LANGUAGE ARTS

The family that vanished

Author JB Fisher talks about a 61-year-old Portland mystery, this week at Third Street Books in McMinnville

On Thursday evening, Portland author JB Fisher will return to his one-time home of McMinnville to read from and discuss his latest book, Echo of Distant Water: The 1958 Disappearance of Portland’s Martin Family. You’ll find him downtown at Third Street Books, which has proved over the years that small-town indie bookstores can not only survive, but thrive. The Sept. 26 event begins at 6:30 p.m., and the store has a plentiful supply of copies for purchase.

Fisher is the author of another Portland true-crime book, Portland on the Take: Mid-Century Crime Bosses, Civic Corruption & Forgotten Murders, written with JD Chandler and published in 2014. That volume tells the tale of how gangsters gained control of some of the city’s unions during the Red Scare that followed the 1934 West Coast waterfront strike.

It turns out his new book was born right under my nose.

The author, teacher, and historian and his family used to live around the corner from us in McMinnville before they moved to Portland about six years ago. Our kids played together occasionally, so it turns out that I’ve actually visited the house where Echo of Distant Water has its origins.

Portland author JB Fisher came to true-crime via a background in Shakespeare and English Renaissance literature. He notes that popular literature of that time is “full of sensational stories: infanticides and hangings and the seedy underworld of ‘rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars.’”
Portland author JB Fisher came to true-crime via a background in Shakespeare and English Renaissance literature. He notes that popular literature of that time is “full of sensational stories: infanticides and hangings and the seedy underworld of ‘rogues, vagabonds, and sturdy beggars.’” Photo by: Robert Delahanty

Digging through boxes in the garage of the ranch-style home, Fisher found a stack of newspapers left behind by the previous owner, and that was where he first learned about the Martin family. That story goes back to 1958, and boiled down to the most basic facts, it goes like this:

A few days before Christmas of that year, Ken and Barbara Martin of Portland and their three daughters climbed into their 1954 Ford station wagon and headed up the Columbia Gorge to find a Christmas tree. (Their 28-year-old son was stationed in New York with the Navy.) They had lunch at a Hood River diner, then apparently headed back to Portland.

Then they vanished.

Evidence emerged about a month later suggesting that the car had plunged off a cliff into the Columbia River near The Dalles. Early in May 1959, the bodies of the two youngest girls were discovered — one in the Columbia Slough near Camas, Wash., and the other near the Bonneville Dam spillway. The car was never found.

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‘The Hillsboro Story’: Weaving a web of memories

In a new book, performance artist Susan Banyas integrates multiple voices and viewpoints, revisiting a 1950s school desegregation battle in her Ohio hometown.

“Two months after Brown v. Board of Education legally ended school segregation…my sleepy segregated little hometown, Hillsboro, Ohio, the county seat of Highland County, was jolted awake by a fire at the colored school; and History and Memory came marching into town like the Fourth of July Parade the day before.” — The opening passage of The Hillsboro Story, a new book by Susan Banyas.

“In the wee small hours of July 5, 1954, I popped wide awake and looked at the clock. Two o’clock. I quietly dressed and tiptoed downstairs. Armed with a can of gasoline, a bottle of oil and a clutch of newspapers, I kicked and struggled my way through a tangle of growth that choked an abandoned alley at the back of lots to the little cloistered school and up the steps.” — From an unpublished memoir by Philip Partridge, former Highland County engineer.

“I am eight years old, and women and children appear and disappear outside my third-grade classroom window. They carry signs with messages. OUR CHILDREN PLAY TOGETHER, WHY CAN’T THEY LEARN TOGETHER?…There I am, floating in my inner tube in the plastic pool in the backyard on Danville Pike, soaking up the cultural commotion, riding my bike around in it, watching it from behind a window at school, fascinated by the drama, the characters who come and go. But I have no story to hold it, and I remain mute, in the dark, wondering, haunted.” — from The Hillsboro Story.

“How does a kid arrive at a resolution that shakes his world? Is there a sense of justice even in young children.” — From Partridge’s memoir. 

Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, mothers and children in Hillsboro, Ohio protest continuing segregation of the town’s schools. Photo courtesy of Susan Banyas.

Back to a place of one of many beginnings

“It’s hard to know where a story begins,” Susan Banyas says on a recent afternoon, sitting in a Ladd’s Addition coffee shop a few blocks from where she lived when she began the lengthy artistic exploration that has become her book, The Hillsboro Story.

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Local literary talent blooms in ‘Paper Gardens 2019’

More than 50 Yamhill County writers of poetry and prose are featured in the collection that recently hit bookstore and library shelves

Over the past couple of decades, Yamhill County writers and arts advocates have developed an infrastructure to assist their own, and the most visible of those efforts — a published volume of local prose and poetry — recently hit the shelves in libraries and bookstores.

Paper Gardens 2019 is a 116-page collection featuring work by more than 50 writers of all ages. They were among hundreds who submitted work in the categories of traditional poetry, free verse, haiku, fiction, and nonfiction. Two professional judges (one for poetry, one for prose) narrowed the field, and the book featuring their selections was released at a ceremony at the Chehalem Cultural Center earlier this year.

More so than live theater, music, or visual art, a region’s literary scene can be tough to track. The work is produced largely in isolation, often by those who are disinclined to call attention to themselves, and only a few of whom reach a level where the resources of a major publisher or magazine are brought to bear in nudging an author’s work into full public view.

