It’s been a week now since Lit Crawl and Wordstock. And what a week it’s been. I haven’t written much at all since Tuesday night, but this post has been brewing since last weekend, and it’s been a welcome change to take some time and look back on last Saturday with so much love and friendship.
I wrote last year about how amazing my first Wordstock was, but I also wrote about some of the bugs in the system during Literary Arts’ first outing as festival organizers and reported on some of the suggestions folks had to make it better. And it definitely seems that Literary Arts was listening to everyone, because they answered a LOT of those concerns!
This year was still technically one day, but the festival proper was preceded by an amazing array of readings and other literary events during Portland’s annual Lit Crawl, which afforded people a lot more opportunities to get out and see a whole bunch of authors.
And that’s where I started. I took the train down from Tacoma (I love Amtrak) and arrived just in time for the first of the Lit Crawl events at 6 pm. I had many to choose from, but I was eager to get to the collection of readings about mushrooms. Yes, mushrooms — literary mushrooms. I had recently read Alexis M. Smith’s gorgeous eco-mystery novel, Marrow Island, and because wild mushrooms play an important role in the book, she was on the panel. Also on that panel: Gina Ochsner, whom I’d never met before last Friday but who received an Oregon Literary Fellowship in fiction the same year I got mine, so I was eager to say hello and offer a belated congratulations.
And yes, it is surprising how fascinating mushrooms can be and how important a role they can play in narrative. Of course, I’m a geek that way — I love learning about just about anything — but seriously: a few years ago, I read Bill Roorbach’s Life Among Giants, and folks, there’s a mushroom on the cover of that novel for a reason. Or, consider the role mushrooms play in the second episode of the tv mystery series Midsomer Murders. So yeah, gang: readings about mushrooms. It was a fascinating way to kick of Lit Crawl.
After that, I dashed around the corner to the Literary Arts headquarters for a special edition of Melissa Dodson and Marialicia Gonzalez’s Grief Rights Reading Series. I’ve been a fan of this series for a long time, and I joined the series as a reader back in February. On Lit Crawl night, though, I was an eager spectator (and I helped staff the book sales table for Amber J. Keyser and Oregon Book Award and Lambda Award winner Kate Carroll de Gutes). It was a beautiful reading, full of compassion and ceremony, including a blessing of the space and the ritual of each reader handing a rose to the reader that followed them. The work read that night was all amazing — meditations on loss and memory and love and self-care; I especially loved Kate Carrol de Gutes, Adam Strong, and finale poet DeAngelo Gillespie.
From Grief Rites, I hurried back across the street to the joint reading event hosted by the Salon Skid Row Reading Series and Portland-based publisher YesYes Books. I was excited for this reading because Salon Skid Row organizer Josh Lubin always runs a great reading, complete with a kind of media-accompaniment in the form of video montages projected on a side wall (that night’s was, brilliantly but, in retrospect, hauntingly, a bunch of old television campaign ads from Nixon and Reagan). Also, Robert Lashley was on the roster, and that man is one of my all-time favorite poets and live readers. The first time I saw him, he gave a rousing, angry rendition of his poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Motherfucker at the Club”; on this night, he brought me to tears with his emotional final poem. For real, gang: you need to buy his book The Homeboy Songs.
But I was also eager to see the offerings from co-host YesYes Books, whose authors and poets I love, and those folks delivered! I especially loved Jonterri Gadson (I later bought her book Blues Triumphant) and YesYes publisher KMA Sullivan.
Overwhelmed by all that beautiful art and exhausted by a day of travel and running around downtown Portland, I was ready to pack it in, but as I left the final reading, I ran into Mark Russell and Amy Temple Harper, two of my favorite Portland writers, and we all decided to hit the Tin House Awkward After Party together. There, I ran into Mo Daviau, who is always fabulous, and chatted in the beer line with a woman name Beth about her sister’s sci-fi writing. Alas, I never did get to see Carrie Brownstein, because the party became quickly crowded and warm, and I realized just how tired I was, so I made my way to the bus and headed back to my friends’ house where I was staying for the weekend.
