Shortly after the New Year, writer and community activist Stacey Tran created the reading series Tender Table as a way to amplify the voices of femme and queer-identified people of color (POC) in Portland. At rotating venues around town, readers share intimate accounts of the intersections between food, family tradition, and inheritance. Why food? “When I make comfort food from my childhood, I’m revisiting the stories and lessons I inherited from my mother and her mother, but also a story of colonialism,” Tran explains. “Sharing food and stories is necessary for community building and survival across time and place.”
The Portland native began writing at age 10 and, like her relationship to food, her forthcoming book, Soap for the Dogs, is heavily influenced by her parents’ journey. They met as refugees from Vietnam at Pulau Bidong in Malaysia before immigrating to the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s. Tran’s involvement with local poetry circles informed her transition into event organization, she says, and she’s especially keen on creating spaces that move beyond the boundaries of the strictly literary.
After putting out feelers to friends, Tran says she found no shortage of writers of color similarly impassioned by food. “We live in this city where food is a big deal, but also where some of this food is appropriated by white chefs,” she says. “I wanted to inspire and collaborate with artists to get together [so we could] cook and talk.”
Though still new, Tender Table has already hosted some of Portland’s favorite budding writers and poets, including Becky Win, Melika Belhaj, and members of Pochas Radicales. Short interviews from past and future presenters can be found alongside personal photographs and favorite cooking tips on the series’ Tumblr page. Later this month, higher ed equity and empowerment coordinator May Cat, and A’misa Chiu, a Portland Zine Symposium organizer and librarian, will read alongside Chiu’s daughter, Mazzy, the two-year-old star of local cooking webseries The Mazzy Show.
Tran is already dreaming of the day she takes Tender Table to other cities, but in the meantime she’s grateful for the community support she’s received, especially from local arts spaces like the Independent Publishing Resource Center and UNA Gallery. As a final word of advice, she encourages those interested in food to “learn not only about the dish, but who made it, where it came from, and how to make it. Ingredients and methods of cooking are complex and I hope you’ll allow them to live and breathe the stories of our ancestors who’ve used them and entrusted us with these memories.”