Seattle Public Library celebrates 25 years of Seattle Reads

Seattle Public Library

Seattle Public Library

Seattle residents can dive more deeply into their experience of reading this year’s Seattle Reads selection, “The Swimmers” by Julie Otsuka, at four programs with the author on May 19 and May 20. Seattle Reads programs also include an exhibit at the Central Library.

Described as a “brilliant and disarming dive into the characters' inner worlds” (Publishers Weekly), “The Swimmers” is the book selection for Seattle Reads, The Seattle Public Library’s citywide book group, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Otsuka is the only author in Seattle Reads’ history whose books have been selected twice. Otsuka’s debut novel, the acclaimed “When the Emperor Was Divine,” was selected in 2005.


All Seattle Reads programs are free and open to the public, but registration is required. Find registration links on the calendar events, or go to

Julie Otsuka with Tom Ikeda. From 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., May 19. Southeast Seattle Senior Center, 4655 S. Holly St. Tom Ikeda, founder of Densho, established the nonprofit in 1996 to preserve and share World War II Japanese American incarceration history, promoting justice and equity.

Julie Otsuka with Naomi Kawamura. From 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., May 19. Central Library, Level 1 – Microsoft Auditorium. Naomi Ostwald Kawamura is the executive director of Densho and is currently completing doctoral work at the University of British Columbia on the intergenerational transfer of memory in the Japanese American and Japanese Canadian communities.

Julie Otsuka with Dr. Kristoffer Rhoads. From 11 a.m. to noon, May 20. Lake City Branch, 12501 28th Ave. N.E., Seattle. Dr. Kristoffer Rhoads, associate professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, specializes in the evaluation and rehabilitation-oriented treatment of dementia and neurodegenerative disorders. He is also a neuropsychologist at the UW Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

Julie Otsuka with Dr. Kristoffer Rhoads. From 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., May 20. Greenwood Senior Center, 525 N. 85th St., Seattle.

Exhibit: Celebrating 25 Years of Seattle Reads runs through June 26. Central Library, Level 8 Gallery. Seattle Reads was the first program of its kind and has been replicated throughout the world, from Dublin, Ireland, to Bucheon, Korea. Visit the exhibit to learn about Seattle Reads’ history and to share memories about the program through the years. In addition, papercut artist Lauren Iida will be creating a “Memory Net” – a hand-cut paper temporary installation/performance piece – for the Library that is inspired by “The Swimmers.”


Print, e-book and e-audiobook copies of “The Swimmers” are available in the Library’s catalog. Limited copies are also available for informal borrowing, meaning patrons don’t need to check out the copies, at most Library locations and at several community partner locations, including the Frye Art Museum.

Download a discussion guide for “The Swimmers,” which includes discussion questions, recommended reading by the Library and event partners, and details on the Seattle Reads programs.

Seattle Reads 2023 is presented in partnership with Densho; Frye Art Museum, Creative Aging Programs; the Phinney Neighborhood Association’s Greenwood Senior Center; The Memory Hub; and UW’s Memory and Brain Wellness Center. It is made possible by The Seattle Public Library Foundation and The Wallace Foundation. Additional support provided by media sponsor The Seattle Times.


“The Swimmers” is the story of what happens to a group of obsessed recreational swimmers when a crack appears at the bottom of their local pool. One of these swimmers is Alice, who is slowly losing her memory. Without the fellowship of other swimmers and the routine of her daily laps, Alice is plunged into dislocation and chaos, swept into memories of her childhood and the Japanese American incarceration camp in which she spent the war. Alice's estranged daughter, reentering her mother's life too late, witnesses her stark and devastating decline.

This searing, intimate story of mothers and daughters — and the sorrows of implacable loss — is the “most commanding and unforgettable work yet from a modern master” (from the publisher).

Alice’s story also connects to the subject of Otsuka’s novel, “When the Emperor Was Divine,” which “describes in poetic detail the travails of a Japanese family living in an internment camp during World War II, raising the specter of wartime injustice in bone-chilling fashion” (Publishers Weekly).

Julie Otsuka was born and raised in California. She is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and her first novel, “When the Emperor Was Divine” won the 2003 Asian American Literary Award and the 2003 American Library Association Alex Award. Her second/* novel, “The Buddha in the Attic,” an international bestseller, was a finalist for the National Book Award 2011 and won the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the 2011 Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction. She lives in New York City.


Founded in 1998, Seattle Reads is a citywide book group in which people are encouraged to read and discuss the same book. Originally called “If All of Seattle Read the Same Book,” Seattle Reads was the first “One Book, One City” program. It proved so popular that that concept has inspired similar programs across the United States and internationally.

Seattle Reads is designed to deepen engagement in literature through reading and discussion. Everyone is invited to participate by reading the featured book, joining a book discussion or attending programs with the featured writer.


2023: “The Swimmers” by Julie Otsuka

2022: “The House of Broken Angels” by Luis Alberto Urrea

2021: "The Vanishing Half" by Brit Bennett

2020: "There There" by Tommy Orange

2019: "The Best We Could Do" by Thi Bui

2018: "Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi

2017: "The Turner House" by Angela Flournoy

2016: "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" by Karen Joy Fowler

2015: "The Painter" by Peter Heller

2014: "For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey" by Richard Blanco

2013: "Stories for Boys" by Gregory Martin

2012: "The Submission" by Amy Waldman

2011: "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave

2010: "Secret Son" by Laila Lalami

2009: "My Jim" by Nancy Rawles

2008: "The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears" by Dinaw Mengestu

2007: "The Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri

2006: "Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi

2005: "When the Emperor Was Divine" by Julie Otsuka

2004: Seattle Reads Isabel Allende: The 2004 series featured seven titles from Allende's body of work.

2003: "A Gesture Life" by Chang-rae Lee

2002: "Wild Life" by Molly Gloss

2001: "Fooling With Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft" by Bill Moyers

1999: "A Lesson Before Dying" by Ernest Gaines

1998: "The Sweet Hereafter" by Russell Banks

Find book synopses for all Seattle Reads titles on this Seattle Reads web page.