Every year, for one crisp day in November, local lit-focused nonprofit Literary Arts holds a festival of books, named—quite literally—Portland Book Festival. Hailed as "the largest festival of its kind in the Pacific Northwest," the event brings local and nationally-recognized authors to the Portland Art Museum and surrounding partner venues for live panels, interviews, and pop-up readings, among other things. I've honestly never been to a bad talk at the fest—there's always something interesting, goofy, or endearing going down.
We've known this year's fest will be on November 4 for months, but Literary Arts just released the 2023 list of attending authors at an annual local media / literary world preview. Typically it's a pleasant, but dry, affair filled with polite clapping. This year's felt much less staid, eliciting some laughs, gasps, and at least one "oh my god!"
While the festival's main draw has typically been fiction and nonfiction novelists, the mention of How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney? picture book team Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen drew a shocked "oh my god" from the crowd. We don't understand that exactly, but children's programming did noticeably expand at the festival this year—from one to three stages, according to Literary Arts' Board Chair Bob Speltz. Barnett has another book at the festival, as well. With Shawn Harris, he'll be promoting a middle reader work called The First Cat in Space and the Soup of Doom.
Other authors the crowd gasped about were Curtis Sittenfeld, whose playful Romantic Comedy was well received this spring, Mitchell S. Jackson, whose survey of NBA player style Fly we reviewed in our Fall Arts Preview. Jennifer Baker (Forgive Me Not), Luis Alberto Urrea (Good Night, Irene), and Nikkolas Smith (The Artivist) proved similarly gasp-worthy.
News that Jonathan Lethem would return to the fest to talk about his soon-to-be-published Brooklyn Crime Novel caused a solid crew in the corner to let off an emphatic "woo!" Naomi Alderman's The Future won't actually be published until three days after the fest, so when board vice chair Amy Donohue said attendees would have a chance to buy the book early, in addition to seeing Alderman, we expected more of a response. Even after Donohue clarified that Alderman is the author of The Power—you know, from the President Barack Obama's 2017 reading list? Nothing.
Gasps for celebrated local writers like Patrick deWitt (The Librarianist), Jae Nichelle (God Themselves), and Oregon's poet laureate Anis Mojgani (The Tigers, They Let Me), were both expected and well-deserved. The crowd really sounded off for Nicole Chung's memoir A Living Remedy, and the memoir debut of Jane Wong, whose Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City represents a transition of form for the known poet.
Wong's was not the only poet to memoir work in selection: Roger Reeves' Dark Days and Safiya Sinclair's How to Say Babylon are also debut works of memoir by writers who previously published poetry—we sense a panel brewing.
But what about the graphic novels, you ask. We will always give special attention to the graphic novels, which were respectfully mixed in with their genre contemporaries: New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast is the most noteworthy. Her forthcoming I Must Be Dreaming explores the surreal expanse of her vivid nighttime life, something comics are perfectly suited to do. We're very interested in Pedro Martín, Mexikid and New Yorker cartoonist Navied Mahdavian's This Country, as we love comics memoir. Full stop.
There are two high-profile ticketed events planned, both to be held at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall: Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short, will talk with Literary Arts Director Andrew Proctor about Going Infinite: Lewis' nonfiction book about Sam Bankman-Fried and the collapse of his cryptocurrency bank FTX. Pulitzer Prize winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen will discuss his new memoir A Man of Two Faces with celebrated novelist Tommy Orange.
And about the food books. The big news is the practically exothermic Fermenter by Portlanders Aaron Adams & Liz Crain. They'll share a stage at the fest with Hetty Lui McKinnon (Tenderheart) and James Beard award winning chef Gregory Gourdet. The pie people are also making a strong showing. We've been promised a "pie event," around Kate Lebo's Pie School and Stacey Mei Yan Fong's 50 Pies, 50 States, which we'll be sure to keep you updated on.
