Wordstock: A Reader's Digest

Portland's annual literary festival takes over the Oregon Convention Center Oct 3–6. Peruse our abridged schedule for the fest's best-bet writers and talks.

By Jonathan Frochtzwajg October 1, 2013

Portland’s annual literary festival, Wordstock, takes over the Oregon Convention Center (and various satellite venues) October 3 through October 6, bringing hundreds of small presses, indie booksellers, and big-name writers to town for our famously literate populace to consume like a good book on a rainy day. It’s the largest event of its kind not only in Portland, but in the whole Pacific Northwest (take that, Seattle!)—and with scores of writing workshops, dozens of panel discussions, two Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 authors, and one pub crawl competing for attendees’ attention, it can be a little overwhelming. Not to worry: with the help of festival director Katie Merritt and Wordstock board member (and local writer) Karen Karbo, we’ve edited Wordstock’s tome-like schedule down to a Reader’s Digest version featuring only the fest’s best-bet writers and talks (and rock shows).  

Kevin Sampsell

Wednesday, Oct 2
LitHop PDX 

Continuing the long tradition of mixing books with booze (Ernest Hemingway would have approved), the first installment of this new reading–bar hop mashup sets loose 54 writers—including well-known Portland wordsmiths like Kevin Sampsell, Matthew Dickman, and Vanessa Veselka—on six venues—five bars, one coffee shop for sobering up—along Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard between Southeast 42nd and 50th Avenues—“Bar-muda Triangle.” Add it all up and you’ve got one hell of a local-lit bender. 7. SE Hawthorne between 42nd & 50th (visit for venues)

Thursday, Oct 3
Oprah’s 2.0 Book Club Vanguards
When Oprah chose local writer Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild last June as the first selection for her rebooted book club, the book rocketed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list (it had dropped off the list entirely) and Strayed got drenched in what Wordstock festival director Katie Merritt calls an “Oprah tsunami” of publicity. Half a year later, when Brooklyn writer Ayana Mathis’s debut novel, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, received Oprah’s imprimatur, the process repeated itself. This festival-opening conversation between Mathis and Strayed, moderated by Live Wire! funny woman Courtenay Hameister, promises three “really funny, really wise, very opinionated women” talking about the Oprah Effect and their writing processes, says Merritt. 7:30. Mission Theater
Read our Q&A with Strayed from earlier this year. 

Jolie Holland

Friday, Oct 4
Wordstock Rocks Songcraft

Wordstock made songwriting a permanent festival category this year, recognizing song lyrics as a literary form right alongside poetry. “We might read a book a few times, and we might see a movie a few times, but songs are the backdrops of our lives,” Merritt explains. “My personal fear is that if the quality of the storytelling in those songs isn’t celebrated, it will degrade. Are we going to be in the land of ‘my hump, my hump, my lovely lady bump,’ or whatever it is?” To forestall such a fate, Wordstock is showcasing four songwriters with lyrical chops: Tanya Donelly, of the Breeders and Throwing Muses; musician-writer Michael Hearst; eclectic songstress Jolie Holland; and The Ice Storm author Rick Moody, whose latest book collects his writing on music. 8:30. Mission Theater

Saturday, Oct 5
Whitney Otto
This Portland writer’s most recent novel, Eight Girls Taking Pictures, weaves together eight fictional stories about as many famous female photographers. Our reviewer found her handiwork seamless, writing that the book “[blends] Otto’s saturated yet accessible prose with her talent for stitching together stories of multiple characters with a steady, glittering needle.” Otto, whom fellow local lit-izen Karen Karbo outs as “an undercover art historian,” will accompany her talk with a slideshow. 11. Mutt Enterprises Stage

Tim Zahn

Ian Doescher, Tim Zahn, and Cloud City Garrison
The stars have aligned such that
Star Wars Reads Day, a celebration of “literacy and Jedi, Sith, [and] Wookies,” falls during the festival this year. Conveniently for Wordstock, Portland is home to not only one of the best-known writers in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Tim Zahn (some believe his Thrawn trilogy will form the basis of the new Star Wars movies), but also Ian Doescher, the author of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, which puts George Lucas’s epic into Shakespearean verse (opening lines: “in time so long ago begins our play / in star-crossed galaxy far, far away). Joining these distinguished nerds is Cloud City Garrison, Portland’s group for people who like to dress up as Storm Troopers. 1:30. McMenamins Stage