Besides, I had an early day ahead of me as I made my way back downtown in the morning for my volunteer duties at Wordstock.
Because my bus ran late and I missed the beginning of the first round of panels, I began my Wordstock day by briefly hitting the bookfair before checking in at my volunteer assignment. Then I hoofed it over to the First Congregational United Church of Christ, where I’d been posted.
Another thing that Literary Arts did in the past year to address the problem of crowds: they vastly expanded their venues from one to eight around Portland’s South Park Blocks, plus a slew of smaller pop-up venues in the area. The expansion of venues also reduced overcrowding in events, so it seemed to me that fewer people got turned away because a venue had reached capacity. And Literary Arts also made a much more conscious effort to address accessibility and mobility issues, so more people were able to get into the venues they wanted to.
Consequently, from what I could tell, everyone attending was even happier and more excited by Wordstock than last year, and I can say that not only as an attentive attendee but also as a volunteer.
My building, the First Congregational United Church of Christ, was a gorgeous old church with pointed arches and stained glass and huge studded-leather doors and wood pews for seating. My initial assignment was to serve as door monitor, which meant I got to count heads as attendees entered (so we wouldn’t surpass capacity), check wristbands, answer any questions, and generally just be a cheerful face as people came and went. I did that for a while, but the first event — a discussion between Vailey Oehlke (director of Multnomah County Libraries) and author Alice Hoffman, who is probably most famous for her book Practical Magic (yes, THAT Practical Magic) but whose new book is Faithful — included a Q&A, and the organizers needed someone to carry the mic around the audience. They tapped me, so I got to hang out up front during the discussion and then use my teacher skills to scan the raised hands and make sure I brought to mic to a variety of audience questioners.
The second panel, with educators Michael Copperman and Nicholson Baker, made me cry with the hope and drive those two spoke about in education. They were especially insistent on greater diversity in our teaching and our teachers, and on reaching students where they exist rather than stuffing everyone into some artificial standardization. Also, the panel moderator was Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Dave Miller, so for the second Wordstock in a row, I had a public-radio geek-out moment and rushed onstage ahead of the event to fanboy over an OPB celeb. (Last year was April Baer.)
As last year, I didn’t get to all the panels I had intended to, but as a volunteer I was able to sit in on two panels, and in the evening I attended a third, a youth lit panel with the amazing Kate Ristau (author of Shadowgirl and the newly released Clockbreakers) and Bart King (author of The Drake Equation). The authors were amazing, but the real stars of that final panel were the kids in the audience. They asked a whole range of insightful, writerly questions, and when the panel asked how many of the kids were writers themselves, several raised their hands. (One young girl, I later found out, is a published writer, and I bought her book in the bookfair. Turns out, Bart King had blurbed it!)
Watching those young writers and readers ask such intelligent questions and get so fired up about literature was the perfect way to wind up my Wordstock experience. Except I wasn’t quite done yet!
Amid everything else going on, I managed to make the rounds in the bookfair a few times, and after that last panel, I sneaked in one more trip. Over the course of the day, I came away with quite a haul!
I also got to see and hug and hang out with a whole bunch of my fellow writers and publishers, including —
Good friends and Facebook pals:
- Adam Strong
- Amy Temple Harper
- Davis Slater
- Gigi Little
- Jenny Forrester
- John Carr Walker
- Josh Lubin
- Kate Ristau
- Laura Stanfill
- Margaret Malone
- Mark Russell
- Melissa Dodson
- Michael Heald
- Mo Daviau
- Nicole McCarthy
- Robert Lashley
- Stephen O’Donnell
New friends and Facebook pals:
- Bart King
- Cynthia Dix
- Jonterri Gadson
- KMA Sullivan
- Tina Connolly
Writers and celebs:
- Alice Hoffman
- Chloe Eudaly (who is, as of Tuesday, Portland’s newest city councilwoman!)
- Dave Miller
Writers I know and love but only glimpsed in passing and didn’t get a chance to say hi to:
In other words, Wordstock was just as great as last year, and then it was better. And next year? I imagine Literary Arts is going to continue to improve on Wordstock — and I intend to be there to find out!