PORTLAND'S LITERARY COMMUNITY boasts great local publishing houses (like Tin House and Hawthorne Books), an absolute wealth of micro-presses, and literary all-stars (like Ursula K. Le Guin, Chuck Palahniuk, Tom Spanbauer, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Matthew Dickman, to name just a few)—but finding out where to see readings in this town can be difficult. For starters, places that consistently host readings are few and far between, and many of the reading series we do have aren't always found in the likeliest of places, or even widely advertised. To make it all a little clearer, we've created this guide.
These are places you can always depend on when you're in the mood to be read to:
Beautiful wood bookshelf backdrop, different levels, standing room only, people packed in: Walk by Mother Foucault's Bookshop (523 SE Morrison) during a reading and you'll see a fine-looking event. And no wonder: It's arguably Portland's best specialty bookshop.
Broadway Books (1714 NE Broadway) isn't showy about their events—some folding chairs and a podium in the mystery section—but they create a kind of reading you rarely get in Portland. Broadway's a place where people get some knitting done while listening to readings, and where Q&As are more like friendly conversations—the audience talks as much as the author.
With poetry and visual art pairings, poetry slams, and fiction and creative nonfiction authors, Glyph Café and Arts Space (804 NW Couch) has good lighting and a decent atmosphere, but also has the feel of a pretty new space.
Long-running arts nonprofit the Independent Publishing Resource Center (1001 SE Division) is housed in a large converted warehouse, making for a unique and malleable space for zine and comics events, panel discussions, small press book releases, and more.
A great place for self-published local writers to hold their book releases, Another Read Through (3932 N Mississippi) opens up its space to authors of historical nonfiction and mysteries, as well as those whose genres or subjects don't have a natural fit elsewhere.
The Powell's trifecta is well known for a reason. From cookbook writers to literary superstars, you can see readings most nights of the year at Powell's City of Books (1005 W Burnside), in an atmosphere that's both nicely spacious and hospitable. Local and big-name author events often pack a full house, so plan to arrive early. Outside the greater metro area, Powell's Books at Cedar Hills Crossing (3415 SW Cedar Hills, Beaverton) is your best bet. Inside a ghost town of a mall, this location feels a little like how Meg Ryan sees Tom Hanks' big-box bookstore in You've Got Mail, but actually hosts nearly as many events as the downtown Powell's, with more young-adult writers and sci-fi/fantasy authors represented. The less-busy-by-comparison Powell's Books on Hawthorne (3723 SE Hawthorne) also hosts frequent readings in a far more intimate setting.
These places hold readings only occasionally, so plan accordingly:
In the back room of Daedalus Books (2074 NW Flanders), you can sit alongside rare books and get up close and personal with poets. An easy-to-love space at a wonderful bookstore.
Mostly known for music shows, the Waypost (3120 N Williams) hosts readings in a place that melds elements of a bar, a coffee shop, a restaurant, and an event space.
With an actual stage, so many windows, high ceilings, plus coffee and booze, Ford Food and Drink (2505 SE 11th), plays host to readings and literary benefits.
Don't like labels? Mediums are frequently melded at Reading Frenzy's (3628 N Mississippi) events. The long-running Portland purveyor of independent press titles, zines, and art books is the place to go to see words, visual art, film, and music come together.
Portland Button Works (1322 N Killingsworth) is both Portland's premier button maker and a zine shop offering a wide range of titles you won't find at any other Portland store. A few times a year, it also becomes a venue for readings, playing host to touring zinesters and packing an audience into its adorable digs. If you don't get claustrophobic, the best part about this space is its instant intimacy. It just takes a handful of people to feel like a good crowd.
The long-running literary nonprofit Literary Arts (925 SW Washington) hosts the occasional essayist, poet, or experimental novelist in its comfortable downtown space. Elsewhere, the organization is a powerhouse, sponsoring the Oregon Book Awards and Fellowships, the Writers in the Schools program, Portland Arts and Lectures (which brings big-name authors to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall), Poetry Downtown (at the Winningstad Theatre), the Delve Readers Seminars, and—as of this year—the Wordstock Festival.
Regular Reading Series
Here are some of the city's curated series with devoted followings from all corners of Portland's literary community:
Now in its fifth year, Bad Blood—the reading series focused on poetry and hybrid forms reading series and recently hosted at the Cleaners at the Ace Hotel—is co-curated by Zachary Schomburg, Drew Swenhaugen, and Joseph Mains. They've brought an impressive number of literary heavy-hitters to town, including Maggie Nelson, Dorothea Lasky, and CA Conrad.
The quarterly, multi-genre Loggernaut Reading Series is a decade in. Essayists, novelists, and poets share bills with a focus on Portland authors and a track record that (in just the last couple of years) has included Patrick deWitt, Elissa Washuta, Jay Ponteri, among many others. Typically at Ristretto Roasters' N Williams location (3808 N Williams).
Three years running, Unchaste Readers is a monthly literary showcase, featuring eight different women writers from the Portland area. A wide variety of styles, ages, and identities grace the stage, usually at the Knock Back (2315 NE Alberta). Unlike some series, where readers often tend toward the homogenous, it's not unusual for a 50-year-old essayist and a 25-year-old performance poet to appear on the same bill.
Every month, local writers and storytellers convene at Tad's Chicken 'n Dumplins (1325 E Historic Columbia River, Troutdale) for Tad's Storytelling Nights (also known as Tad's Talks), pairing stories with fried food along the Sandy River. Martha Grover—the local essayist perhaps best known for the zine Somnambulist, and its later incarnation, the 2011 collection One More for the People—hosts.
A poetry series in its sixth year, If Not for Kidnap's (INFK) varied readers have worked their magic in a wide variety of locations, but of late have found themselves at Ristretto Roasters' NE Couch location (555 NE Couch). Past readers have included local writers, publishers, and performers, including Chanticleer Trü, Emily Kendal Frey, Michael Heald of Perfect Day Publishing, and Carl Adamshick of Tavern Books, plus nationally known writers like Anis Mojgani and Eileen Myles.
Curated by Stacey Tran and Danielle Ross, Pure Surface makes room for text, dance, and film to merge in interesting and unexpected ways. Per the Pure Surface website, the series seeks to answer questions like, "How do the things that move us move with each other?" and "How do we activate and encourage cross-disciplinary practice and performance?" It takes place at Valentines (232 SW Ankeny).
Every year, many of Portland's small presses and literary journals band together to host short, boozy readings in local bars for one epic evening of wall-to-wall entertainment for book-people, LitHop PDX (this year's venues were all in Old Town/Chinatown). Past writers have included Pacific Northwest favorites like Ed Skoog, Sarah Marshall, Justin Hocking, and Martha Grover, plus a goodly number of previous Mercury contributors, with readings sponsored by presses like Future Tense and Perfect Day Publishing.
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Literary Portland: A Brief Tour