Rachel Kessler is a Seattle-based writer inspired by everyday occurrences. Most recently her book-length collection of essays about puberty, religion and failure, entitled Hack, received a Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs CityArtist award. Her “Public Health Poems” interactive hand-washing poetry installation also received a Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs CityArtist award, and can be found in public restrooms throughout the city. Her text-based visual art has been featured in The Open Daybook and Sea-Cat, and her poems have appeared in Poetry Northwest, City Arts, and The Far Field, among other publications. She wrote about eating and hair removal for Seattle’s premier alternative weekly The Stranger, co-curated the Rendezvous Readings in Seattle for many years and co-edited the subsequent Rendezvous Reader. She has performed her poetry with Macklemore and the Blues Scholars.
An avid collaborator, she is a founding member of the literary performance art groups The Typing Explosion and the Vis-à-Vis Society. For the past 15 years, these critically acclaimed groups have been writing collaborative poetry and presenting their work in the form of text-based art installations, interactive multi-media shows, and collaboratively written handmade books. She has performed at The Moore Theater, the Bowery Poetry club, and DIA, among other places. Her collaborative poems have appeared in Tin House, TATE, and USA Today. She toured US and Canada’s east and west coasts with the Wave Books Poetry Bus, sharing the stage with John Ashbery and Billy Collins.
As a teaching artist she works with homeless adults, people in recovery, youth in detention, and kindergarten through high school students as a senior Writer-in-Residence with Seattle Arts & Lectures. She has taught workshops in youth detention centers and public libraries, on ferry boats, in public parks, in trees, in grade schools and universities. She is visiting artist faculty at Centrum in Port Townsend, WA, and a Whitely Scholar at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Facility. Her travels and residencies throughout Papua New Guinea, Australia, South America and Europe as well as within the US allowed her to experience a wide array of cultures, while residing permanently in the city of her birth and youth, Seattle, Washington.
B.A. University of Washington, Seattle WA. Honors English Literature and Creative Writing, studied with Richard Kenney and Linda Bierds
· PageBoy Magazine, “What Is Fudge?” “Family Portrait of Noses” Oct 2013
· Poetry Northwest, “59 Goodbyes” Jan 2013
· The Far Field “Parade of Fences” Jan 2013
· City Arts “40” May 2012
· The Open Daybook, “May 15” edited by David P. Earle, Mark Batty Publisher, New York City, 2011
· The Stranger SLOG “After the Party Pantoum” May 2009
· Tin House Issue #29 The Graphic Issue, Typing Explosion
· Who Are We: Investigations & Research of the Vis-à-Vis Society workbook and sound recordings, April 2007
· Jack Straw Writers Anthology “Sestina on Time” and “Clouds: A Survey” May 2007
· Swivel: A Nexus of Women & Wit, Typing Explosion’s “Nice Sweater”, “I Was Never a Horse Girl”, Feb 2004
· TATE: Tate Gallery Monthly Magazine, “Magdalena and Her 12 Friends, All Imaginary, All Named” Typing Explosion poem, London UK, Oct 2003
· T.Y.P.O.: Touch Typing with the Typing Explosion, manual and poetry book collaboratively written and produced by Typing Explosion, published by Foxy Boss, 2003
· 13 Love Poems & One Ugly One limited-edition chapbook by Typing Explosion, Dec 2002
· Rendezvous Reader, Editor. An anthology of Northwest writing to come out of the Rendezvous Reading Series, 2002.
· CHOW restaurant and food reviews weekly column in The Stranger, Seattle’s premier alternative weekly newspaper, from 1998-2002.
Select Performances / Presentations / Installations
· Smokefarm Lo-Fi Arts Festival Vis-à-Vis Society’s “Burning Questions for Burning Bushes” installation and performance, Q&A and Scientific Method poem construction – August 2013
· NEPO 5k DON’T RUN Vis-à-Vis Society’s “It’s a Stretch!” installation and performance, release of 1000 nouns to create living, walking poems all over Seattle’s International District and Beacon Hill – September 2013
· Richard Hugo House Writers Get to the Point, Pecha Kucha-style presentation “How I Became a Hack” – May 2013
· The Frye Art Museum Moment Magnitude Exhibit, Vis-à-Vis Society’s “Listening Station: We Are You” turntable, record and workbook plus residency resulting in interactive performance– Jan 2013
· Seattle Art Museum Typing Explosion Guest Performing Artists for Elles: Pompidou Exhibition Opening Gala – Oct 2012
· University of Arizona Poetry Center Inauguration, with Billy Collins, Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman and Alberto Rios – October 2007
· WAVE Books Poetry Bus Tour, Typing Explosion reunites for the groundbreaking Wave Books Poetry Bus Tour, performing with poets such as John Ashbery, Mary Jo Bang, James Tate, John Yau, Marie Howe, Eileen Myles, and many more – www.poetrybus.com –Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Northampton, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Boston, Providence; DIA Chelsea, NYC; DIA Beacon, NY – Fall 2006
· Bumbershoot/One Reel, Seattle WA “Office” Vis-à-Vis Society interactive installation and performance – August-September 2005
· New York University, NY, “TEU Local 898” –February 2004
· Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia University, Chicago, IL, “The Typists,” performance and workshop – December 2003
· Gallery Holly Snapp, Venice, Italy, “This Is a Test: Passport,” interactive performance concurrent with the 50th Venice Biennale with –June 2003 www.typingexplosionvenice2003.com
· The Bowery Poetry Club and Poets House through the New York Public Library, “Office Translations,” original multi-media performance, New York, NY – April 2003
· Bellevue Art Museum, “Salon.” Interactive audio hair-dryer chairs and nail salon installation with opening night performance as part of the Shaping Stories Exhibition, Bellevue, WA – December 2001-March 2002
· On the Boards theater, “Dear Diane: A Typing Explosion Play,” multi-media full-length theater debut with sold-out extended run, Seattle WA – May–Jun. 2001. www.ontheboards.org/index.php?art=18&ev=23&id=12&nav=c3
· April 2013 – National Poetry Month, Highline Community College, Des Moines, WA. “Public Health Poems” installation in 32 restrooms across campus.
