Oregon Book Awards 2013

OBA_2013_Final_Cover-5Last night I had the terrific honor of attending the Oregon Book Awards ceremony here in Portland. Better still, I got to sit down front, with my writer pal Hobie Anthony and poetry nominee Carrie Seitzinger and her partner Matty Byloos. Before and after the ceremony, I chatted with fiction nominee Alexis M. Smith and double-nominee (in nonfiction and creative nonfiction) Kerry Cohen and her partner James Bernard Frost, as well as writer Jenny Forrester and Literary Arts program coordinator Mel Wells.

And then there were ALL the people I missed out on reconnecting with or meeting for the first time, partly because when you get drawn into drinking circles it’s hard to leave and circulate because you’re having so much fun, and partly because there were SO MANY PEOPLE there and I would never have gotten to them all. I was once in the proximity of a conversation with Reader’s Choice winner Cheryl Strayed (who host Elissa Schappell aptly dubbed the Oregon literary scene’s Meryl Streep), and someone told me that creative nonfiction winner Storm Large (who gave probably the most honest and endearing acceptance speech last night — I was utterly won over by her) had passed by my group before any of us had a chance to congratulate her. I wanted to find Scott Poole and applaud all over again his gorgeous, hilarious, comically stunning poem composed from the names of all the finalists, all the finalist book titles, and all the award category names! I wanted so much to thank fiction winner Ismet Prcic for his beautiful acceptance speech about the nature of art — a perfect ending to the evening!

Honestly, though, I just can’t do the evening justice. If you weren’t there, you would need several different accounts of it just to get a sense of how important — and how much fun — it was. So, here are a few more versions of last night’s events:

Afterward, I walked home in the quiet night, over the Broadway Bridge to cross the black Willamette, and I thought about how immensely fortunate I am. Not only to be an Oregon Literary Fellowship recipient, but also just to be a part of this writing community — to be a writer in Portland. The community here is large, and it would be easy to get lost in the crowd, but it isn’t a crowd — it is, as Mel Wells put it afterward, a family. All the writers and all the readers, regardless of genre or medium, are so supportive of and appreciative of each other. All night long, as writers rubbed elbows with writers, I never once heard someone launch into some discussion about their own work unbidden — everywhere, everyone kept asking, “So what’s your next book?” Or “When can we work together?” Or, “How can I help spread the word about you?” Even me — every person I met last night, friend or stranger, asked when they would get to read my book. (I hope my agent is paying attention to this post!)

And the thing is, this isn’t an inflating experience. I’ve never felt my ego at risk of swelling. Instead, it’s a humbling experience, a profoundly egalitarian communion of artists. And I love that.

And I love them.

And I love Oregon.

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