BEVERLY CLEARY'S Ramona Quimby takes her last name from a street in Northwest Portland. Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk might very well be the mild-looking dude sitting behind you at the coffee shop, sipping tea as he mulls over the autoerotic potential of household appliances. It'd be impossible to list all of the novelists, poets, zinesters, and self-publishing publishers who call Portland home, but here's a crib sheet of five names to drop as you're trying to impress your dormmates with your soulful appreciation of regional literature.
BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS—Portland is swarming with comic creators, from indie authors that dominate the annual Stumptown Comics Fest, to big-name artists and writers of some of the most popular titles around. Big case in point: Brian Michael Bendis, essentially the most significant creative force in the Marvel universe. If you're not quite ready to dive into Ultimate Spider-Man, consider some of his darker, more adult work—women, in particular, should check out Alias, about a superhero who trades in her tights to start a new life as a hard-drinking private investigator.
KATHERINE DUNN—This one's a gimme, since if you're true to type as the sort of slightly alienated liberal who gravitates toward Portland, odds are good that Katherine Dunn's Geek Love is already one of your favorite books. Dunn went to Reed College, and her account of a traveling family of circus freaks is one of the most beloved books ever written by a Portland author.
CHARLES D'AMBROSIO—Fiction writer and essayist Charles D'Ambrosio turned in one of the weirdest and best short story collections in recent memory with The Dead Fish Museum, eight stories that evoke Pacific Northwest author Raymond Carver—if Carver had been into amphetamines instead of booze.
KEN KESEY—Okay, so he's not exactly local—Kesey lived in Pleasant Hill, in Southern Oregon. He's also dead. But neither of these factors undercut the relevance of Kesey's work; his brilliant Sometimes a Great Notion, which describes a logging family's struggles with a local union, is criminally under-read by Oregonians.
JON RAYMOND—Aspiring writers, take note: All the insights you think you have about the nature of this city—the peculiar dynamics of male friendships, the conflicted attitudes about race, the uneasy class distinctions—have already been unassumingly unpacked in Jon Raymond's short story collection Livability. Extra credit for watching the movies: Recent films Wendy and Lucy and Old Joy are both based on short stories from Raymond's collection, which is as good an introduction to contemporary Portland as you're going to find.