Elizabeth Austen

The Washington State Poet Laureate has poetry for breakfast.

E Austen - Outdoor Headshot - Fat Yeti Photography for blog

Elizabeth Austen. Photo: Fat Yeti Photography.

Elizabeth Austen is the current Washington State Poet Laureate. She is the author of Every Dress a Decision and two chapbooks, The Girl Who Goes Alone and Where Currents Meet. Reading Habits is a recurring series that asks authors, artists, community leaders, and others about their lives as readers.


Your favorite place to read.

Poetry: The comfy green couch in our living room, coffee in hand, before anyone else is up. Fiction: On an airplane, where there’s nothing else I’m supposed to be doing and I can binge read.


You’re banished to a desert island. For reading material you’re allowed to take the complete works of just one author. Who is it?

At the risk of sounding pretentious, Shakespeare. Reading aloud would make me feel less lonely, and even if I had decades by myself, I’d never exhaust the material.


A book you’ve read more than once.

Poetry: Lucille Clifton’s The Book of Light. Fiction: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.


What you’re holding when you read: a paper book or an e-reader. Why?

Paper. The simple reason is I’m easily distracted, and concentrate better with a book in my hand. But I do love audio books, especially on long drives. Early in my tenure, I listened to Maya Angelou read her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Her combination of gifts as a storyteller and performer is riveting — there were times I had to turn it off because Angelou so fully transported me, I wasn’t sure I could keep the car on the road.


A book that changed your life in a significant way.

Early in my post-theatre writing life, a friend gave me a copy of Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris. She changed my sense of what poems could do, and how they might do it.


A book you’re reading right now.

Tacoma poet Rick Barot’s latest, Chord.


You become the librarian for the entire world. As part of your newfound powers, you get to require everyone on earth to read one book. Which one?

Today it’s Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.


A book that was better than the movie.  

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. (Though I loved the movie, too.)


Do you write in the margins?

No, but I have a reading notebook where I quote passages and respond to them – sometimes this morphs into a poem.


Where you buy most of your books.

Open Books: A Poem Emporium in Wallingford.


A book you’re embarrassed to admit you like.

Why be embarrassed?


The Washington State Poet Laureate program is sponsored by ArtsWA and Humanities Washington.

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