Book Report: Portland Book Festival celebrates literary life
The book smart already know. The Portland Book Festival is just around the corner.
On Nov. 9, more than 150 authors and presenters take the stage at the annual event. The festival draws an average of 8,500 people who love to read.
Called Wordstock until 2013, this is the fifth year that Literary Arts has hosted the event. The bookish event takes place at multiple venues in and near the Portland Art Museum. Lit Crawl, a free pre-event, kicks off the night before.
Amanda Bullock, director of public programs for Literary Arts, oversees parts of the Portland Book Festival and Literary Arts' lecture series.
"A team of us makes sure things are in place. It's like training for a marathon," she said, meaning if you put the time in you'll cross the finish line.
A pro tip for Portland Book Festival newbies: access to keynote authors is guaranteed for people who buy the book when they purchase their Portland Book Festival ticket.
This year's marquee author events are with Malcolm Gladwell ("Talking to Strangers") and former U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice ("Tough Love"). Rice's book covers her years in the Clinton and Obama administrations. Both speakers will appear at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
What's new at the event this year? "We've added an outdoor stage in Shemanski Park for half-hour events," Bullock said. Main events are each one hour long. The half-hour events give an author from a panel discussion the chance to give a different presentation, or to talk specifically about his or her book.
Another first is a panel dedicated to romance novels. Writers Jasmine Guillory and Casey McQuiston each will talk about their books. "Both are very modern writers," said Bullock, meaning outside the realm of the typical romance novels.
Another panel includes writers who are up for National Book Awards. They are the Portland-based writer Kimberly King Parsons ("Black Light," fiction) Laurie Halse Anderson ("SHOUT," young adult fiction) Kali Fajardo-Austine ("Sabrina & Corina, fiction) and David Treuer ("The Heartbreak of Wounded Knee," nonfiction).
Many writers will do pop-up readings in the museum hallways.
"We paired passages of their books with specific paintings in the Portland Art Museum," Bullock said. "There's a great Hank Willis Thomas show (a conceptual artist) that will be up in the museum at the same time, and over 50 pop-ups are scheduled.
"At least 40% of the writers are locals while some, like Mitchell S. Jackson, we are welcoming back. We're really excited to feature him. He's on a panel called 'Self-Portrait' that explores that line between fact and fiction, appearing alongside writers Debra Gwartney and Peter Rock."
Some writers offer audiences a deeper dive in one-on-one interviews. For example, Seattle-based novelist G. Willow Wilson ("The Bird King") will be interviewed by OPB's April Baer.
A big draw for the YA audience is the writer Rainbow Rowell, who is from Nebraska.
"She's a real superstar," Bullock said. "She has two books coming out this fall: a graphic novel called 'Pumpkin Heads' for teens and 'Wayward Son.' This year all of the YA programming will be at The Old Church so people with that interest can really zero in. We have more YA than ever before," Bullock added.
Meanwhile, The Oregon History Center/Oregon Historical Society has a dedicated stage for the younger kids and middle grade programming. People age 17 and under get into the festival for free.
The New York Times newspaper has partnered with the festival for three years now. Maria Russo (the paper's children's book editor) and Pamela Paul (the book review editor) will moderate an event with author Renée Watson and illustrator Carson Ellis around the book "How to Raise a Reader."
Does an event about reading make money?
"No, it's not a money maker," Bullock said. "It's a huge undertaking, we rely on grants and volunteers, ticket sales only make up about 12%. It's really a community event. Our goal is to put literature at the center of civic life."
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