Wise Up: Get Smart

7 Places in Portland to Exercise Your Brain

From literary seminars to an underground grad school, here are the city’s best places to stretch your mind.

By Rebecca Jacobson November 14, 2016 Published in the December 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Curiosity Club at Hand-Eye Supply

In what is perhaps Portland’s rangiest lecture series, the creative-supply store invites thinkers and makers to talk about seemingly anything. Since the free, biweekly Curiosity Club began six years ago, topics have included drag race photography, climate change, local punk music, Buckminster Fuller, knife sharpening, astrophysics, vinyl record pressing, and vascular surgery. Can’t make it? All lectures are filmed and posted online.

Delve Seminars at Literary Arts

The 32-year-old nonprofit produces a bang-up lecture program, brings writers into public high schools, and puts on Wordstock. For those seeking a book club that’s more about the reading than about gossip and pinot gris, it offers these discussion seminars (generally six weeks and $195). Courses this winter hone in on Thomas Hardy, Simone de Beauvoir, The Aeneid, and the role of illness and death in literature.

The Attic Institute

Whether you want to scrawl some free verse or get cracking on that novel, the Attic Institute’s writing classes can serve as the proverbial kick in the pants. Past pant kickers/instructors have included Cheryl Strayed, Matthew Dickman, Jon Raymond, and Karen Karbo. The classes (most run five weeks and about $200) are capped at 12 students and take place in a cozy, book-lined upstairs space on SE Hawthorne Boulevard.

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Portland Underground Graduate School

For the past two years, PUGS has invited Portlanders to dive back into academic inquiry, without the rigidity (or cost) of the average graduate program. Monthlong courses run about $90 and range from subjects you might actually find in grad school (criminal law, say, or Adrienne Rich) to those you probably never would (DIY magic, anyone?). 

Labs at Wayfinding Academy

The Indiegogo-funded alterna-college—focused on practical skills and community engagement—launched its first student cohort this fall. For those not going all-in on the two-year track, there are shorter-term “labs” ($120–165), with subjects ranging from financial wellness to podcasting to games that tackle social change.

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Know Your City

The “creative placemaking” nonprofit runs public tours ($7–20) around Portland, offering a glimpse into the city’s history from lesser-known perspectives, such as the working-class folks of Chinatown and Japantown or the pioneers of the jazz scene. 

Write Around Portland 

In addition to its work with underserved populations, the nonprofit puts on 10-week creative writing workshops at Powell’s City of Books ($300), as well as two-hour morning sessions at Hot Lips Pizza on SE Hawthorne ($10–30 sliding scale). Snacks—necessary for compelling prose, as every writer knows—are provided at both. 

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