In the early 1980s a group of literary artists calling themselves Invisible Seattle produced a series of intelligent and humorous Bumbershoot events that drew large crowds. When in 1983 the group realized that Seattle had no great civic novel like so many other world cities, it proposed to helpthe city write its own great novelabout itself.
That summer, dressed as literary workers in jumpsuits and hard hats (with a question mark on them, no less), members of Invisible Seattle interviewed citizens in a series of laugh-filled public events that culminated in the public composition of a draft of “The Novel of Seattle, by Seattle" at Bumbershoot. Mayor Charles Royer, himself, threw out the ceremonial first word at the event. In the wake of the “Novel” project, starting in 1983, Invisible Seattle members collaborated using available technology (desktop computers, phone lines and 300 bps modems) to create irreverent, cultured, often hilarious texts in new forms. Alongside the creative writing, they reflected on their online adventures and made remarkably accurate predictions about the coming possibilities of online digital culture. The result of the group’s efforts was a new form of literature accessible via computers. This activity helped them realize that what they had created in “The Novel of Seattle, by Seattle” was essentially a “database novel.” For five years the group continued to produce remix versions of “The Novel of Seattle, by Seattle,” including The True Text of Version 5.2, published in print by Function Industries Press.
Now close to 30 years since their original contribution to the literary art scene of Seattle, Invisible Seattle is going to be visible again.
The project is one of the featured exhibits at the upcoming “Electronic Literature” exhibit at the 2012 Annual Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention taking place Seattle, WA from January 5-8, 2012 at the Washington State Convention Center. The exhibit is curated by Dene Grigar, Lori Emerson, and Kathi Inman Berens.
Because the MLA conference draws over 5000 Humanities scholars and artists from all over the world, a new generation of literary art lovers will become acquainted with Invisible Seattle and rediscover the novel the city wrote about itself.
Grigar, who teaches at Washington State University Vancouver and specializes in electronic literature, believes that the time is ripe for highlighting pioneering work like Invisible Seattle. “With the mainstreaming of computer games with a strong narrative content and the ubiquitous presence of YouTube and other channels of communication making digital stories so readily available, it is time to establish the contributions of pioneering work like Invisible Seattle to the development of digital media.” Dr. Mark Marino, who teaches literature at USC and recommended the project for inclusion to the exhibit to Grigar, notes that “Invisible Seattle was among the first to play intelligently with many aspects of digital writing that entered the mainstream only decades later.” He points out that Invisible Seattle was “experimenting with collaborative, public diaries, as an art form years before blogs became common. They were writing under different pseudonyms. And they were very aware of how what they were doing was part of the long tradition of the literary avant garde.”
The group's work in its online literary magazine and creative laboratory called IN.S.OMNIA (which stood for Invisible Seattle's Omnia) was highlighted in computer magazines, theater and performance magazines, and literary journals throughout the '80s, bringing the group notoriety on the East Coast and in Europe. Noted avant grade writers, such as Harry Mathews and Jacques Roubaud, collaborated with the group, and French philosopher Jacques Derrida sponsored a Fulbright Scholarship to Paris for two Invisible Seattle members. Members of the group have gone on to do groundbreaking work recognized by the Electronic Literature Organization, headquartered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.