This year, the annual gathering of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP), the largest writer’s conference in the country, lands in Portland—which is huge! If you have any creative writers in your life, chances are they’re freaking out—if not for the conference itself, for the fact that it’s bringing fellow writers, editors, publishers, teachers, and friends in from all over the country.
But why does this matter to you, dear Portland book lover? Because some of the best writers in the country will be here and they’ll be spending their nights away from the convention center, reading at your favorite bars, restaurants, bookstores, and performance venues. You can see more authors than you’ve ever dreamed of, play literary bingo, perform poetry karaoke, tour the William Stafford archives, and dance to writers night-lighting as DJs. And these offsite events are almost entirely free and open to the public.
The only problem: There are A LOT of offsite events. The AWP website lists nearly 120 of them, most with numerous participants, and there are dozens of other events that aren’t listed. So here are some recommendations—a handful of names and not-to-be-missed events to help you find some new books and authors to fall in love with.
Over the past decade, Ross Gay has built a following around his open-hearted poems that mix heartbreak and glee. In his latest, The Book of Delights, Gay ventures into prose with a series of short essays about daily pleasures. It’s loose, playful, and thoroughly delightful. Without fail, I leave Gay’s writing feeling renewed and grateful for this messy world, in all its complexities. (Reading at Fierce Love: The Field Office Collective w/Tyehimba Jess, Ada Limón, and more.Thurs March 28, 6 pm, Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park, free)
No Fair/Fair easily takes the prize for the most ambitious offsite AWP event. This two-day book fair takes place simultaneously at two venues across the street from each other, features 25 independent presses, and includes a 70-PERSON double-venue reading Friday night. Hats off. At NF/F, you can peruse books from a wealth of local favorites (Octopus Books, Perfect Day Publishing, Fonograf Editions), as well as some of the best indie publishers from around the country (Wave Books, Black Ocean, Dorothy Project). (Book fair Fri March 29 & Sat March 30, noon-5 pm, Bakery Building, 2222 NE Oregon; for readings schedule and locations see nofairfair.com/schedule, free)
Margaret Malone is, in my opinion, Portland’s best short story writer. Her 2015 collection People Like You is lonely and comic, prickly and sweet—a book I open up on occasion just to remember its goodness. When recommending her work, I often say she’s a funnier Raymond Carver, or a more grounded Mary Robison or Amy Hempel. But the small worlds she builds, and the atmospheres she creates within them, are firmly her own. (Reading at Atelier26 Books & Friends w/Woody Skinner, Sidney Wade, and more. Fri March 29, 7 pm, Ford Food & Drink, 2505 SE 11th, free)
A poet, essayist, music writer, and cultural commentator, Hanif Abdurraqib is equally adept at analyzing systemic racism as he is writing about the Ohio emo scene of the early ’00s, or the respective transformative live powers of Bruce Springsteen and Carly Rae Jepsen. His latest book, Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest, is a biography of the genre-redefining hip-hop group, a sweeping history of African American music, and a memoir of being an awkward, music-obsessed teen in the ’90s. (Reading at Books & Brews w/Kevin Sampsell, Tabitha Blankenbiller, and more. Fri March 29, 7:30 pm, Sidebar, 3901 N Williams, free)
In the 15 years since Ilya Kaminsky’s debut poetry collection Dancing in Odessa came out, he’s slowly acquired an almost cult-like status. Informed by his experiences as a hard-of-hearing, Soviet Union-born immigrant to the United States, Deaf Republic—his long-awaited follow-up—is an allegorical, poetic epic about a town in an occupied country that makes up its own sign language to subvert authorities. Onstage, Kaminsky is a true force. The way he transforms his poems live is something everyone should experience. (Reading at Orison Books Reading & Celebration w/Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua, Katie Farris, and more. Sat March 30, 7 pm, IPRC, 318 SE Main #155, free, all ages)
Okay, we ran out of room! But we still have more recommendations!AWP Kickoff Reading w/Kimberly King Parsons, Chelsea Bieker, and more. Wed March 27, 7:30 pm, the Stacks Coffeehouse, 1831 N Killingsworth, FREE, all ages
Filament Reading Series w/Leni Zumas, Kate Jayroe, and more. Thurs March 28, 7 pm, Mother Foucault’s Bookshop, 523 SE Morrison, FREE, all ages
Offsite from The Edges w/Lidia Yuknavitch, Carmen Maria Machado, and more. Thurs March 28, 7-9 pm, Corporeal Writing, 510 SW 3rd, FREE, all ages
PSU/Tin House Writers-in-Residence Reading w/Audrey Petty, Christine Schutt, and more. Thurs March 28, 7 pm, Ristretto Roasters, 555 NE Couch, FREE, all ages
Tin House 20th Anniversary Party w/Morgan Parker, Tommy Pico, DJs, and more. Thurs March 28, 8 pm, Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison, $5
Queer Syllabus: A Celebration with Foglifter and The Rumpus w/Melissa Febos, T Kira Madden, and more. Sat March 30, 7 pm, Local Lounge, 3536 NE MLK, FREE
Northwest Micropress Fair Sat March 30, 10 am-6 pm, the Cleaners, 403 SW 10th, FREE, all ages
Booksellers’ Ball w/Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Matthew Zapruder, bands, DJs, and more. Sat March 30, 6 pm, Star Theater, 13 NW 6th, FREE until 10 pm, $5 after