Link to jump to start of content The Seattle Times Company Jobs Autos Homes Rentals NWsource Classifieds
The Seattle Times Meet the critics
Traffic | Weather | Your account Movies | Restaurants | Today's events

Wednesday, December 15th, 2004: Page updated at 12:00 AM

Who are these people lobbing opinions at you every day in Entertainment & the Arts? In short, an eclectic and highly qualified group of critics. Learn more about them here — in their own words.

Critics: Movies | Restaurants | Books | Theater | Pop music/Nightlife
Classical music | Visual arts



Moira Macdonald About my work
Pauline Kael, the great movie critic for The New Yorker, once said about criticism: "We read critics for the perceptions, for what they tell us that we didn't fully grasp when we saw the work. The judgments we can usually make for ourselves." That's what I've always looked for from movie critics — not to dictate my opinion of the film, but to give me an idea of what the movie's like, and, more importantly, to give me something to ponder (a visual detail, a theme, a performance nuance, a background note) that I might have missed.

So here I am now, sitting in the dark taking notes so you don't have to. I won't tell you what to like and what not to like, but I will tell you what I liked and didn't like. I will strive to give you enough of a sense of a movie — its look, its mood, its performances, its ideas — so you can decide for yourself whether it's worth your time.

About me
A Northwest native (by way of both Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.), I have a master's degree in literature from the University of Washington. From 1997 to 2001, I was editor of the late, great and a frequent contributor to The Seattle Times. I always sit on the aisle and prefer my popcorn unbuttered, but heavily salted. I was not named after Moira Shearer, but I wish I had been.

My favorites
Answers to questions I'm most frequently asked:

·I see between five and 10 movies a week (more during film festivals), depending on how many are opening and how much time I have to watch rentals at home.
·No, it's not hard to take notes in the dark, once you get used to it.
·No, I'm sorry, I donít know what time the movie starts at Cinerama tonight, but you can check or call 206-44-FILMS.
·No, I didn't like "A.I." either.

A few favorite Web destinations:

·For the two or three of you out there who may not know about it, the Internet Movie Database is the single-best site for movie lovers on the Web: cast/crew info for zillions of movies, favorite quotes, links to reviews, biographical info, official sites, etc.
·Coming Attractions is a great site for unofficial gossip about upcoming movies — better than the far-too-excitable Ain't It Cool News, in my view.
·For official news on movies and movie stars (from Variety and the like), bookmark the Yahoo entertainment news page.

206-464-2725 |

Back to topBack to top



Nancy Leson About my work
Above my desk I have a postcard that reads: "Real Waitresses Never Die, They Just Change Stations." In my present station, I'm here to help you figure out where best to spend your dining dollars. Here's hoping you'll read my opinion pieces and let me know when I'm right on, when I'm way off, and what you'd have to say about Seattle restaurants if you were (you'll pardon the pun) stepping up to the plate.

About me
Everyone's a critic, but few get paid for it. Consider me one of the lucky few and welcome to my life: one that's had me eating professionally since 1993. I rarely meet anyone who doesn't envy me this job — or wonder how I came to have it.

Well, I was born premature, weighing slightly more than one of those rotisserie chickens you buy at Costco. By the time they brought me home from the hospital, a cry went up from every Jewish mother in my neighborhood: "Oy! Give me that kid! She needs to eat!" Within a year, I looked like a baby sumo wrestler, and, not surprisingly, had developed a great appreciation for dining out.

My mother worked, and as the eldest of four I learned to cook dinner while most of my pals still thought toasting Pop-Tarts was an accomplishment. I prepared my first Thanksgiving turkey the year I turned 10. It was a perfect bird. At least that's what they tell me. I never tasted it. You see, I couldn't find the rubber bulb for the baster, and figured that if I just put my mouth over the end of the tube and sloooowly sucked up the fat from the bottom of the roaster . . . (my tastebuds did eventually recover).

