One for the Books

So Long, Wordstock… Portland Book Festival Draws Remarkable Crowds with Bestselling Writers

What brings together the citizens of Portland more than craft beer, legal weed, or ‘90s indie rock revival bands? If you answered “books,” you’re correct! Also, you’ve assimilated.

Portlanders flocked en masse downtown the morning of Saturday, November 10, for the first edition of the Portland Book Festival, formerly known as Wordstock, an annual event celebrating books and authors for a single day each fall. Hosted by the organization Literary Arts, a non-profit that regularly hosts conversations with writers and poets around Portland, the festival featured a slew of events, interviews, and workshops dedicated to a range of word-related disciplines on Saturday.

The festival events occupied a handful of theaters and venues around downtown’s South Park Blocks, featuring interviews and panels with current authors of note. Headliners included actor Tom Hanks, comedian Abbi Jacobson, and novelists Jonathan Lethem and Lauren Groff, as well as an exceptional list of spoken word performers, poets, and other literary artists sharing their talents and craft with the Portland literati.

While the day was replete with programming centered on popular trends in publishing and writing, the festival’s organizers aimed to include on the schedule an array of social events geared towards the typical fest attendee: bars opened their doors to open mics, bookstores became sites for pop-up readings, and essentially any establishment willing to host literary events did so.

Since its inception, the event has seen steady growth from its origins as Wordstock, a locally organized book festival first held in 2005 celebrating homegrown talent, to the largest literary festival in the Pacific Northwest that it is today. Likewise, the growth of the festival mirrors Portland’s rise as a city of literary stature in the last decade or so.

In addition to the festival’s broader appeal and larger audiences, Portland itself is seeing an increase in similar literary happenings and popularity. Not only did the Portland Book Festival chart the highest attendance in its history, but Portland is also the host city for the 2019 Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Conference, one of the largest literary gatherings in the country.

One of Reed’s own professors participated in the celebration of writing last weekend. Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Samiya Bashir was a featured presenter at an event that was part of Lit Crawl Portland, one of the main activities on the Friday evening before the festival. Dr. Bashir, along with other poets and artists, engaged in a monologue centered on the theme of “Unchartable: An Evening of Environmental Unknowns,” an exploration of  “unknowable psychological landscapes, confounding emotional habitats” and “the shapeless environs of both speculation and perception.” Dr. Bashir, who has also presented at the festival in the past, attested to its charm as “a very local, very plucky, Portland book festival.” As a mainstay of the city’s literary scene, Dr. Bashir affirms that “Portland is a really literary town. There are a lot of small presses doing work here. A lot of lit journals, a lot of magazines, a lot of writers. You can’t swing a bag without hitting a writer in this town.” She is also slated to appear as a speaker at the 2019 AWP Conference in March, where she’ll be joined by nationally-recognized authors speaking on the many current facets and application of literature.

Dr. Bashir’s perspective on the Portland Book Festival, despite its expansion and changes, echoes the sentiment that many feel makes Portland unique. “We get to be different,” she says. I think being different actually might be a little more interesting than being the same.”

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