David Brewster ’61

David BrewsterNext in our series of alumni profiles exploring how our fellow classmates navigate life after Yale: David Brewster,  founder of the Seattle Weekly, Crosscut, Town Hall, and most recently, Folio, an independent library downtown.

1. Describe your latest big endeavor, and what compelled you to start it.

Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum, a membership library and culture center in downtown Seattle, which opened on Jan. 20, 2016. I like to import fine institutions seen in larger cities, and I had visited the mother ship, the Boston Athenaeum. Seattle is a remarkable literary town, famous for the number of serious readers and writers. So I wanted to create a fulcrum for all this, to bring back the intimacy and congeniality of libraries, and to get back into the business of putting on serious programming that I had learned when starting up Town Hall Seattle.

2. What might your mission statement be, if you had one?

To fill in missing gaps of Seattle’s intellectual infrastructure, bringing the rigor and seriousness of university life into the mainstream of civic culture: to be the Greenwich Village to Columbia; and by those efforts to bring together lots of interesting people and further understand what makes Seattle distinctive.

3. How do you check in with yourself on whether you are on the right track?

There are lots of “votes” from audiences for my ventures, such things as attendance, loyalty, readership. I also look to see how happy the colleagues are, how much they are excited by the mission and by each other.

4. How have your values changed over time?

I have spent a lot of time trying to fit in with Seattle’s influentials and natives, and I am now drifting from that way of being defined by other values. Similarly, I am trying to go deeper with projects and my own writing, as opposed to the fast superficiality of journalism. I have moved from a kind of lonely individualism to much more interest in communitarian liberalism. Grand-daughters really help!

5. If you have any thoughts on the concepts of “soul” or “spirituality”, please describe them.

I worry about locating Seattle’s soul, and how it may be fading. Long ago, I thought about becoming a minister, but my spritual side has morphed into civic betterment.

6. Perhaps the only thing all Yalies have in common is our experience of access to a privileged education. What in your present life is still influenced by this experience?

Yale hit me, a product of a mediocre high school in New Jersey, with a wallop. I am still a serious reader. I look for patterns, hidden patterns, in things, perhaps as a result of the “close-reading” school of Yale English Department (my major and my graduate study). But I am estranged from universities, which don’t care about teaching enough and are sifting mechanisms for class and career; and they seem incapable of good reform.

7. If you were to mentor your younger self or someone else with similar values, what would you most want them to know?

That it is relatively easy to start things, but relatively rare to perfect them. Seattle is too content with a high “birth-rate” but too complacent about the difficulties of making these new-borns into superb and sustained institutions of excellence.