On Saturday, November 5, the South Park Blocks will once again transform into bookworm heaven: after two years of pandemic-era all-virtual and hybrid iterations, Literary Arts’s Portland Book Festival will return in its classic, ultra-stuffed, single-day format. Names big and small, local and international, whose work spans graphic novels, adult fiction, poetry, and memoir, will descend on downtown Portland to get interviewed, host panels, deliver readings, and more. Before all that kicks off, there’s also a full week of windup events—and a book fair to boot.
With celebrities including Selma Blair and George Saunders on the docket, plus local heavy-hitters from Chuck Klosterman to Renée Watson, it can all get a little dizzying. So we’ve digested the fest’s sprawling schedule to bring you a handpicked itinerary for maximum book fest enjoyment. Take it from us, though: you really can't go wrong.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
8 p.m. Fri, Nov 4, Village Ballroom
Former PoMo style editor Eden Dawn, who penned the Portland Book of Dates back in 2021, is reviving a storytelling event that she and her husband-slash-coauthor originally created for the book's launch. With support from longstanding Portland storytelling event BackFence, the Book of Dates crew will be joined by BurnCycle founder Jessi Duley, content creator Candace Molatore, NPR host Aaron Scott, and actor/storyteller Vin Shambry to share the stories of dating mishaps past.
10 a.m., First Congressional United Church of Christ
George Saunders is widely recognized as one of, if not the, preeminent short story writer working in America today. His 2021 book A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is literally a masterclass on the subject—it breaks down heavyweight Russian masters Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, giving readers a taste of a course Saunders teaches at Syracuse University. Liberation Day is the latest example of Saunders putting his teachings to work, his first collection since 2013’s Tenth of December—a National Book Award finalist. Liberation Day includes nine stories in which Saunders explores moral conundrums in his sharp, self-aware, middle-aged-paternal-type voice. Saunders will read from Liberation Day and chat with Geoff Norcross, host of OPB’s Morning Edition, beside Jess Walter, whose new collection is titled The Angel of Rome.
Noon, Brunish Theatre
Poets CJ Evans and Saeed Jones, on the heels of their new collections Lives and Alive at the End of the World, will join Literary Arts's Erika Stevens to discuss the currents of grief and apocalyptic anxiety that run through both works. "The world's ending, now what?" is a pretty popular question right now—for obvious reasons—and what medium but poetry could possibly be better-suited to unpack the implications?
2 p.m., Portland Art Museum
Literary Arts's Incite series, which platforms queer writers, will place journalist Nicky Nicholson-Klingerman and spoken word artist Tashon Phoenix in front of works by Northwest artist Ka'ila Farrell-Smith on the third floor of PAM for a mid-afternoon pop-up reading. Take a break between meatier panels and hourlong interviews to absorb some paintings, get a quick 20 minutes of unfiltered reading in your blood, and then march back into the festival renewed.
3:15 p.m., Winningstad Theatre
New Yorker staffer and Bard professor Hua Hsu's new memoir Stay True recounts the unlikely friendship between Hsu—a zine-writing, Nirvana-before-they-made-it-big fan— and Ken, who wore Abercrombie and listened to Dave Matthews. The two bonded over their struggle to fit into ’90s American pop-culture as Asian American kids, and then Ken was murdered in a carjacking when the two were 20-year-old students at Berkeley. Hsu, now 45, says he’s been working on the book ever since. He will read from Stay True and chat with OPB’s Jen Chávez beside Melissa Febos, whose new book, Girlhood, combines memoir, scholarship, and original reporting to investigate foundational myths about becoming and then being a woman that she internalized in her youth. The New York Times said, when it came out, that Girlhood "puts [Febos] in a feminist canon that includes ... Adrienne Rich and Maggie Nelson's theory-minded masterpieces: smart, radical company."
5 p.m., First Congregational Church of Christ
Consider rounding out the day with Kwame Alexander, the children's author whose 2014 verse-written basketball tale The Crossover netted both a Newberry Medal and Coretta Scott King Award. He'll appear in Portland in conversation with OPB's Dave Miller for an episode of Think Out Loud to discuss his latest novel, The Door of No Return. The first in a planned trilogy, Door centers on an 11-year-old Ghanaian boy caught in the slave trade in the late 19th century.