Why Every Writer Should Go to Portland, Oregon

Recently my husband and I went to Portland, Oregon, for a four-day vacation. We both had been wanting to visit the city for awhile now and our trip was wonderful. We were lucky enough to be in town the same weekend as Wordstock, a book festival, with readings, theater nights, workshops, small press/book publishers, and books from Powell’s books. It was an incredible festival for two writers. If you’re a writer, you should make it priority #1 to go to Portland. Seriously. Here are my 3 reasons why:

1) Powell’s Books, Powell’s Books, Powell’s Books. Imagine a bookstore that is so huge, you need a map and color-coded rooms to find the books. (The picture to the left doesn’t do it justice.) They put out-of-print, used, and new editions of the same book organized by the author’s last name. It is simply put book heaven. I went to the young adult section and seriously it was 8-10 bookshelves of everything I have heard about and more. Brendan and I pulled so many books that we were wondering how we were going to stuff them in our suitcase. (They ship too.) If you can’t find what you’re looking for in Powell’s Books, it doesn’t exist.

2) Besides being the friendliest people on the planet, people in Portland love books. They read with interest and sincere love. I’ve been to hundreds of book readings in NYC and LA, and New Yorkers are among the most well-read people I know, but there was something special about the Portland crowd. The readings at Wordstock were packed (seating up to 500 people) and people asked thoughtful questions of the authors, and clearly loving what they read.

3) WORDSTOCK. On one Saturday, we got to hear Aimee Bender, Lan Samantha Chang, Jonathan Lethem, David Rakoff, and Patrick Ness read and discuss their books (and there were more authors than that!). The small book publishers that represented children’s books, poetry, historical nonfiction, and more showed a real passion for the books they were publishing. One Canadian children’s book publisher vendor, Simply Read Books, was bursting at the seams when we picked up a picture book and said we loved the illustrations. She gushed about the artist and told us about his woodblocking technique that he used to create his book. Brendan and I were amazed at the level of LOVE for books.

Some literary gems from these authors:
David Rakoff shared that he was a Japanese major in college and his teacher said that he would have to study 3 hours a day to master the language. The same is true for writing, he said. In his typical witty sense of humor, he declared that “writing is like pulling teeth out…of my dick.” (The audience erupted in laughter over this one.) His latest book, HALF-EMPTY, just got a nice writeup in New York magazine’s Approval Matrix (my favorite part of that magazine).

Aimee Bender agreed with me that Portland is Mecca for writers while she signed her new book, THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE, for me. She also shared during the Q & A portion that the reason she doesn’t use quotation marks is because she doesn’t like how they visually look on the page.

Lan Samantha Chang gave an example of what it’s like teaching writing at the college level. One of her students’ work wasn’t received well in class and he came to talk to her one-on-one about it. She was trying to think of a way to keep encouraging him to continue writing. So she looked at the wooden tea set that was in her office for her 3-year-old daughter and offered him some imaginary tea. They drank imaginary tea and talked about his work. He left and continued working on the piece.

Jonathan Lethem, Brendan’s favorite author, talked about an image in his book CHRONIC CITY of birds resting on the top of a nearby church and how that was a metaphor for writing and how he felt about New York City. Brendan said that Lethem’s metaphor for writing was about birds circling – but never reaching – the spire on the top of a nearby church. It’s a recurring image in the book and apparently he got the inspiration from the view out of his writing office’s window. I stand corrected.

Besides the great food and friendly people, Portland, Oregon is a city that loves the written word. And Aimee Bender and I agree that it is the place that every writer should go. Visit TravelPortland.com for more info.

3 Comments on “Why Every Writer Should Go to Portland, Oregon”

  1. Good write up about a truly wonderful city. When I die, I want to go to a Powell’s Books afterlife.

    Oh, and to be that nerd, the Lethem metaphor for writing was about birds circling – but never reaching – the spire on the top of a nearby church. It’s a recurring image in the book and apparently he got the inspiration from the view out of his writing office’s window.

    • Thanks for clarifying Lethem’s metaphor because I know I didn’t capture it right.

      Next week, the food tour of Portland (provided that you send me the pictures!)

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Why Every Writer Should Go to Portland, Oregon « Typecraft -- Topsy.com

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