I always intended to be a writer. Instead, I became a waitress - a career that lasted nearly 20 years. My first gig was at a Victorian-era hotel in South Jersey where I learned that a "deuce" was a table for two, and "in the weeds" translated as "so slammed I wish I had an office job." I also learned that you can make good money waiting tables, meet interesting people, eat well for free, and still have time to read novels and cop a tan at the beach.

During regular visits to Seattle, I fell in love with the Pike Place Market and, in 1988, moved here, scoring a job at one of this city's finest restaurants while working toward a degree in journalism at the University of Washington. Waiting tables I met most of Seattle's food critics and decided that their job should be mine.

My favorites
Answers to questions I'm most frequently asked:

·Yes, I cook, often — but not as often as I'd like to.
·My favorite Italian restaurant is my house, on Sunday nights.
·I'd rather eat sushi than anything else.
·In an attempt to review anonymously, I don't call restaurants to tell them I'm coming, nor do I use a credit card that bears my byline. You won't find my head shot accompanying my columns. I want to be treated the same way you are, not fawned on or freaked out over.
·I — not my editors — decide what to review, and I find out about restaurants in much the same way you do: word of mouth, local press, the "Grand Opening" sign hanging from a storefront.

As for the question, "How can you be a restaurant critic and stay so thin?" Unfortunately, everyone's stopped asking.

206-464-8838 |

Back to topBack to top



Mary Ann Gwinn About my work
My first criterion for literature, fiction and nonfiction, is: does it read true, factually and emotionally? I write a column on books and reading that runs the first Sunday of each month in The Seattle Times, as well as other reviews and features. I welcome comments on our books coverage, impressed, grateful, aggravated or exasperated.

About me
I grew up in a small Arkansas town where I read three books a week from the local library and then survived being a cheerleader and the '60s, in that order. My literary sensibilities are still Southern; I love Tony Earley, Elizabeth Spencer and Bobbie Ann Mason.

But I've read a ton of other good books this year, including books by Peter Carey ("True History of the Kelly Gang"); Philip Gourevitch ("A Cold Case") and David McCullough ("John Adams"). I have two young'uns, as we would say in the South, and just completed reading "Lord of the Rings" to them. I'm always looking for good tips for good reads, for both children and adults.

206-464-2357 |


Michael Upchurch About my work
Far from being a quiet corner of the newspaper, the Seattle Times book department is a place of information overload. Five hundred to 600 books arrive each week. Each day brings dozens of press releases, faxes, e-mails and phone calls from authors and publicists. Bookstores and lecture series bring scores of authors to town each month. The job of the book editor and book critic is to sort through it all and pick out the best of what comes our way. A balance has to be struck between covering local authors and covering writers of national (or international) importance. Big names get attention, of course, but it's important to keep an eye out for the talented unknown author as well. We try to be fair-minded and incisive. We also try to have some fun with the beat.

About me
I've written four novels, including "The Flame Forest" and "Passive Intruder." I've written for The New York Times, the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, American Scholar, Atlantic Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle and other publications. Before making my living as a writer, I worked in bookstores for eight years. I've also done duty as a proofreader and typesetter.

My favorites
Seattle's extraordinary wealth of bookstores was one reason I moved here 15 years ago. The big names need no introduction: Elliott Bay Book Co. in Pioneer Square and University Book Store in the University District. Smaller but smartly stocked bookstores can be found in Capitol Hill, Queen Anne, Wallingford, Madison Beach, short, all over town.

Other stores specialize in travel books, architecture, poetry, politics and religions of various stripes. And how many cities have secondhand bookstore CHAINS? (Half Price Books and Twice Sold Tales are among the most notable.)

Throw in three terrific library systems — Seattle, King County and the University of Washington — and you're talking a total bibliomaniac paradise.

