OF ALL the events that make Portland summers ecstatic and overwhelming, Tin House’s outdoor reading series at Reed College—with its mix of casual ease and unrestrained literary glee—sits close to the top of my list. The free, open-to-the-public part of the local publisher’s annual Summer Writers’ Workshop, the reading series features consistently stunning lineups of visiting faculty combined in perfectly unlikely ways. Did I mention the series is free? They’re some of the best readings to happen in Portland all year long and cost nothing. Here are a just a few of this year’s must-see writers.
Joy Williams’ short fiction is beguiling, bleak, and absolutely hilarious. Her stories break all the rules and leave you wondering how she does it with such grace. Last year’s The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories brought some much-deserved attention and a new audience to this long-prized oddball of American literature. Her latest, 99 Stories of God (out this week from Tin House), is a collection of micro-fiction pieces that serve as odd parables or koans. As a whole, it’s not great. But the book’s series about the Lord doing various activities (driving in a demolition derby, getting a shingles shot at the pharmacy, hanging out in a wolf den) is pure gold and should be heard aloud. Fri July 15; w/Dana Spiotta, Kiese Laymon
Jo Ann Beard
It’s been most of two decades since Jo Ann Beard released The Boys of My Youth, arguably one of the best essay collections ever written. Since then, she’s published one quiet coming-of-age novel and a small handful of essays. She takes her time, and it shows, and her occasional appearances at the Tin House summer readings are rare chances to hear her read new material. Sat July 16; w/Gregory Pardlo, Jess Walter
Kiese Laymon’s debut novel, Long Division, is a curious whirlwind. It’s Victor LaValle’s Big Machine meets Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Douglas Adams meets James Baldwin. It’s a parallel dimensions book-within-a-book-within-a-book that takes on daily race relations in a way that’s as real as it is surreal. Fri July 15; w/Dana Spiotta, Joy Williams
Michelle Tea is an icon of modern counterculture literature. Among a host of other notable feats, she’s written a queer classic (Valencia), a graphic novel about sex work (Rent Girl), co-authored Beth Ditto (of Gossip)’s autobiography (Coal to Diamonds), and co-founded the long-running Sister Spit spoken word roadshow. Her playful 2015 memoir, How to Grow Up, is essential reading for anyone whose adult life is mired in childhood scarcity issues. (If every opportunity above the social class you were raised in fills you with guilt and anxiety, How to Grow Up is the book for you.) Since 2013, Tea’s been working on the Chelsea Trilogy young-adult fantasy series (Mermaid in Chelsea Creek and Girl at the Bottom of the Sea are the two published so far), where Polish sacred feminine mythology and real-world class issues intersect. They’re not perfect books by any means, but they make it easy to imagine Tea becoming a powerful voice in young-adult fiction in the years to come. Mon July 11; w/Jonathan Dee, Rebecca Makkai