If it feels like it's been a really long time since the last Wordstock, it's because it sort of has been.
After the departure of Director Scott Poole, the lit fest gave themselves an extra six months between events, during which they recruited Greg Netzer to run this year's festival. Shifting Wordstock from April to November is probably the smartest move they could have made: Last year, it fell on the first beautiful weekend of spring, when Portlanders would rather be anywhere but the basement of the Convention Center. Everybody knows that the rainy season is reading season in Stumptown, making November the perfect time for a festival of books.
Wordstock's main course is their book fair, where publishers, bookstores, and other literati set up booths trade show-style, while nearly 200 authors read at stages throughout the Convention Center. We asked Netzer how the writers—a healthy mix of local talent and national names—are selected each year.
"Early on we decided that instead of trying to come up with 'really big names,' we were going to try to put together the most eclectic set of writers with interesting work that we could find," Netzer says. "So there's really no thematic process involved (except for two of our stages—one featuring only nonfiction, another featuring sports/outdoor/lifestyle writers). Supporting and promoting local writers is definitely part of our mission, and while there are a lot who will be at Wordstock this year, there are at least as many who will not. One reason for this is that, again, we try to keep it fresh by not inviting the same people over and over again."
Truthfully, we could have used a little more "flash" in this year's lineup. The roster is sturdy and reliable, but a few A-listers usually add an exciting element that's lacking this year. What's more, most of these writers will be familiar faces to Portland readers, whether through their recurring appearances as local authors (Diana Abu-Jaber, Monica Drake, Lee Montgomery, Jan Baross, Chelsea Cain, Karen Karbo, Cheryl Strayed, Lidia Yuknavitch, et al.), or as regular visitors on the Powell's/Literary Arts/Tin House Workshop scene (Steve Almond, Charles Baxter, Harry Shearer, Poe Ballantine).
Star power notwithstanding, at $5 a day, Wordstock is a fantastic event where you can catch up with great authors and books, and everything is in support of Community of Writers, a nonprofit organization that works with teachers to develop stronger literacy programs in elementary and middle schools.
Be sure to check out wordstockfestival.com for a full festival rundown, keeping in mind these highlights that we're particularly excited about.
a DOUGLAS WOLK
Douglas Wolk is a powerhouse of cultural criticism, regularly penning articles for The Nation, Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, and Pitchfork, in addition to writing a book about James Brown's Live at the Apollo LP. His most recent crowning achievement, though, is his brainy Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean, which presents a set of critical criteria and philosophies for approaching the works of Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Alison Bechdel, and other masters of the medium. While most people have now warmed up to the idea of graphic novels as unique fusions of literature and art, nobody has so smartly written about them before.
Sat Nov 10, 10:30 am, A-106
a ADRIAN TOMINE
The 33-year-old Adrian Tomine has managed the transition from scrappy indie up-and-comer to comic book superstar—his work has appeared in The New Yorker and Rolling Stone—without losing the uniquely perceptive voice that has been attracting fans to his Optic Nerve comics since he began self-publishing them almost two decades ago. His recent Shortcomings (originally published as Optic Nerve issues #9-11) is his longest story arc to date, chronicling the romantic and personal mishaps of a young Japanese-American man with an uneasy relationship with his own ethnicity—a concept that could easily be self-indulgent in clumsier hands is here an examination of self-indulgence itself, relayed in Tomine's distinctly clean, detailed drawing style.
Sat Nov 10, 3:30 pm, Exhibit Hall B
a KATHA POLLITT
A recent article in the Guardian had this to say about Katha Pollitt: "She must be the only living leftist who missed the sexual revolution owing to a love of the English language"—because she refused to date anyone who said "groovy" or used "ball" as a verb. It's an endearing disclosure, coming from a woman who is staunchly pro-sex, pro-abortion, and pro-sex ed. The—I get to type these words so rarely, so I better enjoy it—unapologetically feminist Pollitt is perhaps mostly widely known for her work at the Nation—she currently writes the "Subject to Debate" column, though her most recent book, Learning to Drive, brings her customary wit and wordplay to a collection of personal essays.
Sun Nov 11, 11:30 am, Exhibit Hall A1
a TOM SPANBAUER
Tom Spanbauer is a local treasure, and if you haven't read him, you are a bad Portlander. No exceptions. His The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon is one of those books that only a fascist could hate, while the subsequent In the City of Shy Hunters and Now Is the Hour are sprawling, multilayered tales of personal and political transformation—but funny, and with dirty parts. Spanbauer also leads the Dangerous Writing Workshops here in town (most famous alumn: Chuck Palahniuk). He's a generous writer and a perceptive and thoughtful man. Really: treasure.
w/Ehud Havazelet; Sun Nov 11, 2:30 pm, Exhibit Hall A1
a WILLY VLAUTIN
Readers of the Mercury know of our love affair with Portland country rockers Richmond Fontaine. And hopefully by now they've picked up on the fact that frontman Willy Vlautin is a gifted writer of prose, as well. The form of his debut novel, The Motel Life, is familiar—spare, masculine prose that owes to Carver & Co.—but Vlautin's voice shines through, weary and poetic. (So much so that Guillermo Arriaga, who wrote 21 Grams and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, recently bought the rights to adapt The Motel Life for the big screen.)
w/M. Allen Cunningham; Sun Nov 11, 2:30 pm, A-106
a GRAPHIC NOVEL PANEL
A friendly reminder about some of the frighteningly talented folks skulking around this town of ours: Matt Wagner, whose popular comic Grendel turns 25 this year; Shannon Wheeler, creator of Too Much Coffee Man (which last year attained the somewhat questionable distinction of being the first comic strip to be adapted into an opera); and Craig Thompson, whose heart-wrenching Blankets and Good-Bye, Chunky Rice make this fan misty-eyed just thinking about 'em (Thomson's emo cred was launched into unfuckwithable realms after a recent stint as "backup artist" for Menoma—check his blog at blog.dootdootgarden.com for some cool images from that tour). All assembled here for a panel about the graphic novel, helmed by Dark Horse Editor Diana Schutz, who might know a thing or two about the subject.
Sun Nov 11, 3:30 pm, Exhibit Hall A1
Wordstock's Book Fair is at the Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE MLK, Sat Nov 10-Sun Nov 11, 10 am-6 pm, $5 per day n