First ‘Mad Priest’ poetry reading celebrates island icon

The first in a slated series of quarterly poetry reading events to be held in honor of Bainbridge Island icon Bob McAllister is planned for 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27 at the Bainbridge Public Library.

The readings will be called the Mad Priest McAllister Poetry Readings, a nickname he reportedly gave himself many years ago while giving a reading at the University of Washington, according to his longtime friend and collaborator, and primary event organizer, Nancy Rekow.

“For this first reading in the series, anyone who studied with Bob McAllister, either at the high school, or in his many private workshops over the years, is invited to come and read a poem they wrote,” she said. “Also his widow Merry McAllister and any of his daughters will be welcome to come, say a few words, and read a poem.”

McAllister was a much loved and respected mentor for writers and actors for more than a generation.

He moved to the island in 1968, and taught English and drama at Bainbridge High for 35 years. During that time, he produced more than 100 stage productions. An Island Treasure honoree, McAllister also taught English and communications at Olympic College, and volunteered as a set-builder for Bainbridge Performing Arts, where he would also sometimes appear on-stage.

Though he passed away in 2014, McAllister remains a towering presence in the local arts scene, Rekow said.

“Basically, we poets know that if it weren’t for Bob McAllister much of this local poetry activity would not be taking place at all,” she explained. “So we want to honor him.”

In addition to his work as a teacher and poet, McAllister was also a carpenter and built numerous houses. He also acted in various shows at Bainbridge Performing Arts and elsewhere.

“Recently, I sat down to write a list of local poets I know who studied with Bob,” Rekow said. “The list quickly grew to over 20 people, and I know there will be more.”

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