206-464-8793 |

Back to topBack to top



Misha Berson About my work
In a world of plug-in entertainment, there is still something magical about the experience of attending a live play or concert, or even a wide-screen film — especially in Seattle, a city richly blessed with cultural amenities. What I want to do is give readers a vivid sense of each performance I attend, along with some historical and cultural context for the piece and my own evaluation of what worked and didn't. Whether I'm writing about a Broadway musical or a Shakespearean tragedy, a zany comedy or edgy experimental theater, I hope to make the event come alive and raise intriguing questions about it.

About me
I spent a dozen years covering the San Francisco drama scene before joining the Seattle Times in 1991. I've written several books, including "The San Francisco Stage" and "Between Worlds: Contemporary Asian American Playwrights," and I am a frequent contributor to national theater magazines. I've also taught courses in drama and interdisciplinary arts at University of Washington and San Francisco State University. And when I'm not critiquing theater, you can often find me writing about my other passions — books, film, world music, jazz — or rooting for The Seattle Mariners.

My favorites
Interested in what's going on in Seattle and around the country in theater? Planning a trip to Broadway, but unsure how to get tickets? Here are some links I recommend you check out for general theater and ticket information:

Back to topBack to top

Pop music/Nightlife


Tom Scanlon About my work
My weekly column, "NightWatch," comes out on Fridays in The Seattle Times' Ticket section. "NightWatch" covers nightclubs and local musicians, usually with the best picks of the weekend's entertainment.

About me
I've been the nightclub/local music columnist for The Seattle Times since the beginning of 1999. My "day job" is in social work, as a case manager in a welfare-to-work agency. Prior to my current assignment, I reviewed plays for The Times. Before coming to Seattle, I was a staff writer with the Peninsula Times Tribune in Palo Alto, the San Jose Mercury News and the Pasadena Star-News.

My favorites

Seattle clubs (live music) Seattle clubs (DJ music)
1) Crocodile Cafe
2) Baltic Room
3) Showbox
4) Breakroom
5) Paradox
1) Re-bar
2) I-Spy
3) Showbox

206-464-3891 |


Paul DeBarros About my work
Jazz, Etc., which runs Fridays in The Seattle Times' Ticket section, is a tip sheet for folks who want to know what's happening in jazz, blues and world music. In any given week, that could mean a nationally known mainstream act at Jazz Alley, a local experimental artist at I-Spy, a high-school jazz-band competition in Idaho, a Cuban big-band at the Showbox, B.B. King at the Gorge, or a jazz festival in Europe. My goal is to keep you informed about what's happening in town, as well as how it relates to national trends.

On average, I listen to music eight to 10 hours a day, sometimes more. But too many jazz writers seem to like fighting about music more than listening to it, current flash points being Wynton Marsalis, Dave Douglas and our own Kenny G. I don't mind taking sides, but when the polemics obscure the listening, I just get bored. I see my job as helping people find good things to hear, live or on disc, and helping them hear more deeply, if I can.

About me
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area in the early '60s playing jazz, folk and rock, but soon was seduced by the music of words. I published my first articles in the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote fiction in a log house in British Columbia and edited a literary magazine in Vancouver, B.C., before moving to Seattle in 1979. After writing about jazz for the Seattle Weekly, I founded the jazz-support organization Earshot Jazz; worked five years as program director for the Northwest Folklife Festival; and published a history of Seattle's early jazz scene, "Jackson Street After Hours" (Sasquatch Books, 1993). A regular contributor to Down Beat magazine and National Public Radio's Jazz Riffs, I've covered the jazz scene for The Seattle Times since 1982.

My favorites
If I were forced to name some of my favorite classic jazz albums, they would include John Coltrane's "Soultrane," Dave Holland's "Conference of the Birds," Return to Foreverís "Light As A Feather," Charles Mingus' "Mingus Ah Um," Archie Shepp's "Live in San Francisco," Abdullah Ibrahim's "Water From An Ancient Well," Duke Ellington's "Black Brown and Beige," Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald's "Ella and Louis," Joe Venuti and Eddie Langís JSP compilation with "Stringin' the Blues," Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" and Benny Goodman's 1937-38 "Jazz Concert No. 2."

