Hailing from Reno Nevada, Jeff Alessandrelli spent much of his youth going to punk shows …
Wordstock: Saturday, November 11 from 9 AM – 6 PM at the Portland Art Museum (1219 SW Park Avenue).
Lit Crawl: 6pm on Friday, November 10th. Visit literary-arts.org for a full schedule.
This year’s Wordstock will surely be one to remember, featuring over one hundred writers. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lidia Yukanvitch, and Jeffrey Eugenides are some of the more recognizable names. Coates, a correspondent for The Atlantic has been one of the most powerful leading voices for civil rights today, writing sharply relevant essays and books about the alarming state of current affairs. He will be reading from his newly released book, We Were Eight Years in Power. Jeffrey Eugenides is the author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides, which was beautifully adapted for film by Sofia Coppola in 1999.
If poetry is more up your alley, Kaveh Akbar, Tommy Pico, Morgan Parker and local poet Zachary Schomburg will be reading. Akbar is a brilliant contemporary poet of Iranian descent who will be reading from his book Calling a Wolf a Wolf. Several recent ELEVEN literary arts featured writers will also be reading at the festival, including Jenny Forrester, reading from her breakout book Narrow River, Wide Sky, and Brian K Friesen, author of At the Waterline.
We recently caught up with festival director Amanda Bullock, who along with the dedicated staff of Literary Arts put together this magnificent event.
ELEVEN: How long does it take to prepare for such a large event?
Amanda Bullock: A year. Actually more, as we’re already looking toward the 2018 festival and the 2017 festival hasn’t even happened yet.
11: There are so many writers and poets presenting this year. Is there any particular writer or poet that you are looking forward to seeing?
AB: I could never pick just one! I am very proud of our lineup this year, I think there’s a great variety from superstars like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Claire Messud, Jeffrey Eugenides, alongside exciting new writers like Julie Buntin, Rachel Khong, Sandhya Menon, Jess Arndt. One of the most exciting things about the density of the festival lineup is the opportunity for discovery.
11: The New York Times is involved this year, how did this come about?
AB: We were connected to the New York Times’ subscriber services and events department, which saw the festival as an opportunity to connect with their West Coast subscribers. In turn, we are lucky enough to feature some Times’ writers and editors as festival interviewers, including Jenna Wortham and Parul Sehgal.
11: Can you tell me a little bit about the writing workshops? This seems like a great opportunity for kids who are interested in creative writing to get an early start.
AB: Most of the writing classes are geared toward adults, but we do offer two specifically for youth: one on comics for middle schoolers and one on poetry for high schoolers. These are presented as part of our Youth Programs, and registration is free. Youth 17 years of age and younger and/or with a valid high school ID enjoy free festival admission as well.
11: Can you speak about the importance of the literary community and events like Wordstock in this ever changing city?
AB: Reading and writing is so often a solitary pursuit, events like the festival are amazing moments to come together as a community. I truly believe in the importance of that IRL connection with other people who love what you love. Portland is an amazing literary town, and the festival wouldn’t be what it is anywhere else.
We also spoke with Heather Brown, who organizes Lit Crawl– a bar hopping adventure on Friday, November 10th that showcases local literary talent.
ELEVEN: Can you tell me a little about yourself? How did you get involved in Lit Crawl?
Heather Brown: I started organizing Lit Crawl in 2015 after a conversation with Amanda Bullock, Director of Public Programs at Literary Arts. It was her first year with Wordstock: Portland’s Book Festival, and she wanted to bring Lit Crawl to town–it’s actually an offshoot of the Litquake Festival in San Francisco, which spawned the very first Lit Crawl ever. Now Lit Crawls happen in cities from Seattle to Helsinki, often in conjunction with book festivals. I freelance doing publicity and events for authors, bookstores and literary organizations. Lit Crawl has become one of my regular seasonal contracts, and I love having it as part of my fall work calendar.
11: While I’m sure you’re excited about the event as a whole, which performances/presentations are you looking forward to the most?
HB: I am excited for the event as a whole! It’s good to be in the same place for a second round, and everyone’s getting the hang of how to submit really great proposals. I’m especially excited for events that are returning and establishing a Lit Crawl Portland tradition. I hope to see events like Whiting Win, Lose, or Draw! and Poetry Karaoke become perennial favorites. We also have some great female debut novelists that Jami Attenberg is going to introduce (Class of 2017), and Catapult, Sasquatch, and Coffee House Press are all using Lit Crawl in different ways as a launch pad for some of their new fall books.
11: This is the second year downtown, and this year the crawl is concentrated to a smaller area–between Broadway and 14th (East-West) and SW Yamhill and NW Everett (South-North). How has condensing the crawl to a smaller area improved the experience?
HB: I think the crowds will be more noticeable as they progress from place to place. I’m hoping the tightened radius will contribute to a stronger sense of community, excitement and visibility around the entire evening.
11: Thankfully, Portland still embraces the weird and abstract. For those not familiar with the event, can you describe some of the odder presentations at Lit Crawl? And what can we expect in that realm this year?
HB: Son of Poetry Karaoke (new and improved Poetry Karaoke from last year) will feature a spinning wheel and a live band that plays a variety of musical genres for audience members to read (or sing) poetry by. We’ve got some strong-themed events that address our current political climate: “The Donald Trump Presidential Library” with cartoonists Shannon Wheeler and Mark Russell, and “Words as Victim and Weapon” featuring poets exploring the powers and embattlements of language in these times. We’ve also got some racier programs: Therese O’Neill is going to present the most appropriate “Unmentionables” for a proper Victorian wedding night, and Lacy Knickers is bringing a teaser of her popular “Booklovers’ Burlesque” series.
11: Writers and those who appreciate them are often insular people. Would you say that this event can help to bring both the writer and the reader out of their respective shell?
HB: Yes, we’re hoping so! It’s a chance to get weird, and all are welcome! Tin House is sponsoring the “Awkward After Party II” in recognition of that very quality–that writers and readers want to have fun and connect, but we spend so much time in worlds made of words that sometimes coming out of our shells can get awkward. Lit Crawl embraces the awkward and the weird–it’s where the madcap meets the cerebral. We also hope to attract new audiences by putting literature on display in a way that’s accessible outside of traditional realms. »