Collections offsite Hopkins Circumtext

Tom Deslongchamp reads from a box of band riders during the Collections off-site exhibition


Circumtext is a literary event where participants share texts that they did not write.

Texts that are  found, sought, collected, curated, transcribed, translated, or otherwise transformed, arranged, generated, or produced by some process of constraint, search, crawling/scraping, aggregation, filtering, or hand-picking, from sources high and low and far and wide, especially those not already recognized for their “literary” qualities, texts that are removed from their original context or put into new ones, taken apart and put back together, into pieces that are fit for the page or screen or for other adaptation but also ultimately meant to be read aloud or otherwise shared in groups of people.

  • one-of-a-kind library finds
  • obscure dictionaries and specialized reference works
  • signage and advertising copy
  • instruction manuals, fine print, and legalese
  • email spam, classifieds listings, and internet commentary
  • vintage correspondence, historical ephemera, and de-classified documents
  • marginalia, latrinalia, glossolalia, and other linguistic paraphernalia
  • transcripts, translations, and other transformations

Circumtext began in Seattle in 2011 as a reading group/series whose only rule was that participants could share only pieces that they did not write themselves. We organize semi-regular readings in Seattle and the Bay Area and by invitation at other events. In 2013 we will begin publishing a journal of the same name.

The name “circumtext” comes from the Latin prefix ‘circum’, meaning “around” or “about”, and the root ‘text’. A similar construction is used in the English words context, subtext, paratext, hypertext, et cetera. The name is also patterned after Seattle’s Subtext Collective, one of whose members (Nico Vassilakis) we talked with at various bars in Georgetown – and asked permission to use the name – when we were starting our group. We wanted to wrap all of the other “-text” prefixes into one, and to suggest that texts worthy of our consideration arise from many different cultural (and non-cultural) sources – high and low and everything in between, and that these texts can be approached from many different angles – above, below, and all around. Hence circum-text.

The name also gave us a word for some of our common writing practices and reading preferences, which might be called “circumtextual”.

A Circumtext reading is an event like no other. Or like many others all rolled into one: poetry reading, study group, book club, show-and-tell, potluck, seance, party. People who feel alienated by one or all of the aforementioned events often report positive feelings after attending Circumtext. Reading (or “sharing”) something is encouraged but not required. Discussion happens, naturally. We often provide a small stack of new material for those who didn’t bring anything but would like to share. And drinks.

Prelinger Library, San Francisco (2014)
Red Poppy Art House, San Francisco (2013)
Table of Contents, Portland (2013)
Short Run Small Press Festival (Seattle (2012)
FICTILIS studio/gallery and various locations, Seattle (2011-2012)

Email if you’re interested in hosting a Circumtext event or contributing to one of ours.