July 9-15, all readings at 5:30 & 8 pm, Cerf Amphitheater at Reed College, $15, www.tinhouse.org for full schedule
Tin House is a local quarterly literature review that brings in enough writings from renowned writers to make it one of the best of its kind in the country. No mean feat, but when the magazine really hits its stride every year is right around… now, when its Summer Writers Workshop goes into high gear. A utopic, week-long series of writing seminars taught by a shit-ton of serious literary heavyweights (Jonathan Ames, Aimee Bender, and Charles D'Ambrosio anybody?), the Workshop also features plenty to do for the layperson--namely, a slew of outdoor reading events with most of the aforementioned amazing instructors (Ames excluded, tragically and bafflingly), plus a few more. It's your chance to get close with stellar writers, and the $15 ticket price ($75 for a full-week pass) includes ambiance you won't find at Powell's--all the readings take place in Reed College's gorgeous outdoor Cerf Amphitheater, and plenty of booze is on hand to make your summery evening of culture float like a breeze. What follows are some of this year's Tin House Workshop highlights, but there are plenty more events to attend as well, so don't forget to peruse the organization's website for the full schedule.
Francine Prose, Saturday July 9, 8 pm--The prolific Prose has 11 novels to her name, covering topics from all over the map. Hunters and Gatherers (1995) was a deconstruction of New Age Goddess worship cults. Primitive People (2001) skewed the shallow, materialistic world of upstate New Yorkers by filtering it through the eyes of an illegal Haitian au pair. Her most recent work, A Changed Man, follows a 32-year-old skinhead who becomes the spokesperson for a Holocaust survivor support group after experiencing an ecstasy-induced conversion. What links these disparate threads is Prose's unrivaled wit and absolutely scathing satirical edge. Her novels get mixed reviews on their handling of characters and overall story developments, but few writers are funnier.
Aimee Bender, with D.A. Powell, Sunday July 10, 8 pm--McSweeney's regular Bender made waves with 1999's The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, a story collection that took conventional tropes and turned them on their collective ear. In "What You Left in the Ditch" a soldier loses an appendage in the thick of battle: his lips. In "Marzipan" a woman gives birth… to her own mother. Bender's juxtaposition of the surreal with the real, combined with her fluid, exuberant prose, earned her a devoted following, which only intensified with her follow-up novel, An Invisible Sign of My Own, about a young math wiz dealing with her father's mysterious illness. Get a sneak preview tonight of her new story collection, Willful Creatures, to be published in August.
Nick Flynn, with Chris Offut, Monday July 11, 8 pm--Poet/writer/ex-con Flynn's lone prose work has the notable distinction of having the best title I've ever encountered. Period. And it's a pretty damn good read to boot. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City is a beguiling, pinballing memoir of Flynn's roaring 20s, during which he worked in a homeless shelter in Boston, immersed in a perpetual drunken haze, before encountering his similarly alcoholic father who, in a magical twist that could never happen in fiction, entered the shelter as just another downtrodden resident off the streets. "For the most part, Flynn's way of turning his life into poetry works quite well," wrote Mercury reviewer M. William Helfrich in 2004. "The narrative bounces around, deconstructs, even transforms itself into dramatic stage scenes at times, read by grotesque characters."
Denis Johnson, Friday July 15, 8 pm--Fans of past Summer Workshops know that Johnson and Tin House go together like peanut butter and bananas. The slightly bananas writer is a staple in the hipster canon thanks to his frenzied, junkie-riffic epic Jesus' Son, and has done it all for past Tin House Workshops--led seminars, conducted onstage interviews (last year's Wallace Shawn conversation was a major highlight), and of course shared his own work. He's earned the title of "Special Guest" this year, which basically just means he's not participating in the writers workshop, but is appearing tonight only for your entertainment pleasure. Come on. It's Denis Johnson. You have to see Denis Johnson.