And now, here's the full list:
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Chain-Gang All-Stars
Kathleen Alcott, Emergency
Naomi Alderman, The Future
Jazmina Barrera, Cross-Stitch
Patrick deWitt, The Librarianist
Debra Magpie Earling, The Lost Journals of Sacajewea
John Freeman, Freeman’s: Conclusions
Megan Kamalei Kakimoto, Every Drop Is a Man's Nightmare
Lydia Kiesling, Mobility
Angie Kim, Happiness Falls
E. J. Koh, The Liberators
Edan Lepucki, Time's Mouth
Jonathan Lethem, Brooklyn Crime Novel
Ayana Mathis, The Unsettled
Tim O'Brien, America Fantastica
Curtis Sittenfeld, Romantic Comedy
Justin Torres, Blackouts
Luis Alberto Urrea, Good Night, Irene
Vauhini Vara, This Is Salvaged
Michelle Wildgen, Wine People
Alice Winn, In Memoriam
Aaron Adams & Liz Crain, Fermenter
Erica Berry, Wolfish
Cat Bohannon, Eve
Roz Chast, I Must Be Dreaming
Nicole Chung, A Living Remedy
Stacey Mei Yan Fong, 50 Pies, 50 States
John Freeman, Freeman’s
Santi Elijah Holley, An Amerikan Family
Sabrina Imbler, How Far the Light Reaches
Mitchell S. Jackson, Fly
Kate Lebo, Pie School
Michael Lewis, Going Infinite
Navied Mahdavian, This Country
Hetty Lui McKinnon, Tenderheart
Viet Thanh Nguyen, A Man of Two Faces
Roger Reeves, Dark Days
Safiya Sinclair, How to Say Babylon
Angela Sterritt, Unbroken
Jane Wong, Meet Me Tonight in Atlantic City
Stephanie Adams-Santos, Dream of Xibalba
Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Quiet
Oliver de la Paz, The Diaspora Sonnets
Elisa Gonzalez, Grand Tour
Jane Hirshfield, The Asking
Major Jackson, Razzle Dazzle
Anis Mojgani, The Tigers, They Let Me
Jae Nichelle, God Themselves
Paisley Rekdal, West: A Translation
Charif Shanahan, Trace Evidence
Jennifer Baker, Forgive Me Not
Kendare Blake, Champion of Fate
Jennifer Dugan, The Last Girls Standing
Courtney Gould, Where Echoes Die
Kim Johnson, Invisible Son
Kayvion Lewis, Thieves' Gambit
Kelly McWilliams, Your Plantation Prom Is Not Okay
Elizabeth Rusch, The Twenty-One
Arya Shahi, An Impossible Thing to Say
Jen St. Jude, If Tomorrow Doesn't Come
Breena Bard, Wildfire
Mac Barnett & Shawn Harris, The First Cat in Space and the Soup of Doom
Eoin Colfer, Juniper's Christmas
Jim Di Bartolo & Laini Taylor, Billie Blaster and the Robot Army from Outer Space
Arnée Flores, The Spirit Queen
Donna Barba Higuera, Alebrijes
Pedro Martín, Mexikid
Rosanne Parry, A Horse Named Sky
Jewell Parker Rhodes, Treasure Island: Runaway Gold
Nisi Shawl, Speculation
Zachary Sterling, Mabuhay!
Jennifer Torres, Meet Me at Midnight
Picture Book (hosted by Emily Arrow)
Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen, How Does Santa Go Down the Chimney?
Andrea Beaty, Lila Greer, Teacher of the Year
Ben Clanton & Andy Chou Musser, Ploof
Amy Seto Forrester & Andy Chou Musser, Search for a Giant Squid
Andy Griffiths, The 156-Story Treehouse: Holiday Havoc!
Charise Mericle Harper, I Cannot Draw a Bicycle
Joanna Ho, Say My Name
Nikkolas Smith, The Artivist
Salina Yoon, Penguin and Ollie
Joshua James Amberson, Staring Contest
Matilda Bickers, Working It
Rebecca Clarren, The Cost of Free Land
Zaji Cox, Plums for Months
Carla Crujido, The Strange Beautiful
Brennan DeFrisco, Honeysuckle & Nightshade
Incite: Queer Writers Read, with Dean Backus, Trystan Angel Reese, & Karelia Stetz-Waters
Tim Lane, The Neighbors We Want
Shilo Niziolek, Fever
Mary Rechner, Marrying Friends
Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, Helen House
Charity E. Yoro, ten-cent flower & other territories
Portland Book Festival takes place at the Portland Art Museum and venues around the downtown Park Blocks on Sat Nov 4, tickets here, $15-25 with a lot of add-ons; high school students and people 17 & under get in free. Expect a full schedule in early October.