Stacy Bolt and Lauren Kessler
All you need to know about local writer Stacy Bolt, says Karbo, is the term she coined for where sperm donation occurs: “spankoteria.” With her memoir about her attempts to have a child at “advanced maternal age,” Breeding in Captivity, “Stacy has written the definitive laugh-your-ass-off book about infertility and adoption,” Karbo says. Bolt is joined by Eugene-based literary-nonfiction writer—and multiple Oregon Book Award winner—Lauren Kessler, whose latest adventure in “guinea-pig journalism,” Counterclockwise, explores “the real science and the real hucksterism” of anti-aging. 4. Mutt Enterprises Stage

Live Wire! Radio Wordstock Extravaganza
For its annual Wordstock edition, the live radio variety show hosts writer/filmmaker/hip-hop artist/overachiever MK Asante, human book machine T.C. Boyle, and the blackly comic writer A.M. Homes, as well as songwriters Tanya Donnelly and Michael Hearst. 6:30. Alberta Rose Theatre

Sunday, Oct 6
On and Off the Menu: PDX Chefs
Portland Monthly’s own food editor, Karen Brooks, moderates a discussion between two hotshot chef–food writer duos who recently co-authored cookbooks, Le Pigeon’s Gabriel Rucker with Meredith Erickson and Toro Bravo’s John Gorham with local food scribe Liz Crain. Noon. Mutt Enterprises Stage 
Read our recent story about Rucker and Erickson's Le Pigeon cookbook.  

A.M. Homes

A.M. Homes
A.M. Homes is the shock jock of contemporary American literature. Her acclaimed debut story collection The Safety of Objects (made into a 2001 movie) includes pieces about a teenage boy’s sexual experimentation with his sister’s Barbie and a suburban couple’s psychotropic experimentation with crack. In her novel The End of Alice, an incarcerated kid killer gives a younger female pedophile pointers on child sex abuse. And by the 15th page of her newest book, the novel May We Be Forgiven—which won this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize for Fiction)—a main character has already killed two people in a car crash and bludgeoned his wife to death with a lamp. What separates Homes from Howard Stern is this: though her excavations of the suburbs’ manicured landscape are disturbing, they are also substantive commentaries on postmodern America—and darkly funny ones, at that. 1. McMenamins Stage 
Read our Q&A with Homes. 

MK Asante (with Andrew Lam)
This prolific author, filmmaker, and hip-hop musician is “kind of blowing up right now,” Merritt says. Asante’s new book, Buck, is a memoir of his troubled adolescence among “outlaws and eccentrics, rappers and mystic strangers, [and] ghetto philosophers and strippers” and his salvation through art. 1. National Endowment for the Arts Stage

Tom Spanbauer

In Your Own Backyard—The Northwest Novel
Four authors of novels set in our region discuss writing about the place where you live, and whether a distinctive Northwest literary style exists. They are: James Bernard Frost, whose newest novel, A Very Minor Prophet, has as its protagonist a 22-year-old barista who recently moved to Portland (sound familiar?); Peter Donahue, whose debut novel, Madison House, takes place in turn-of-the-century Seattle; Michael H. Strelow, author of a fictionalized account of Henry Weinhard’s life, Henry: A Novel of Beer and Love; and Tom Spanbauer, whose school of “dangerous writing” counts among its members many Northwest writers, most notably Chuck Palahniuk. 2. Comcast Stage

Oregon Convention Center (and other venues)
Oct 3–6 
T.C. Boyle
Arguably Wordstock 2013’s biggest name, this Southern California–based writer graces the festival as he embarks on a tour promoting his 24th—that’s right: two, four—book of fiction, T.C. Boyle Stories II. Don’t expect some dry reading: “In addition to being a hell of a writer,” Merritt says, “Boyle is a wonderful showman.” 3. McMenamins Stage


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