5 Picks for the Portland Book Festival (Formerly Known as Wordstock)

Saturday’s literary event offers a smorgasbord of bookish delights. We’ve narrowed the list for your delectation.

By Rebecca Jacobson and Fiona McCann November 8, 2018

There There author Tommy Orange is just one of many writers storming the city for the Portland Book Festival. 

Bibliophiles, snap your books shut. The Portland Book Festival—formerly known as Wordstock—lands on the city’s South Park Blocks this Saturday, November 10, with more than 100 authors, 13 writing workshops, 90 plus exhibitors and vendors, six venues, a brand new dedicated stage for children’s books, and celebrity attendees a la Tom Hanks and Abbi Jacobson. It’s a lot, right? Consider this the CliffsNotes-equivalent guide to that heavy-hitting lineup. Here are the five events you really should—and can!—make it to (get ready to hoof it). 

Tommy Orange

10–11 a.m., First Congregational United Church of Christ
“Yes, Tommy Orange’s Debut Novel Is Really That Good,” blared the New York Times review of There There, about 12 Native Americans in Oakland who converge at a fateful powwow. The widely acclaimed novel is a lens into the lives of Indians off the reservation. "Native people look like a lot of different things, and we are in cities now—I mean, 70 percent of Native people live in cities now,” Orange, who grew up in Oakland and is enrolled in the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Oklahoma, told NPR. “And we just need a new story to build from, and I always wanted to try to do that." He’ll be interviewed onstage by State of Wonder’s April Baer.

New Poets of Native Nations

11:45 a.m.–12:45 p.m., Winningstad Theatre
Poet and editor Heid E. Erdich—also sister to writer and National Book Award winner Louise—is joined at the Winningstad by three native poets: Laura Da’, Layli Long Soldier, and Oregon’s Trevino L. Brings Plenty. The three are among 21 poets selected by Erdich for the book New Poets of Native Nations, which highlights the scope of new native poetry, tackling subjects from sixth grade grammar lessons to moving to Brooklyn.

Elizabeth Rush and Omar El Akkad

12:50 p.m.–1:20 p.m., Portland Art Museum, Crumpacker Library
Elizabeth Rush’s Rising: Dispatches from a New American Shore is a timely, lyrical investigation of coastal communities around the country adapting to the very real effects of climate change. Who better to talk to her about its contents than Portlander Omar El Akkad, whose powerful, post-apocalyptic novel American War takes place in a future America where climate change has wreaked havoc on the country and its inhabitants. 

Eli Saslow

1:45–2:45 p.m., Portland Art Museum, Whitsell Auditorium
What compels a white supremacist to renounce his views? And what does it take to unlearn a lifetime of racist indoctrination? That’s what Portlander Eli Saslow, a Pulitzer-winning Washington Post reporter, wrestles with in Rising Out of Hatred, which chronicles the story of Derek Black, who grew up steeped in white supremacy: his father founded the neo-Nazi website Stormfront. And his godfather? David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Saslow will be interviewed by Dave Miller of OPB’s Think Out Loud.

Dangerous Places: Women and Power

3:15–4:15 p.m. First Congregational United Church of Christ
Wild, dangerous places—a prison cell, a remote cabin—form the backdrop to the recent works of the two high-caliber writers coming together at this event. Lauren Groff’s Florida takes place in “an Eden of dangerous things.” It’s a “stunning” collection of short stories, says the New Yorker, in which “the deadly and alluring flora and fauna of the bayou bide their time.” Meanwhile, in Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room, 29-year-old Romy Hall is serving two life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, with all the deprivation and danger that implies. In what NPR’s Michael Schaub called a “heartbreaking, true and nearly flawless novel,” Kushner examines the lot of some of society’s most powerless members, and the catastrophic outcomes of their limited choices. Kushner and Groff are joined by John Freeman, editor of Freeman’s anthology.

Portland Book Festival

9 a.m.–6 p.m. Saturday, Nov 10, various venues, $15–20

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