Staying Home This Year? Check Out These Virtual Portland Book Festival Events

From Brandon Taylor to Maggie Nelson, these are the must-hit items you can stream from the comfort of your home.

By Conner Reed November 8, 2021

After a sprawling, all-virtual 2020, the Portland Book Festival has split in two this year. The 2021 lit nerd extravaganza, historically a single-day marathon, will consist of a five-day virtual festival that leads up to an in-person one-day bacchanal. 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 Erdich's The Sentence). 

The virtual festival, which runs November 8–12, mostly consists of three types of event. There are nightly variety show-style interviews, where writers will chat with local moderators in themed 90-minute programs; special Book Festival episodes of the Literary Arts Archive Project podcast; and Zoom writing classes, most of which will run you an additional fee. The whole roster looks pretty promising, but here are five virtual events we're particularly excited about. (Stay tuned for our in-person picks later this week.) 

Tenderness: Donika Kelly, Brandon Taylor, and Kristen Valdez Quade

7–8:30 p.m. Mon, Nov 8

This opening night discussion nicely balances heavy-hitters with promising newcomers. On the theme of tenderness (just spitballing here: should we try a little?), acclaimed poet and University of Iowa assistant professor Donika Kelly will speak with PCC instructor Christopher Rose; Real Life and Filthy Animals author Brandon Taylor will chat with fellow queer novelist Genevieve Hudson; and Kirstin Valdez Quade will discuss her buzzy debut novel The Five Wounds with PoMo's own editor in chief Fiona McCann

Freedom: Aminder Dhaliwal, Nathan Harris, and Maggie Nelson

7–8:30 p.m. Tue, Nov 9

Another variety panel, this time broadcast live from Broadway Books, will tackle the super low-key, digestible subject of freedom. Aminder Dhaliwal will discuss her graphic novel Cyclopedia Exotica with OPB All Things Considered host Tiffany Camhi; Oregon novelist Nathan Harris will discuss his debut The Sweetness of Water with fellow Oregon novelist Gabriel Urza; and the inimitable, lightly controversial Maggie Nelson (of The Argonauts and this year’s On Freedom) will chat with National Book Award winner Masha Gessen.

Witches with A.K. Blakemore and Rivka Galchen

Tue, Nov 9

This Archive Project podcast installment will unite OPB All Things Considered producer Crystal Ligori with A.K. Blakemore and Rivka Galchen, authors of two recent historical novels about witches. (As we are always saying, autumn and witch-talk need not end with Halloween.) Londoner Blakemore’s The Manningtree Witches is about an English town in the grip of 17th century witch trials; New Yorker Galchen’s Everyone Knows Your Mother’s a Witch takes inspiration from real historical documents to weave a story about a woman accused of witchcraft during the Thirty Years’ War. If it were up to us, the drop would be accompanied by a screening of Practical Magic, but like so many things, it is not up to us. 

Home: Rita Dove, Lauren Groff, and Qian Julie Wang

7–8:30 p.m. Wed, Nov 10

Live from beloved Multnomah Village book spot Annie Bloom's, former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove will chat about her (timely) new collection Playlist for the Apocalypse with National Book Award-winning poet Mary Szybist; critical darling Lauren Groff will discuss her hugely acclaimed novel Matrix with Literary Arts director Andrew Proctor; and former litigator Qian Julie Wang will discuss her debut memoir Beautiful Country with OPB host/producer Jenn Chavez. 

Writing About Real People

10 a.m.–1 p.m. Fri, Nov 12, $80

Ethical questions about using your life for your art have always been fascinating (just ask Tilda Swinton's daughter), and last month, they got a fresh shot of kidney-assisted vitality. At this year's Portland Book Festival, novelist Katherine Standefer will parse them in a 3-hour Zoom class. The additional $80 is admittedly steep (a 60 percent-discounted "access program" is available on inquiry), but who can put a price on being a good art friend, really? 

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