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The Fonts of Washington Authors

What do Northwest writers actually write in? We asked.

  • July 29, 2019
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  • Feature
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  • By David Haldeman

Fonts are unsung heroes—they subtly but profoundly color how we feel about a text. The experience of reading Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech through the stately serifs of Times New Roman might make you feel a lot different than reading it through the toddler-in-clown-shoes filter of Comic Sans.

So it stands to reason that most authors have strong feelings about the font in which they write. We asked a dozen Northwest writers about their chosen font, from poets to journalists to bestselling authors. Note that these aren’t the fonts in which they publish their final work. These are the fonts in which they write, revise, and play.

 

“I like how subtle Garamond is as a font, graceful but not precious. I feel like it stays out of my way when I’m bullying my ideas around. It’s clean, readable, lovely—sort of like the excellent handwriting I’ve never had.”

– Sharma Shields, The Cassandra and The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac

“It’s slender enough that it doesn’t make the text look bulkier than the ideas, if that makes sense, and it doesn’t make me feel dull, like Times New Roman does. I can’t write in too-fancy of fonts, because I don’t want the font to distract from the actual words.”

– Maya Jewell Zeller, Yesterday, The Bees and Rustfish

“Garamond was, if I recall correctly, used to print Latin, and has that feel to me—a certain restrained elegance and authority in its clean lines. My own handwriting is awful—inky hieroglyphics—and so the conversion from that scribbled text to the sharp contours of Garamond (translatable by exactly one person) is a profound one: the mess becomes text, a visceral transformation of the emotional, sloppy, self-indulgent first scribbly immersion in language to The Word, something that may, might, could—possibly, someday—speak to someone else.”

– Tod Marshall, Washington State Poet Laureate 2016-2018

 

“If the Georgia font were a person, I think they would be non-binary, have a great sense of humor, and their astrological sign would be Libra. I like it because it’s practical and fancy without being too much of either or both.”

– Anastacia-Renee, Seattle Civic Poet 2018-2019

 

“The font isn’t fancy, just clean and simple and easy to read. And I like 14-point for the same reason—its readability, which is neither too small or too large.”

– Charles Johnson, National Book Award winner, Middle Passage

“I’m a bread-and-butter writer, not one of those fancy-pants reveal-my-personality-through-my-serifs kind of writer. Back in the old days, I was a purist, using only a 12 point Courier mono-spaced font, because that was the way things were done. None of that kerning jazz. But times change, you know, and I can adapt a little. So my font of record is Times New Roman. I want my font to be the same in whatever program I’m using.”

– Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain

“I use Times Roman because it’s a serif font. I was a design major and was always taught that serif fonts are easier to read, easier on the eyes, and have a softer aesthetic. Also the kerning (letter spacing) with some sans-serif fonts is terrible and my mild O.C.D. goes bananas.”

– Jamie Ford, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Love and Other Consolation Prizes

“I am not fond of it. It is too strict, but does the job. I have not found a font that has the spirit I wish for. They are all too harsh, some too narrow, others too round or feel too flat. Handwriting is by far superior.”

– Claudia Castro Luna, Washington State Poet Laureate 2018-2020

 

“My first three novels were written on Olivetti and Remington typewriters. I’ve no idea of the font. The nine books that followed, however, were composed by hand on yellow legal pads with ballpoint pens—and that’s the way I much prefer to write. Every week or so, I’ll dictate what I’ve scrawled to my office assistant, who’ll type the pages on an Apple computer: its prevailing font is Helvetica. (Should she ever switch, I’ll tell her to go to Hel(vetica).”

– Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Still Life with Woodpecker

 

“Once I became a convert to Apple products, Lucida Grande quickly became my favorite font (it was evidently also a favorite of the OS developers). I think what I most like about it is the clean lines, the lack of serifs, and the balanced spacing between letters.

– Nancy Pearl, Book Lust and George & Lizzie

 

“My favorite font on my Macbook was American Typewriter. That’s because in the old analog days, I wrote for years on a 1939 Royal that weighed the same as a Sherman tank. Once, a metal piece of type—a letter, I think it was the “s”—came loose and struck me and nicked my forehead. My type choice literally made me bleed! I have had to switch to a Dell laptop for work and I complain about Word and Microsoft endlessly. At least they killed Clippy. My laptop doesn’t have American Typewriter, so I use whatever the default is—Calibri. Very blah but it gets the job done.”

– Knute Berger, journalist, Crosscut

 

“I generally write with whatever default font pops up—as long as it has a serif. (Cambria 12 point, it looks like on the novel I’m finishing now.) But Word could trick me into writing in just about anything if that’s what opened up with the program, I suspect, except maybe WingDings. (Do they still make WingDings?)”

– Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins and Citizen Vince

Jess Walter, Sharma Shields, Charles Johnson, and Claudia Castro Luna are writing and reading original short work as part of Humanities Washington’s Bedtime Stories literary fundraisers this fall. Join us at the events in Seattle and Spokane. MORE>.

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