I knew the pandemic isolation had really gotten dire when I started missing everything about in-person author events, including those inevitable nine words that can sink an otherwise good time: “This is more of a comment than a question.” Yikes! But it turns out, after many months without live art of any kind, tolerating onerous, meandering monologues from your fellow nerds is a small price to pay if it means seeing your favorite writers in person. Zoom readings are fine—good job on all the background plants!—but they’re just not the same.
If you, too, have hit your limit for virtual literary events, you’re in luck: The Portland Book Festival (fka Wordstock) returns this week, and though virtual programming is available, so are honest-to-god, live in-person literary events. Yay! Saturday, November 13 features a full day of author appearances and conversations that won’t result in condescending phone notifications about your burgeoning screentime.
So if you’re vaxxed and masked, get ready to bask in the glory of smart people talking about everything from a local giant of science fiction to how to raise men who don’t hate women. Here are the Mercury’s picks for the Portland Book Festival’s in-person programming.
Dispatches from Annares: Tales in Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin
When I first moved to Portland, someone told me that she once saw Ursula K. Le Guin BUYING CHIPS AT A CO-OP. I was overcome with jealousy and delight. If you, too, are a fan of the low-key Portland legend and trailblazer of science and speculative fiction (and you SHOULD be, it’s only right!), this event, featuring contributors to the anthology Dispatches from Annares, belongs on your agenda. Named after the “anarcho-syndicate” utopia in Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and edited by Portland writer Susan DeFreitas (author of 2016’s underrated Hot Season), Dispatches from Annares features stories inspired by the sociopolitical dynamics and imaginative worldbuilding in Le Guin’s work. Four of the collection’s contributors will be on hand at this event honoring Le Guin’s powerful legacy and continuing influence on writers of all genres.
10 am, Brunish Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 4th Floor
Loaners: The Making of a Street Library
Street Books, Portland’s traveling library service for unhoused folks, is a local institution. A new book from Perfect Day Publishing, Loaners: The Making of a Street Library, tells the story of two people closely connected with its work of getting books to people living outdoors: Street Books founder Laura Moulton, an adjunct professor at Lewis & Clark College; and Ben Hodgson, who, according to a news release from Perfect Day Publishing, set “the still-unbroken single-season record for borrowing” from the library. Hodgson is now a Street Books board member and street librarian, but after his initial prolific borrowing bout, he and Moulton fell out of touch, and wouldn’t find each other again for nearly two years. Loaners is a co-written memoir, a document of their reconnection, and a look into the work of Street Books. The story’s delivered in alternating chapters from Moulton and Hodgson’s individual points of view. In a conversation moderated by the weird and clever Karen Russell, the two authors will discuss Loaners in what promises to be essential viewing for anyone who cares about Portland, the rights of unhoused people to dignity and autonomy, and the magic of having access to a library.
10:30 am, Park Stage at the Portland Parks Foundation Tent, Shemanski Park, 1010 SW Park
How to Raise a Feminist Son: Sonora Jha and Sarah Rothenfluch
Telling people to avoid getting sexually assaulted is victim-blaming hogwash, but what if, instead of encouraging fear-based behaviors that don’t actually prevent attacks, we took the time to address the root cause? Could we do it by raising boys and young men to understand other people’s autonomy? This question embodies the driving force behind Sonora Jha’s memoir How to Raise a Feminist Son: Motherhood, Masculinity, and the Making of My Family, which considers how parents and guardians can raise the next generation of boys and men to live in healthy alignment with feminist values and in right relationship with their communities. This is challenging work, based on a hefty question, but if it means a future with fewer Capitol insurrections, mass shootings, and assaults, it’s one worth asking. Jha will be joined in conversation by Sarah Rothenfluch.
11 am, Miller Gallery at the Portland Art Museum, 1119 SW Park, Mark Building, 1st Floor
Art and Ambition: Shruti Swamy and Claire Vaye Watkins
Novelist Claire Vaye Watkins is responsible for some of the best writing out there on what it’s like to be a writer who isn’t a cisgender white guy in a literary world very much dominated by them. Her latest, I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness (honestly same), is a work of autofiction examining the collision between motherhood and art, and subverts the idea that these modes of being and making can’t coexist. In “Art and Ambition,” Watkins will discuss narratives like hers, which overlay stories of women artists with relationships and family obligations. Watkins will be joined by O. Henry award winner Shruti Swamy, whose lyrical debut novel was released in September. Set in 1960s Bombay, The Archer follows a girl named Vidya as she discovers classical dance and queer romance in the wake of a family tragedy. I would probably listen to these two discuss anything.
4 pm, Fields Ballroom at the Portland Art Museum, 1119 SW Park, Mark Building, 1st Floor
All events listed take place this Saturday, November 13. You can get festival passes, starting at $15, here.