Some contemporary artists who interest me are Bill Frisell, Brad Mehldau, Kenny Davern, John Zorn, Joe Lovano, Steve Turre, Joe Morris, Diana Krall, Tom Harrell, Matthew Shipp, Gerry Hemingway, Olu Dara, Ingrid Jensen, Eric Alexander, Tommy Flanagan, Christian McBride, Ab Baars, Uri Caine, Maria Schneider, John Schott, Nancy King, Bill Charlap, Caetano Veloso, Evan Parker, Kenny Barron, Russell Malone, and Seattle's Jay Thomas and Michael Bisio. Howís that for eclectic? But, hey, the way I see it, pitting one style of music against another is way less interesting than listening to the music itself.

206-464-3247 |


Patrick MacDonald About me
I have spent my whole career involved in media and music. I started writing rock reviews for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1962, when I was 17. I worked at the P-I throughout my high school and college years, writing and editing in the Arts & Entertainment Department and, for a time, editing a Sunday supplement called The World Today. While working part-time at the P-I, I attended the University of Washington, where I was editor of The Daily and earned a degree in Political Science.

After eight years at the P-I, I went to work at KOL-FM, Seattle's first progressive-rock radio station. At KOL, I was a disc jockey, music director and program director. I continued to write for several publications, including Rolling Stone and High Fidelity.

I came to The Seattle Times in 1973, joining the Arts & Entertainment Department, where I have been ever since. I have been writing about music all that time, but also have done lots of editing. I was editor of Tempo (now Ticket) for 10 years, and was also a TV critic for a short time.

206-464-2312 |

Back to topBack to top

Classical music/Dance


Melinda Bargreen

About my work
As classical music critic, I can be found in the newspaper several days a week, depending on the timing and number of concert reviews, CD reviews, book reviews, author/performer interviews and overview pieces on music and general arts issues. Usually concert reviews appear two days after the concert because of our early daily deadlines.

About me
I started playing the piano at age 4 and composing music shortly after that, but after taking a long, hard look at the careers of concert pianists, I decided to follow a different route. I earned several degrees in English and comparative literature, minoring in music, and taught at the University of California at Irvine and Shoreline Community College before beginning my career as a critic. Over the years, while sharpening my fangs and preparing my arsenal of withering adjectives, my husband and I have (mostly) raised two college-age children, and the house is a lot quieter these days — except when the loud music starts up again during summers and holidays.

I've been music critic at The Times since 1977, but I've also written general arts features, book reviews, interviews, and the occasional story about food, education, family life, sports and other completely unrelated subjects. I've written for such publications as The Christian Science Monitor, Opera News, the American Record Guide and Horizon Air magazine, among many others. I have appeared on CBC and PBS TV, and I've also served as a National Public Radio commentator and a Performance Today CD reviewer.

My favorites
Good general-interest and reference musical sites:

·Arts and Letters Daily
·Aria Database
·Musical America
·Unheard Beethoven
·Bayreuther Festspiele
·Saks Fifth Avenue (just kidding — I think. Seriously, they have great sales.)

Back to topBack to top

Visual arts


Sheila Farr About my work
I got my first exposure to art criticism as a teenager, reading Tom Robbins in The Seattle Times. Years later it was Robbins who encouraged me to write my first review, assuring me that in fact newspaper editors are not the heartless and hard-bitten lot I imagined. Turns out he was right.

Why art? That's what I know. Since I was a kid, my experiences with art (and that includes dance, poetry, music and theater) have been exhilarating, life-altering and restorative. I hope to kindle some of that interest in my readers. If I can start a few debates, make a convert of somebody who never cared much about paintings, or get a dyed-in-the-wool art lover to rethink some old assumptions, I'll consider it a success.

About me
I'm a Seattle native. I studied art and dance at Cornish and the University of Washington, and I have a masters in creative writing from Western Washington University. My books include "Fay Jones," "Leo Kenney: a Retrospective," and "James Martin: Art Rustler at the Rivoli."

Back to topBack to top