Afterwords, Commentary

Afterwords // Eating Words at the Seattle Edible Book Festival

Seattle Edible Book Festival

Saturday, March 31 12:00 – 3:00pm at The Good Shepherd Center

Admission: $10 or free for those bringing entries/entrees


See below for a preview of the event by Poetry Northwest contributing writer Carmen Free



The Bun Also Rises









Jurassic Tart












DJ Night Train spins real vinyl albums while cold, wet Seattleites warm up to coffee and tea as this most unusual of literary festivals begins. Smells of baked goods, French fries and toast drift into the entrance of the Good Shepherd Center. Visiting families thread their way through the tables full of fabulous displays, making an extra effort to stop their children from trying to taste the exhibits. The Seattle Edible Book Festival is a tongue-in-page celebration of the art created when favorite books meet innovative cooking. Participants encounter displays such as “A Sweet Car Named Desire” and “The Bun Also Rises,” in categories like “Most Punderful” and the “Best Young Edible Artist.” Then, as the exhibit time comes to a close and the award ceremony begins, throngs of people stake out their favorite books for a chance to eat it when the signal is given.

Like so many others in this region, I have had a love affair with books for most of my life. My love of food is equally strong, making this festival the ménage-a-trois of bibliophilic, foodie fantasies. When I read about the Seattle Center for Book Arts (SCBA) celebrating books, food and the people who love both, I jumped at the chance. What better way to lift myself out of the mid-winter blues than to see what contestants have cooked up with their favorite pick? As I wandered and wondered at the exhibits (Just how *did* they cook French fries to look like Jesus?) I couldn’t help but be curious about the source of all of this.

Judith A. Hoffberg, a librarian, and Beatrice Coron, French book and paper artist, created The Edible Book Festival to honor the French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826), author of the still-in-print La Physiologie du GoĂ»t (The Physiology of Taste). Brillat-Savarin was a lawyer and politician turned gastronomist who coined the phrase “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” In January 2005, calligrapher and bookbinder Lillian Dabney created the not-for-profit Seattle Center for Book Arts. Now in its seventh year, the SCBA has raised funds to keep up programs such as the Seattle Edible Book Festival.

Organizer Janet Fryberger describes the Edible Festival as a “loving, free-for-all environment.” She estimates that half of the attendees are participants ready to praise and proudly show off their work. “Geeky punsters, teachers, librarians, artists, actors and students” make up a portion of the broad range of festival-goers. Every year, local celebs such as Nancy Guppy, the host of the Art Zone, Kurt B. Reighley, a writer for The Stranger, and Mary Ann Guinn, Seattle Times Book Editor, along with several others, sit in as judges for the competition. Culinary heavy-weight Julia Child (played by actress Imogen Love) made a lasting impression at last year’s celebration and is due to return again, bringing such friends as Benjamin Franklin and Gertrude Stein.

When asked about any memories she was particularly fond of, Janet recalls an email from a teacher in Elma, Washington, 90 miles southwest of Seattle, asking if she could bring her students. She showed up with fifteen to twenty kids asking where to park the bus. Specializing in teaching middle-school children with reading challenges, the teacher found that the Edible Book Festival provided another tool to get students excited about books. The kids were so thrilled that the school ended up holding its own edible festival for all the children that couldn’t go.

Entering events like this is great way for an artist to move into a new medium, or for chefs to learn new ways of connecting with food and the people they’re cooking for. For a book lover, it’s a way to see how others have interpreted a book for which they may have fond memories. I enjoyed a great family-friendly afternoon in the Pacific Northwest and left the Good Shepherd Center wishing for more days like that.

This year’s festival falls on Saturday March 31st from 12:00 to 3:00pm at the Good Shepherd Center. Registration for entries ends on March 28th at midnight. Anyone can enter. For details and directions, check out the festival website at

Janet Fryberger, event coordinator extraordinaire and the president of the board of directors at SCBA, has announced that this will be the last year for the event unless some new organizers can pick up the torch. If you or someone you know wants to know more, Janet can be contacted at


– Carmen Free, Contributing Writer