· May 2011 – Live at the Film Forum, Northwest Film Forum, Seattle WA. “Hello, Again, Hello” Multi-media music, film, dance, and interactive theater performance and telephone booth/photobooth installation by the Vis-à-Vis Society.
· September 2010 – Bumbershoot Arts Festival, Seattle WA. “Why This? Why That? Why Now?” The Vis-à-Vis Society introduced new inquiries and hosted rotating panels of experts for the “Why This? Why That? Why Now?” series on Bumbershoot’s Words & Ideas stage. This program included live, audience-interactive research and poetic experiments with the Vis-à-Vis Society, employing the groundbreaking BaconCam.
· August 2010 – Night School at The Sorrento, Seattle WA. “12 12 12: 12 Writers + 12 Musicians = 12 Intimate Conversations” Celebration of Seattle artists involved with Bumbershoot Arts Festival over the past 40 years, fundraiser for 826 Seattle.
· May 2010 – Poetry + Hip Hop Church, Washington Hall, Seattle WA. Four-hour Sunday morning extravaganza with Macklemore.
· April 2010 – Night School, Larry Mizell Jr, Hedgebrook, and Whit Press. “12 Books Poetry and Hip Hop Salon” Round table reading and discussion with Seattle’s hip hop and poetry luminaries.
· October 2007 – The Moore Theater, Seattle WA. “Bus!” Poetry on the Buses Celebration hosted by 4 Culture – Vis-à-Vis Society interactive audience survey and performance with Blues Scholars.
· April 2007 – Northwest Film Forum, Seattle WA. “We Are You: A Statistical Musical” Interactive song, dance and film extravaganza based on audience input, using NWFF’s educational film archives.
· May 2006 – Galapagos Arts Space, Brooklyn NY. “I Want to Live!” Interactive performance of surveys, poetry, dance and film.
Residencies / Fellowships
· Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools Senior Writer-in-Residence, 2006-present
· Highline Community College, Des Moines, WA, guest lecturer, 2013
· University of Washington Rome Center, Rome, Italy, guest lecturer, 2012
· University of Washington Friday Harbor Laboratories, guest lecturer and fellow, 2013
· Whiteley Scholar University of Washington Friday Harbor Laboratories, 2012, 2011
· Sound Transit Wall Project, Seattle WA, August 2010-August 2013 – Vis-à-Vis Society (collaboration of Rachel Kessler and Sierra Nelson) created long-term temporary installation for the plywood construction sound wall surrounding Sound Transit’s light rail construction site in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. This literary and conceptual piece tallied results of surveys and allowed for casual participants to self-graph their personal experiences of travel and the passage of time.
· University of Arizona Poetry Center, Tucson AZ, March 2008
· CENTRUM, Port Townsend WA. 4-week residency to write and compose “Musical for Exercise Equipment”, collaborative theater piece “This Is a Test”, and personal memoir “Life Among the Christians” April-May 2002
· CityArtist Grant – January 2014 – Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs. $2,600 to develop “Hack,” a book-length manuscript of creative non-fiction, essays, and poems, premiering as a slide show performance at the Hugo House in November 2014.
· CityArtist Grant – December 2012 – Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs. $4,000 for “Public Health Poems,” an interactive hand-washing and personal hygiene poetry installation, premiering at The Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, Seattle, WA, and the Richard Hugo House.
· Jack Straw Writers Program – May 2007 – Jack Straw Productions, Seattle WA. Professional studio recording of reading and interview for radio broadcast and podcast, publication in companion anthology.
· City Artists Grant – May 2006 – Mayor’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, Seattle WA. $5,000 for the publication of the Vis-à-Vis Society’s book of survey poems and survey projects.
· Presentation Grant – July 2002 – Seattle Arts Commission, Seattle WA. $5,000 to edit and publish “T.Y.P.O.” a collection of Typing Explosion’s collaborative poetry.
· Special Projects Grant – 2001 – King County Arts Commission, Seattle WA. $3,000 to edit and publish Rendezvous Reader, an anthology of Northwest writers who read at the Rendezvous Reading Series on its 10 year anniversary.
· New Works Grant – 2001 – Breneman-Jaech Foundation, Seattle WA. $4,000 for “Dear Diane” at On The Boards
· Special Projects Grant – 2000 – King County Arts Commission, Seattle WA. $5,000 for the development of an experimental feature-length theater piece “Dear Diane” that utilizes audience participation and input to direct performance poetry, story, dance and rock music.
· Art Zone with Nancy Guppy, “Rachel Kessler takes poetry to the bathroom as part of her Public Health Poems Cycle” 10/26/2012. http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=3351232
· Interview for STArt Capitol Hill Sound Transit Wall Project – http://startwallproject.blogspot.com/
· Interview with Rachel Kessler and the Vis-à-Vis Society for “We Are You: A Statistical Musical” at NW Film Forum – Verve, Seattle Channel – 2007 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j542MK_rrzo