The Coolest In-Person Events at the 2021 Portland Book Festival

After a five-day virtual fest, PBF will gather downtown for the first time in two years on November 13. Expect nerdy bacchanalia.

By Conner Reed November 11, 2021

One half of the Portland Book Festival is in full swing, and the other half is just around the corner.

A refresher: the annual book party presented by Literary Arts has been cleaved in two this year, with a November 8–12 virtual component and a November 13 in-person marathon. Passes to the two festivals are sold separately: you can snag virtual access for a sliding scale of $0–100, and in-person passes will run you $15–44 (depending on whether you opt for a copy of Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence). 

The in-person festival is organized around the South Park Blocks, with a bulk of events taking place at the Portland'5 complex, the Portland Art Museum, or outdoors at the parks themselves. With competing stages, big names, and tight timelines, planning the day can get a touch overwhelming (in a good way). There's plenty on offer to warm your book-loving soul, but here are five events we have our eyes on in particular. 

(To attend in-person events, Literary Arts requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of  the start of the festival.)

Voices from the Pandemic: Eli Saslow & Eder Campuzano, Geoff Norcross & Amelia Templeton

2 p.m., Portland Art Museum Fields Ballroom

Portlander Eli Saslow's book, which collates COVID testimonies from a staggering number of Americans to paint a deeply human portrait of 2020's hellishness, was one of our favorite releases of the year. On Saturday, he'll be joined by Oregonian reporter Eder Campuzano and OPB contributors Geoff Norcross and Amelia Templeton to discuss his process in stringing it together.

Gastro Obscura Presents: The World's Most Unusual Vending Machine

2 p.m., Portland Art Museum Sculpture Garden

Penny for your thoughts? No? How abut $6.99 for some watermelon rind pickles? To coincide with their book launch, the folks behind Gastro Obscura are touring the U.S. with a vending machine stuffed with "rare and unusual food items." It will stop in Portland during the Book Festival, accompanied by the book's co-author Cecily Wong, a smattering of bites from local spots like Bar Vivant and Reverend Nat's, and whatever the hell a "fruit and vegetable synth performance" is. Consider us hungry for it.

An Afternoon with the National Book Awards

3:30 p.m., Newmark Theatre

Few things feel more gauche than invoking the Marvel Cinematic Universe to discuss a literary festival, but consider this: this event is the Avengers of books. For an hour on Saturday, three National Book Award longlisters and finalists—Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Safia Elhillo, and Hoa Nguye—will Zoom in to the Newmark to participate in a conversation led by writer and artist Dao Strom. 

Lovability: Emily Kendal Frey & Anis Mojgani

3:45 p.m., Brunish Theatre

Two poetic Portland powerhouses unite! Oregon's current poet laureate Anis Mojgani (who recently dabbled as a librettist for Third Angle's Sanctuaries) will join Oregon Book Award-winner Emily Kendal Frey to discuss her latest collection Lovability, which pulls from her experiences as a counselor and teacher to interrogate fraught interpersonal dynamics.

Fateful Journeys: Stacy D. Flood & Willy Vlautin

4 p.m., Winningstad Theatre

Portlander Willy Vlautin has made a career of telling hardscrabble tales of people on the verge—his 2021 novel The Night Always Comes is no exception. Seattleite Stacy D. Flood is newer to the game, but made a splash with his debut novella The Salt Fields this spring. 2021 Oregon Book Award nominee (and former Portland Monthly intern) Chelsea Bieker will moderate a conversation between the two about how their respective books tackle the collision of past and present; it's a guaranteed winner.

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