb. 16.
“The word is out, people are really interested in this opportunity,” Kristen Ramirez, a visual artist and public art project manager for the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, explains to KING 5 News. “I think Seattle puts itself on the map for being a city of innovators and creative thinkers, it’s an opportunity to celebrate this unusual piece of civic infrastructure that we have.”
In addition to helping head up this summer’s residency, Ramirez is also a former Fremont Bridge artist-in-residence having created a temporary sound installation for the bridge in 2009.
For those not moved to write in and about drawbridges, the city is also accepting applications for a special lighting artist residency at University Bridge. Built in 1919, University Bridge is another of the four historic double-leaf bascule bridges that span the Lake Washington Ship Canal. That residency will be held September through November.