In the matchmaking process between moderators and panels, I was asked by the polite folks at Wordstock, “are subjects involving dystopia, sex, or journalism particularly dear to you?” While the latter is the only thing I know much about, I said I preferred the three equally mixed—nothing like the good ol’ hardboiled hack dystopian erotica (instead they assigned me a panel on queer representations in the media, see below). But it turns out the three, mostly separately, are the themes of this year’s Wordstock, the first under new director Katie Merrit. While this year lacks the big marquee names of the past, that hasn't stopped Merrit from diving into the themes with a whole lot of fervor (not to mention a little bit of spice—stop by the fest’s Red Chair District, complete with erotica, sex toys, and dramatic readings of Missed Connections by the Portland-based improv troupe the Unscriptables).
There are nonetheless names many lit lovers will recognize. Joining local luminaries like Daniel H, Wilson, Storm Large, Chelsea Cain, Colin Meloy, and Whitney Otto are visitors including The Night Circus author Erin Morgentstern, Studio 360’s Kurt Anderson, R&B singer and author Bettye Lavette, and journalist and NPR contributor Peter Heller.
Here are the dozen panels and events we’re most excited about, some because they offer visiting writers, other because they allow us to revisit some of our favorite locals. See you there!
Poets Slam Wordstock
Thursday at 7, Bagdad Theater
Kicking of the fest is a battle of words in which two-time national poetry slam champion Anis Mojgani will throw down with a crew of state poets, moderated by master slammer Eirean Bradly.
The End of the World As We Know It
Saturday at 11, COM Stage
Wordstock said dystopia, right? Well, these three authors are imagining post-Apocalyptic futures like you wouldn’t believe, although many of their demons—pervasive technological control, epidemics, environmental disasters—are all too present today. Portland author Daniel H. Wilson has a PhD in robotics, which gives him the technical grounds to create unparalleled sci-fi thrillers including Robopocalypse, which is being made into a movie by Steven Spielberg, and his most recent novel, Amped. Peter Heller is an award–winning adventure writer and NPR contributor who’s first novel, The Dog Stars, tells the story of a flu mutation that’s wiped out most of the population, leaving a heartbroken man, a fishing rod, some guns, a small plane, and the dog. And Katie Kacvinsky is a young adult author of First Comes Love and Awaken.
Storm Large + Bettye LaVette
Saturday at Noon, COM
Last year has been more than crazy enough for Storm Large: Oprah endorsed her book Crazy Enough (read our review), Large appeared on Rosie, sang “8-Miles-Wide” with an audience in pink boas on The Ricki Lake Show, is preparing for an Off Broadway run, and the book is coming out in paperback in November. Whew. She’ll be appearing with the R&B and Soul legend, Bettye LaVette, who made her first record at age 16 in 1962 but didn’t really make it big until 2005’s critically adored I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise, a roller-coaster of a life she recounts in her memoir, A Woman Like Me.
Large also appears with Duff Brenna at 5, COM.
Jon Raymond + Lidia Yuknavitch
Saturday at 2, FOS
Two quintessential Northwest authors sitting side by side, like rain and clouds, mountains and Doug Firs. John Raymond, author of a number of books as well as the movies Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Crossing, and HBO’s Mildred Pierce, is promoting his newest novel, Rain Dragon, (read our profile of Raymond), and Lidia Yuknavitch just last month released her first novel, a contemporary take on Frued’s famous patient, Dora: A Headcase (read our review).
Raymond also appears in the panel “The Art of the Ending,” Sunday at 3, FOS Stage.
Yuknavitch also appears on the panel "What Sex Does to a Story" on Saturday at 4, FOS Stage.
Out on the Page
Saturday at 3, FOS
Is straight America ready for queer characters? Or is that even a relevant question, in these days of GLEE, The New Normal, and RuPaul’s Drag Race? I’ll be moderating a conversation on the topic between three very different authors: Christopher Frizelle, Dan Savage’s protégé and heir as the executive editor of Seattle’s The Stranger, and now co-author of How to be a Person: The Stranger’s Guide to College, Sex, Intoxicants, Tacos, and Life Itself (and a pretty crazy gonzo journalist); local author Carter Sickels, who penned the gritty, naturalistic novel The Evening Hour; and perhaps my new favorite author, the decorated young adult fiction maven David Levithan, who wrote the first gay YA love story, Boy Meets Boy, co-wrote Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, as well as a number of other inventive, risky, and heartwarming stories
Frizzelle and his fellow authors of How to be a Person also appear Sunday at 11 at NEA.
