The popular, one-day Portland Book Festival (PBF) returns this Saturday to fill area bookshelves, introduce new voices, and provide authors a spotlight to read and discuss their works. This is the fifth year since local nonprofit Literary Arts took over the floundering Wordstock—they changed the festival’s name last year—and, along the way, we’ve watched the fest get a little stronger: crammed to its gills the first year, better organized the second, and so on. Last year the fest was thriving—if conspicuously stamped with Bank of America branding.
The big names at PBF this year are undoubtedly Malcolm Gladwell and Ambassador Susan Rice, former US National Security Advisor. But here are a few excellent writers that you may not have heard about yet, but who are totally worth checking out. SUZETTE SMITH
It’s hard to believe that Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay was only just released, because I’ve been hearing buzz about this book for the entire summer. The hype is warranted. Known for her Juniper Song detective trilogy, Cha stepped outside her usual niche with this novel, though the book is still full of suspense, and her two protagonists—a Korean American woman named Grace Park and an African American man named Shawn Matthews—have many mysteries to unravel. Cha based the novel’s story on the tragic ’91 murder of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, whose death is considered an inciting cause of the ’92 Los Angeles riots. Neither of her appearances should be missed. (Pop-up reading by “Stars and Bars” in the Hank Willis Thomas exhibition, Sat Nov 9, 11:30 am, Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park; “Hard Conversations: Race, Family, America,” 1:30 pm, Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park, w/Jennine Capó Cruset, Mira Jacob, and Mat Johnson) SUZETTE SMITH
There’s something unforgettable about the way Ebony Flowers draws. At a casual glance, the illustrations are rough, but further reading reveals a detailed, unique cartoonist. Her pages convey the restless energy of childhood, and the non-stop motion that churns in rooms full of people talking and reacting. Flowers’ debut work, Hot Comb, is a memoir and primer on Black hair that pulls no punches about the time and pain involved in hair pressing, relaxing, braiding, and more, but along the way Flowers unlocks way more than hair mysteries. Flowers wraps her short stories of friendship, family, and conflicting viewpoints up under the recurring theme of: “Who did your hair?” The end result is a whole new look into a world many never get to see. (“Finding Home: Fiction of Place,” Sat Nov 9, 12:45 pm, Miller Gallery at the Portland Art Museum, 1119 SW Park, w/Kristen Arnett, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, Stephen Hiltner) SUZETTE SMITH
There will be crowds for celebrated Young Adult—and now comic book—author Rainbow Rowell, but if you aren’t familiar with the YA genre, would you know? In 2013, Rowell received rave reviews for two intriguing works: Eleanor & Park was a YA book that transcended its intended age range. It described the low-level dread of an abusive relationship with a relatability that we, frankly, don’t see in adult fiction, but without overwhelming its youthful audience. Fangirl was lighter, exploring the social and academic conflicts of a college student who loves writing fan fiction. The really cool thing? Rowell’s next book was that fan fiction: a vampire wizard Harry Potter-esque romance/fantasy story called Wayward Son. And it was GOOD. Rowell’s newest book, Carry On, is the sequel, and, in true magical teen fashion, involves a road trip. Rowell has also been writing Marvel’s Runaways since 2017. In August, she debuted Pumpkinheads, her first original graphic novel, illustrated by Faith Evan Hicks. (“Last Chance: Endings and Beginnings,” Sat Nov 9, 1 pm, The Old Church, 1422 SW 11th, w/ Jennifer Dugan, Faith Erin Hicks, and Alicia Tate; interviewed by Jasmine Guillory, Sat Nov 9, 5 pm, First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1126 SW Park) SUZETTE SMITH
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. (“Ordinary Life: Exploring the Spaces Between,” Sat Nov 9, 1:30 pm, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, w/Michael Dickman, Karen Russell, John Freeman) JOSHUA JAMES AMBERSON
One of a handful of “style kings” in the world of indie comics, Kevin Huizenga’s clean, detailed cartooning is immediately recognizable. Much of his work alternates between Glenn Ganges—Huizenga’s autobio comic cipher—ruminating on straightforward, suburban happenings, and more experimental comics which break philosophical, in an attempt to show readers how small they truly are in the greater schemes of nature. Huizenga is a deep thinker beloved by deep thinkers. (“Stranger Things: Fiction from the Edge,” Sat Nov 9, 4:45 pm, Miller Gallery at the Portland Art Museum, 1119 SW Park, w/Molly Gloss, Karen Thompson Walker, S. Zainab Williams) SUZETTE SMITH