Wordstock is historically a festival that sounds more interesting than it is. Though some great authors have come through under its auspices, there's really only so much fun to be had pacing the interior of the convention center while clutching a tote bag. There are signs, though, that under the executive direction of Greg Netzer, Wordstock is evolving past its roots as an overgrown book signing to become a festival as diverse and eclectic as the community of readers to which it caters.
Wordstock is still in the convention center, a space far more utilitarian than beautiful—but this year's festival is undeniably more vibrant than in years past, thanks in large part to the decision to partner with other literary organizations.
"The idea was to try to get several organizations to move their programming to the week around Wordstock so that we could, together, market to the entire city a sort of literary week," Netzer tells me. To that end, the Independent Publishing Resource Center's Text Ball is this weekend, as well as the Oregon Book Awards, a Live Wire! taping devoted to the festival and stuffed with appearing authors, and a poetry reading from W.S. Merwin, presented by Literary Arts. The Stumptown Comics Fest will also have a presence at Wordstock, with a "graphic novel garden" full of tables hosted by local comic book stores, publishers, and creators. There's also a poetry slam at the Bagdad Theater, organized in part by National Poetry Slam winner (and Portlander) Anis Mojgani, and the six competitors have already decided to split the $1,500 victory pot equally regardless of who wins. "They're just gonna go out there and have a blast," Netzer says. "I can't wait for the frigging poetry slam."
The festival this year also reflects a new emphasis on the reading habits of actual people. "Program-wise, the number one thing we've done is decided to focus on a couple of genre areas that we know are very popular with Portland readers: mystery, graphic novel, and science fiction and fantasy," Netzer tells me. "That's in addition to the literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that we usually bring in."
The lineup, too, is flashier than last year, with some big names tucked in amid the 180-odd participating writers, and enough local authors to shore up against the complaint—so commonly directed at local arts organizations—that support for the arts begins at home. See this sidebar for a few of our picks, and keep reading for some interviews with the authors we're most excited about.