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Week 120 - Jeff Burlingame

For the 120th week of "7 QUESTION SUNDAY" we shine the spotlight on another influential individual from the PNW. Jeff Burlingame is an author from Aberdeen who has written over 30 books including award winning biographies and a few about our own PNW!


4EVRGRN: Hey, JB! Tell us a little about yourselves.

JB: I am an NAACP Image Award-winning author and editor in chief of two regional monthly business magazines in Washington, South Sound Business and 425 Business. The winner of a prestigious national Sigma Delta Chi writing award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his work on homelessness in Pierce County, Jeff also has founded and operated both a nonprofit and an indie music public relations firm, and has appeared on MTV, A&E, and spoken at the Washington State Capitol. His work has even been the answer to a question on the TV show Jeopardy! – twice. He recently was honored with a star on the Walk of Fame in his hometown of Aberdeen. 

How has the PNW influenced your writing?

JB: Being from the Pacific Northwest is the reason my book-writing career happened at all. I grew up in Aberdeen with Kurt Cobain and his family, went to Melvins’ practices as a teen, and in 2004, created and cofounded a nonprofit called the Kurt Cobain Memorial Foundation to honor my late childhood friend. Shortly after we installed our Come As You Are sign at the entrance to town, I learned of a publishing house looking for someone to write an introductory book on Kurt for young readers who were barely born—or may not have been alive—when Kurt and Nirvana were tearing up the music world. I won the contract, the book sold well, and the publicity and reviews were good. Being from the Pacific Northwest, specifically Aberdeen, helped me get my official start. 

You’ve written many biographies, of them, which ones inspired you most?

JB: After the Cobain biography, I left my job as an editor at the local newspaper, and wrote about 10-15 other books for youth and teens. Some of those books I wrote to keep putting food on the table, and others I wrote because I had a passion for the subject matter. With regards to the latter, I felt incredibly fortunate to be able to earn a modest living researching, interviewing, and writing about those who had made significant impacts in their chosen profession and on my life. My third book was a biography of Edgar Allan Poe, for which I got to read (reread) and analyze his works and have what I’d written peer reviewed by Poe’s cousin. I listened (relistened) to every Aerosmith album and worked with one of their songwriters on a book. I learned about the Civil Rights movement via my biography on Malcolm X, and spent several months learning about the life of one of my childhood heroes, Olympic champion Jesse Owens. Both the Malcolm X and Owens books earned me Image Awards nominations from the NAACP. In 2011, I finished in the top five and lost to Condoleezza Rice. in 2012, the Jesse Owens book won me the prestigious honor. Thinking of the people who also have won Image Awards—Michael Jackson, Denzel Washington, Prince, Aretha Franklin, Maya Angelou, Barack Obama. It inspires me every time. Not that my work is anywhere near as significant or important in scope as those I mentioned, but my name is on the list.  

Who is your favorite PNW author?

JB: I don’t think I’d hear the end of it if I named just one, so I’ll toss out a few off the cuff. Raymond Carver, Chris Crutcher, Tim Egan, Robert Fulghum (Kindergarten!), Ursula Le Guin, Robert Michael Pyle, John Hughes, Beverly Cleary, Ken Kesey, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, David James Duncan. 

What makes PNW literature unique?

JB: This is going to sound vague and maybe a bit philosophical to those who aren’t from here, and perhaps those who are will nod their heads. But I believe it’s the Pacific Northwest sprit stemming from our inherent dichotomies. The mountains and the sea, the rich and the poor, the rural and the urban. Here, we all are exposed to a variety of backdrops and beliefs and they become part of us whether we agree or not. The best writers can tell their stories in a way that all “get it.” Just as does the area’s music, its writing has that same feel. 

Favorite place to get outdoors in the PNW?

JB: If I chose anything but the Olympic Peninsula, which a book I wrote on is out now in its fourth edition, I’d not only be lying but I’d also be a horrible self-promoter. OK, I kinda am a horrible self-promoter, but this one is too obvious and has the added advantage of being the truth. 

Favorite local product?

JB: I’m a small-business-first person when I can be. For food, I’m a fan of Ooey-Gooey Popcorn. For drink, it’s Heritage Distilling, Woodinville Whiskey, and Westport Winery. I also love Peace Vans in Seattle. And, as a tool of the trade, I enjoy Rite in the Rain. Brown & Haley’s Mountain Bars always have been a major weakness.  

Favorite place to sit and read in the PNW?

JB: There’s a spot along the Humptulips River in Grays Harbor County that I’ve been fishing since I was a kid and where have read many a book, including more than a handful by most of the authors I mentioned above. 

Follow Jeff on Facebook @burlingamejeff or visit his website www.jeffburlingame.com