Don Wilsun

Founder of Red Sky Poetry Theater

Don Wilsun, a Seattle demolition worker who founded one of the longest running open-microphone poetry groups on the West Coast, died May 8. He was 56.

He died in his sleep of an apparent heart attack.

New Orleans native attended McNeese State University on a basketball scholarship and volunteered for the Peace Corps in Morocco. He arrived in Seattle in the late 1960s with Volunteers in Service to America, or Vista, and was assigned to a housing project. He made Seattle his home and found work in demolition.

In 1981, long before poetry “slams” became fashionable, Wilsun founded Red Sky Poetry Theater. Once a week, anyone could sign up to read original work about 30 minutes in advance.

Poets in the group sometimes issued self-published collections of their work under the Red Sky imprint. Wilsun used the imprint with his first book, “Orcas Island,” (1980), even before he founded the theater group.

A conga player known for his booming voice and larger-than-life persona, Wilsun wrote a number of booklets of poetry, including “Sweet Skin” (1993), “Frog’s Legs” (1996), and “Lynchings” (2002) and his most recent collection, “Petty Crimes.” and often read from them at Red Sky. He also worked with a second poetry collective called Nine Muses.

He is survived by an aunt.

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