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An Introvert’s Guide to Portland Book Festival 2018



As a typical book-loving wallflower, I find festivals overstimulating and at times overwhelming, but when it comes to books, they’re important. In America, things loved by quiet people have a way of being ignored, shouted over, trampled on and phased out. Events like Literary Arts’ Portland Book Festival (formerly Wordstock) make a dazzling public smile their umbrella over a very private love, and by doing that, help keep that love safe, strong and thriving.

The Portland Book Festival can start to close in on the bookish introvert. But you can beat this! Preparation is the key./Photo courtesy Portland Book Festival

With some 62 book-related events loaded into a single 10-hour day, Portland Book Festival is an unparalleled opportunity, even for those of us who don’t like to leave our couches, teapots and teetering stacks of books. So gird your loins and screw your courage to the sticking place, my friends—you still have a few days to prepare. And prepare you must!

Pick up your Festival Pass a day or two early: Buy online and pick up your pass at Portland Art Museum on Thursday, November 8, between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., or Friday, November 9, from 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m.

Study the map: Portland Book Festival’s eight venues are all within easy walking distance of each other, but it’s good to know where you’re going. Literary Arts provides a handy map. Print, memorize, then destroy! Just kidding—you don’t have to print it.

Plot your course: The complete Festival schedule is available online. If you’re a paper person, there’s a print version you can tuck into your canteen holder. If conflicts start to mount up, don’t panic! For the first time this year, most guest authors will make more than one appearance. You can schedule breathing room into your day and still catch your favorites.

You will have to plot your course, preferably well ahead of time, though must be ready to deal with opportunities and hurdles on the fly/Image courtesy of Portland Book Festival

If you prefer the Festival to come to you, pitch your tent in the Crumpacker Library inside the Portland Art Museum and stay there all day. The morning is dedicated to the art of making children’s literature, the afternoon to the Festival’s new “In Conversation” series, featuring moderated discussions between thoughtfully paired mainstage authors.


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“This exact group of 100 people is not likely to be in the same place at the same time again,” said Festival Director Amanda Bullock. “It’s a unique opportunity to foster conversations between them.”

For example, In Conversation: the Syrian Refugee Crisis, for example, brings together authors of middle-grade and young adult fiction novels about the Syrian civil war. “Ordinarily, these authors wouldn’t be on the same stage,” Bullock said, “and we would miss out on a great conversation.” Moderated by OPB’s Jeff Norcross, Atia Abawi, author of “A Land of Permanent Goodbyes” and N.H. Senzai, who wrote “Escape from Aleppo” will shed light on the shattering experience of civil war and exile.

Amid constant reports of declining American readership, the popularity of young adult fiction gives Bullock hope. That’s why an entire stage at the Festival is dedicated to the genre, whose readers she says read a ton, buy a lot of books and are excited to meet the authors. In another nod to the younger generation, readers 17 and under with a valid high school ID are eligible for free Festival passes.

Register in advance for writer workshops: Most of the writer workshops are not included in the price of your Festival pass, and any of them could fill up before the big day. Secure your spot by registering early! Workshops include everything from Writing and Social Justice for High School Students to From Page to State: Adapting Books for Screen and Television.

Stake out your retreats: With upward of 7,000 attendees, Portland Book Festival is a SCENE. You will need to pace yourself, and part of that is finding your hidey-holes.

Look for your favorite author on the list of intimate pop-up readings that will appear around the art museum in the galleries. Get away from the hurly-burly by arriving a half-hour early to enjoy the art and maybe get a seat on one of the hard, churchy benches before the reading starts.

There’s no rain in the forecast, so you can also walk a block south to Director Park, just far enough from the epicenter of activity to be dreamily quiet on a chilly Autumn day. The Festival food carts are a great option, but can get busy. Elephant’s Deli across from Director Park is a good bet for a quick, portable nosh.


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Beat the Book Fair brouhaha: Prepare to launch yourself on the Book Fair (in the Kridel Grand Ballroom at Portland Art Museum’s Mark Building) at 10:00am when Tom Hanks will be speaking across the Park Blocks at the Schnitz. The event is sold out and everyone who is anyone will be there. That means they will not be where you are!

Even at slow times, navigating the Book Fair may wind up being one of the most strenuous parts of an introvert’s day at the Festival. Read up on who will be there and make a list of booksellers and publishers you don’t want to miss. Visit them first, while your crowd tolerance is still robust. Remember: with bookstores at every mainstage venue this year, run by local booksellers Annie Bloom’s Books, Powell’s, Broadway Books and Green Bean Books, you’ll have other opportunities to book shop.

Find the hidden gems: In a year that features attention-grabbing headliners like Hanks and Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson, whose appearances are both sold out, I wanted to know which events might be dark horse winners.

The big names draw the biggest crowds. A clever introvert will find the more intimate experiences./Image courtesy of the Portland Book Festival.

“I loved Buttermilk Graffiti,” Bullock said. “It’s the book I’ve been wanting to read about American food and the people who make it.” Edward Lee of The Mind of a Chef fame spent two years touring the US, visiting different immigrant communities and learning about their lives and evolving food landscapes. The author will be in conversation with Sam Sifton of the New York Times.

Another event pairs three wildly different books featuring mothers on the lam. The books are Patrick deWitt’s smart dark comedy, French Exit, first-time author Vanessa Hua’s River of Stars, dealing with the intersection between motherhood, immigration and the American dream, and Lydia Kiesling’s The Golden State, a flight from civilization amid troubled political times. The event, aptly named “On the Run,” involves all three authors and is moderated by Marisa Siegel, editor-in-chief and owner of The Rumpus.

Bullock is proud of the Festival’s lineup of poets. One mainstage event brings together contributors to the new anthology New Poets of Native Nations, including Trevino L. Brings Plenty, Laura Da’, Layli Long Soldier, and editor Heid E. Erdrich. Spanning diverse ages, styles, languages, and tribal affiliations, these poets present the extraordinary range and power of new Native poetry.

Also not to be missed is author and journalist Eli Saslo, whose recent book Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist tracks the transformation of Derek Black, son of notorious former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke.


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Make reservations for dinner: Plan in advance to go someplace quiet afterward with plenty of table space so you can spread out your new books and mull over your day. Full disclosure: I’m not a food critic and tend to choose restaurants based on how easy it is to have a conversation there. Nel Centro, a few blocks away on SW 6th Avenue and Clay Street, has fancy-delicious Italian fare in a relaxed atmosphere, and McMenamins Market Street Pub on the PSU Campus (SW 10th and Market), offers beer and a great plate of tots. Table space is generous at both places.

Cope with what you might have missed: If your social energy just won’t carry you through a 10-hour day, Literary Arts and OPB have a solution for you: The Archive Project. Now in its fourth year, this regular podcast features live recordings of past Literary Arts events. Recent episodes delve into the wealth of great events from last year’s festival. Bullock herself finds solace in The Archive Project. “I miss most of the conversations because I’m working,” she said, ruefully.

The Portland Book Festival sets sail the morning of Saturday, November 10. The weather is projected to be fine and the prospect dazzling.

All about the Festival | Buy Advance Passes

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