2019 Jack Straw Writers Program

The 2019 Jack Straw Writers, selected by Curator Kathleen Flenniken, are Samar Abulhassan, Dianne Aprile, Josh Axelrad, Christianne Balk, Gabrielle Bates, Leanne Dunic, Shankar Narayan, Sylvia Byrne Pollack, Rena Priest, Putsata Reang, Michael Schmeltzer, and Suzanne Warren.

2019 Writers Program Curator Kathleen Flenniken is a poet and educator. Her collection, Plume, won the Washington State Book Award and was a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. Her first book, Famous, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry and was named a Notable Book by the American Library Association. Her other honors include a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the NEA and Artist Trust. She was the 2012-2014 Washington State Poet Laureate. Kathleen teaches poetry in the schools through Jack Straw and Writers in the Schools and currently serves on the board of Jack Straw.  

Samar Abulhassan holds an M.F.A. from Colorado State University and has worked as a teaching artist for ten years, for Seattle Arts and Lectures' WITS Program, Jack Straw, and the Skagit River Poetry Foundation. Born to Lebanese immigrants and raised with multiple languages, she is a 2006 Hedgebrook alum and the author of multiple chapbooks, including Farah and Nocturnal Temple. She received a 2016 CityArtist grant to complete a novel-in-poems, reflecting on memory, longing, and the Arabic alphabet, ignited while exploring Pike Place Market and Seattle’s waterfront.

Dianne Aprile is the author and editor of nonfiction books, including three book collaborations with visual artists and three gallery collaborations. She teaches Creative Nonfiction on the MFA faculty at Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional Writing. Her current project is a family memoir, from which two excerpts have been nominated for Pushcart prizes. She can be heard reading her essay “Silence” at NPR’s This I Believe website, and she has an essay forthcoming in the Boom Project Anthology (Summer 2019). Her poems have appeared in journals, most recently The Raven Chronicles. Aprile received fellowships from Kentucky Arts Council and Artist Trust; grants from Kentucky Foundation for Women; a Hedgebrook Women Writers Residency and, as a journalist, she was part of a team at the Louisville Courier Journal that won a staff Pulitzer Prize.

Josh Axelrad is a writer and performer from Seattle via New York via L.A. via Hays, Kansas. His memoir, Repeat Until Rich, was published by Penguin Press. A regular at The Moth, he’s hosted StorySlams, appeared on stage nationwide, and been featured on The Moth Radio Hour. 

Christianne Balk grew up in upstate New York, studied biology and art at Grinnell College, English and writing at the University of Iowa, taught at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, and now lives in Seattle. Her poems have appeared in Cirque, Poemoftheweek.org, Women Writing Nature, Floating Bridge Review, Nimrod, Terrain, and other publications. Christianne loves gardening, the Anglo-Saxon rhythms of everyday street talk, and open water swimming. Her most recent book is The Holding Hours (University of Washington Press Pacific Northwest Poetry Series).

Gabrielle Bates works for Open Books: A Poem Emporium, cohosts the Poet Salon podcast, and edits for Poetry Northwest, Broadsided Press, and Bull City Press. Her poems and poetry comics have appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry, and New England Review, among other journals. She is originally from Birmingham, Alabama.

Leanne Dunic is a multidisciplinary artist, musician, and writer. Her work has won several honors, including the Ema Saiko Poetry Fellowship and Alice Munro Short Story Award. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Leanne is the Artistic Director of the Powell Street Festival Society and is the singer/guitarist of The Deep CoveTo Love the Coming End is her first book, and was named one of the best poetry books of 2017 by Entropy Magazine.

Shankar Narayan explores identity, power, mythology, and technology in a world where the body is flung across borders yet possesses unrivaled power to transcend them. Shankar is a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the 2017 Flyway Sweet Corn Poetry Prize, and has been a fellow at Kundiman, Hugo House, and now Jack Straw. He is a 4Culture grant recipient for Claiming Space, a project to lift the voices of writers of color, and his chapbook, Postcards from the New World, won the Paper Nautilus Debut Series chapbook prize. Shankar draws strength from his global upbringing and from his work as a civil rights attorney for the ACLU. In Seattle, he awakens to the wonders of Cascadia every day, but his heart yearns east to his other hometown, Delhi.

Sylvia Byrne Pollack has a collection of soubriquets acquired over the decades, including professor, cancer researcher, mental health counselor, lesbian, Jew, flutist, world traveler.  Among her favorites are Mom, Nana, wife, poet. Sylvia’s poems have appeared in Floating Bridge Review, Crab Creek Review, Clover, and Antiphon as well as other print and online journals. A two-time Pushcart nominee, she won the 2013 Mason's Road Winter Literary Award and was a medalist for the 2014 inaugural Russell Prize. In 2018, her chapbook manuscript Overheard: The Deaf Woman Poems was a finalist for the Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize and received Honorable Mention for the Charlotte Mew Chapbook Contest.

Rena Priest is a writer and Lummi tribal member. Her debut book, Patriarchy Blues, was released on MoonPath Press and garnered an American Book Award. Her most recent collection, Sublime Subliminal, was published by Floating Bridge Press in 2018. She has attended residencies at Mineral School, Underwater New York/Works on Water on Governors Island, and Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers. She is the recipient of a 2018 National Geographic Explorers Grant, and has taught various topics in writing, storytelling, and literature.

Putsata Reang is a Cambodian-American memoirist and journalist. She has lived and worked globally in countries including Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Thailand, where she trained journalists in investigative reporting and advocated for freedom of expression. She is an alum of Hedgebrook and Mineral School residencies, and currently serves as an alum board member of the Mineral School Artist Residency. Her memoir, forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in Spring 2020, explores themes of debt, duty, and the double displacement experienced by gay refugees.

Michael Schmeltzer was born and raised in Japan. He is the co-author of the nonfiction book A Single Throat Opens, a lyric exploration of addiction and family. His debut book Blood Song was a Washington State Book Award Finalist for Poetry. He is a member of Seattle7Writers and currently serves as the President of Floating Bridge Press.

Suzanne Warren is a fiction writer and essayist whose work appears or is forthcoming in Narrative, Gulf Coast, The Cincinnati Review, Memorious, The Prague Revue, Versal, and Post Road, which selected her story “The Raspberry King” to appear in its Guest Folio. Her story “The Country of Husbands” won an Editor’s Reprint Award from Sequestrum. Other writing awards include residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Ucross Foundation. Warren lives in Seattle and is currently at work on her first book, a collection of short stories titled The Country of Husbands.


Jack Straw Cultural Center gratefully acknowledges Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, 4Culture King County Lodging Tax Fund, Washington State Arts Commission, National Endowment for the Arts, ArtsFund, and individual contributors for their support of the Jack Straw Writers Program.

Copyright 2020 Jack Straw CulturalCenter ~ All rights reserved

About the podcasts

Jack Straw Cultural Center produces SoundPages, a podcast featuring excerpts from live readings and interviews highlighting literary artists from the Jack Straw Writers Program.

2019 Podcasts

Dianne Aprile
Shankar Narayan
Sylvia Byrne Pollack
Rena Priest
Samar Abulhassan
Christianne Balk


Previous Jack Straw Writers Program

2018 Writers
2016 Writers
2015 Writers
2014 Writers
2012 Writers
2011 Writers

2009 Writers
2008 Writers
2007 Writers
2006 Writers
2005 Writers
2004 Writers
List of writers to date