Levithan also appears Sunday at 5 at MCM.
Truth in Storytelling
Saturday at 4, NEA Stage
Are lies ever acceptable—or even necessary—for telling “the truth?” Depends on who you ask (say, David Sedaris or his family…). We’re guessing this panel of a journalist, an essayist, and a memoirist might have differing opinions. Peter Zuckerman wrote the gripping retelling of the deadliest disaster in K2 history, Buried in the Sky (read PoMo's profile); Megan Stielstra is the literary director of Chicago’s premier storytelling event, 2nd Story, and editor of its anthology of personal essays; and James Kunan is the author of Diary of a Company Man: Losing a Job, Finding a Life.
Zuckerman is also giving a workshop, “Triage: A Better Way to Revise,” on Saturday at 11 in MCM and appearing on Saturday at 1:30 at D 140.
The 8th Annual Live Wire! Wordstock Extravaganza
Saturday at 8, Aladdin Theater
Always one of the Wordstock highlights, Live Wire! throws some of the most interesting authors on a stage and host Courtenay Hameister asks crazy things of them. Guests include Kurt Andersen, host of NPR’s Studio 360 and author of the political thriller True Believers; Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus; Betty Lavette, R&B singer and author of A Woman Like Me, and several others. Musical guest is Seattle’s THEESatisfaction.
Local Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalists
Sunday at Noon, Comcast Stage
Portland isn’t just a book town, it’s also a surprising center for prize–winning journalism. Join three of our local winners of the country’s most prestigious award in a discussion about what makes a hard-hitting, well-crafted, standout stories. Tom Hallman, Jr., is a feature writer at the Oregonian and author of A Stranger’s Gift: True Stories of Faith in Unexpected Places, Nigel Jaquiss is an investigative reporter at Willamette Week, and Richard Read is a two–time Pulitzer winner who covers international issues for the Oregonian.
(Almost) Doomsday Journalism
Sunday at 1, MCM Stage
In a panel mixing dystopia and journalism, three reporters discuss how the media helps us prepare for, prevent, or ignore current world crises. A senior reporter at Entertainment Weekly, Jeff Jensen recently wrote the graphic novel Green River Killer, put out by local press Dark Horse, about his father’s decade–spanning hunt for the country’s most prolific serial killer, in our neighboring Seattle (listen to a story I did about Jensen for Radiolab). Bestselling author, journalist, and humorist Doug Fine takes on the new, high-stakes cannabis economy and “gangaprenneurs” in his book Too High to Fail. Finally, Brent Walth, an award–winning investigative reporter for the Oregonian, is now the managing news editor for Willamette Week.
Jeff Jensen also appears Sunday at 4 at MCM.
Sun at 2, COM
Not only is Chelsea Cain a New York Times best-selling thriller and crime writer, but she’s one of our favorite personalities about town—never to be missed during her regular Live Wire! and Think Out Loud Culture Club appearances on OPB. Her fifth installment in her series about serial killer Gretchen Lowell is called Kill You Twice (read our review).
Sunday at 3, NEA Stage
Sex! We love it. We love doing it. And if 50 Shades of Grey is any indication, we love reading about it. These three authors talk about the incessant acts of voyeurism offered up by contemporary culture and technology. Editor of The Sex Diaries Project, Arianne Cohen knows more about what Americans are doing behind close doors than Americans know themselves (read an interview we did with her). Shanna Germain is the editor of Bound By Lust, a couples-focused erotica with a BDSM slant. And Inara Scott is an award–winning romance writer.
Germain leads a workshop “No More Heaving Bosoms: Writing and Publishing Modern Erotica and Romance Novels”on Saturday at 10:30am at D 139.
Cohen also appears Sunday at 5 at NEA.
Colin Meloy + Carson Ellis
Sunday at 5, COM
Finally, the husband–wife super team of Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy and illustrator Carson Ellis team up for their second fantastical children’s tale set in the forests and streets of Portland, if only they were filled with magic. Under Wildwood is the sequel to their first collaboration, Wildwood.