Artist Profile Series: Kate Lebo

Published: September 13, 2018

Categories: Artists | Literary | Spotlight

Kate Lebo is a Spokane-based writer whose poems and essays have appeared in The Rumpus, The Best American Essays, New England Review, Poetry Northwest, and more. She is the author of Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour, and Butter and A Commonplace Book of Pie, as well as a co-founder of the Pie & Whiskey Reading Series.

Kate always read and wrote growing up but didn’t realize she could be a writer until, as an undergraduate at Western Washington University, professor and poet Bruce Beasley told her she was one. “It felt like this incredible gift he was giving me – that label of that, to have your teacher say ‘this is what you are,’” says Kate, “I believed him, and that made me decide I should do this.”

Kate graduated from Artist Trust’s EDGE Professional Development Program in 2009. One of the most important lessons she learned in the program was that, “In all the ways we were studying how to make ends meet – how to sell our work, how to get a fellowship, how to get an agent, all of those really practical things – what it came down to was that you can’t make money on poetry.” While she admits this probably wasn’t the intent of the program, Kate notes that it was an important realization for her work as a writer. “That absolutely freed me from the practical ambitions I thought I had to have for that mode of expression and made it something that was more sacred to me,” she explains.

One way Kate is able to support herself and her writing is through baking. In 2012, she founded Pie School, a “roving pastry academy” where she teaches people how to bake the perfect pie and create their own recipes. Sasquatch Books published her first cookbook, Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour, and Butter in 2014.

Baking also informs Kate’s writing creatively since it’s a way to take the pressure off of her writing and to create social happenings like the Pie & Whiskey Reading Series, which she and series co-founder Sam Ligon started in 2012. With the help of 300 shots of whiskey and 300 slices of pie, Kate and Sam create a unique atmosphere for writers and audience members alike. “It’s a social event, and the writer who reads at this knows they really have to hold the room. That means they have to bring their A-game when it comes to performance,” explains Kate. “It also means they have to write something really, really, really good.” As an additional twist, the featured writers are asked to write pieces based on pie, whiskey, or both. “Those kind of seemingly silly subjects help people let their guard down. They write these awesome, surprising pieces because of this invitation to play,” she adds.

In 2015, Kate received a Grants for Artist Projects (GAP) award to support the creation of The Loudproof Room, a collection of essays exploring listening and how being partially deaf has shaped her life and aesthetics. The project’s title and inspiration came from an essay of the same name that Kate published in 2014. “It’s not great being partially deaf,” says Kate on her inspiration for the project. “It’s something that causes me sorrow and makes it difficult for me to work in certain settings and often leaves me out of conversations. [The Loudproof Room is] a way of taking the things that are negative about that condition and finding what that condition makes beautiful, which for me made it possible to approach hearing loss in a way that felt hopeful and fun, and not sorrowful and irritating.”

Funding from the GAP award allowed Kate to take a month to focus on writing. During this time, Kate says she realized The Loudproof Room had a personal significance that she wasn’t yet ready to address. She focused instead on writing “Twenty Three Pieces of the Sunset Bowl,” an essay that appeared in The Rumpus and Ghosts of Seattle Past, and a book proposal for a Pie & Whiskey Reading Series anthology, which she and Sam co-edited. Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter and Booze features some of the best writings from the series, as well as sixteen recipes, and was published by Sasquatch Books in 2017.

Kate’s first collection of essays, The Book of Difficult Fruit, is set to be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in fall of 2019. The book explores the relationship between food and medicine, as well as how our perceptions and expectations of fruit have “blinded us to the interesting ways fruit can be difficult, and can be used because of that difficulty.”

Asked if she has any advice for artists applying for awards like the GAP award, Kate says, “Think about what you’re already doing and how you want that to grow. For me, coming up with an idea to suit the grant never works because if I even get that grant (which is unlikely) I never want to do it. A project I can authentically argue for in a grant proposal is a project I’m already developing.”

To learn more about Kate and her current projects, check out her website.

Megan Gallagher is a writer from Redmond, Washington. She has been writing for the Artist Trust blog since July 2017 and loves learning more about Washington State’s arts communities.