A dramatic entrance, performance poetry, and a surprise proposal—this year’s Oregon Book Awards provided all manner of entertainment for the literarily inclined.
The highlight of the evening had less to do with literature and more to do with what inspires so much of it, when literary kingpin Tom Spanbauer, concluding an eloquent acceptance speech, proposed to his longtime partner, Michael Sage Ricci.
“Portlandia, you are a real angel of a city,” said Spanbauer as he accepted the Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award for his “outstanding contributions” to Oregon’s literary life. “Michael Sage Ricci, will you marry me?”
The answer—in the affirmative, thankfully—from Spanbauer’s partner and co-teacher Ricci sent the rest of the house into paroxysms of appreciation. There was whooping and hollering aplenty, and not for the first time in a night of high entertainment and some deliciously low humor.
The ceremony had kicked off earlier Monday evening at the Gerding Theater at the Armory with local writer Mitchell S. Jackson as the night’s entertaining emcee. Jackson, whose book The Residue Years is this year’s Multnomah County Library Everybody Reads selection, wasted no time in showing off his sartorial elegance, coming out from behind the podium to model his suit for the audience. “I wanted to make sure y’all could see that,” he said, thereby setting a red-carpet theme for the evening.
Before long, everyone from Alex Tizon (winner in the general nonfiction category) to Lidia Yuknavitch (presenting the Holbrook award) was modeling his or her chosen attire for the audience, though Tizon claimed to have found his ensemble at JC Penney.
Beyond fashion fun, Jackson’s writer’s “Dos and Don’ts” list also hit the mark with such wise instructions as “Do not ask for a zillion city book tour” followed immediately by “Do ask for a trillion city book tour ... but you also gotta be happy if you get a book tour around your neighborhood.”
There were odes to Portland: Spanbauer waxed lyrical on the city’s many qualities, including its propensity to “think too much” and ride around naked on bicycles. There were invocations to keep it so: Justin Hocking (winner in the creative nonfiction category) got a burst of applause when he asked everyone in the room to do “everything we can to keep Portland a hospitable and affordable place for young writers.” Tizon invoked television's Tyrion Lannister when he decried the cruelty of the gods, quoting the Game of Thrones character’s appeal: “Where is the god of tits and wine?” He went on to call on a visitation from the “god of words, the god of story,” before ending with a rallying cry to all in the room: “Let’s keep typing.”
There were poetry performances from a lyrical Dlux The Light (aka Desmond Spann), and from the ceremony’s annual fixture Scott Poole, who once again managed to include every book title and author name on the finalists list in his exploration of “Ideas on the Poetry Voice.”
Octogenarian poet, teacher, and writer Ralph Salisbury almost stole the show with his opening gambit. His slow approach to the podium, hindered by his walker and medical paraphernalia, was immediately punctuated by his opening line: “Sometimes my entrances are more dramatic than anything I have to say.”
But in offering his work to the “spirit of human goodness,” he neatly summed up the feeling in a room full of writers and readers, gathered to support each other and this state in celebrating the best of the craft and of the people that practice it.
Full list of winners at Literary Arts 28th Annual Oregon Book Awards
ELOISE JARVIS McGRAW AWARD FOR CHILDREN'S LITERATURE
Susan Hill Long of Portland—Whistle in the Dark (Holiday House)
LESLIE BRADSHAW AWARD FOR YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE
April Henry of Portland—The Body in the Woods (Henry Holt)
FRANCES FULLER VICTOR AWARD FOR GENERAL NONFICTION
Alex Tizon of Eugene—Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
SARAH WINNEMUCCA AWARD FOR CREATIVE NONFICTION
Justin Hocking of Portland—The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld (Graywolf Press)
ANGUS L. BOWMER AWARD FOR DRAMA
Andrea Stolowitz of Portland—Ithaka
STAFFORD/HALL AWARD FOR POETRY
Emily Kendal Frey of Portland—Sorrow Arrow (Octopus Books)
KEN KESEY AWARD FOR FICTION
Cari Luna of Portland—The Revolution of Every Day (Tin House Books)
READERS CHOICE AWARD
Willy Vlautin of Scappoose—The Free (Harper Perennial)
STEWART H. HOLBROOK LITERARY LEGACY AWARD
Tom Spanbauer of Portland
WALT MOREY YOUNG READERS LITERARY LEGACY AWARD
Jann Tankersley of McMinnville
C. E. S. WOOD DISTINGUISHED WRITER AWARD
Ralph Salisbury of Eugene