The Arts Alliance of Yamhill County has published Paper Gardens 2019, featuring the prose and verse of more than 50 Yamhill County residents. The cover art is by Jeanne Cuddeford.
The Arts Alliance of Yamhill County has published “Paper Gardens 2019,” featuring the prose and verse of more than 50 Yamhill County residents. The cover art is by Jeanne Cuddeford. Photo by: David Bates

Paper Gardens, sponsored by the Arts Alliance of Yamhill County and made possible with sponsorships by McMinnville Kiwanis and McMinnville Noon Rotary, has (with other events) helped raise the visibility of such writers.

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Exploring the epistolary art

Participants in a Sitka Center workshop may discover how letter-writing can survive the digital age, keep people connected, and restore deep focus

Tucked in the back of my closet is a small, blue suitcase I’ve hauled around with me since I was 18. Inside are bundles of letters, handwritten to me in the first years after I moved from Pennsylvania to Alaska.

Letters from my mom address my plans to move to France (“I don’t think France cares for us right now,” she wrote in 1979 on lined legal-pad paper) and eventually to study for my real-estate license. Letters from the musician I’d agreed to marry seem aimed at inspiring guilt, as in “I thought you were coming back.” Letters from my older sister detail, in her near-perfect penmanship, the mundanity of our small town – whom she ran into, where she applied for a job, how her daughter was (or was not) behaving.

Back then, unless you could afford the long-distance bills (my phone was frequently disconnected, thanks to my inability to keep-it-short), letters were how you kept in touch.

Laura Moulton will teach a workshop Aug. 17 and 18 on "The Art of the Letter" that will include making collage envelopes to deliver students' missives into the world.
Laura Moulton will teach a workshop Aug. 17 and 18 on “The Art of the Letter” that will include making collage envelopes to deliver students’ missives into the world. Photo courtesy: Laura Moulton

In recent years, I realized how much I missed writing – and receiving – personal letters, and I decided I was going to start writing them again. I even bought “fine parchment paper” and matching envelopes found on a clearance rack.

But after years of hurriedly filling reporters’ notebooks day after day after day after month after year, my  handwriting is illegible. It takes huge concentration for me to form an “ing” — the three letters have morphed into a hump with a loop. Likewise, the word “every” looks like an e with a wave and a loop. So while I was drawn to the idea of handwriting letters, I never quite got there. Sure, I could probably sit myself down and write a bit more nicely, but frankly, I’m not sure I have the patience.

Then, I saw the description for the upcoming class on The Art of the Letter: Writing, Collage & Mail Art at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology:

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Tin House: vulnerability & risk

As its celebrated literary journal shuts down, the Portland publishing house's summer writing workshops at Reed College continue to thrive.


By BEN BARTU


Midsummer has arrived in Oregon, and every surface at Reed College seems ripe with books. The campus is hosting the sixteenth annual Tin House Summer Workshop, as a few minutes walking the grounds makes plain. Signs for lecture destinations and attendee housing point in every direction. Above Cerf Amphitheatre, tables are stacked high with various issues of Tin House’s quarterly journal. 

The journal’s final issue – printed in July, and marking the end of a 20-year run for one of Portland’s most esteemed and far-reaching literary magazines – stands out from its predecessors, a robust volume with a pitch-black cover on which is etched a gilded rendition of the press’s logo.

Tin House has come a long way since it was founded in 1999 as a literary journal and nothing more. It was established by Holly MacArthur and Win McCormack (MacArthur remains a founding editor and deputy publisher; McCormack, who is also editor in chief of The New Republic since buying the magazine in 2016, is Tin House’s publisher and editor in chief), but it was not until 2003 that the publishing house held its first writing workshop at Reed. Another five years went by before Tin House also became a press, publishing novels, nonfiction, and poetry.

This was my first year attending the conference. Its lectures, panels, and readings have always been open to the public, although the workshops themselves are strictly for accepted applicants. In most cases, those accepted are also required to pay a substantial fee to cover the cost of working closely with some of the United States’ literary superstars.

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Poet D.A. Howell, “The Godfather” of Tin House’s writing workshops.

THE 2019 WORKSHOP, which ran July 7-14, included many big-name authors, among them R.O Kwon, Garth Greenwell, Natalie Diaz, Camille T. Dungy, Kaveh Akbar, and Mitchell S. Jackson. Also in attendance was poet D.A. Powell, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, who has earned the affectionate nickname “The Godfather” for having attended every Tin House summer workshop since 2003.

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Poetry, painting, and polemics: ‘The Zine Show’ has it all

A show at Salem's Bush Barn Art Center & Annex demonstrates Oregon's zine scene is alive and well

If one were taking the vital signs of a region’s cultural life, the vitality of the local zine scene, it seems to me, would be a key indicator. It’s part of the fabric of an area’s DIY culture that can include (but is hardly limited to) a broad range of artistic forms: bookmaking, paper arts, collage, comics, drawing, photography, poetry, prose and polemics.

Based on The Zine Show, an exhibition at the Bush Barn Art Center & Annex in Salem, I’d venture that the state’s zine scene is alive and well. The exhibition, which  features zines from around Oregon, closes July 10, and a reception for the artists will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 5. Admission is free.

Bush Barn Art Center & Annex in Salem has opened one of its galleries to a selection of 'zines by Oregon artists, along with work by Salem artists Miranda Abrams and Eilish Gormley.
Bush Barn Art Center & Annex in Salem has opened one of its galleries to a selection of zines by Oregon artists, along with work by Salem artists Miranda Abrams and Eilish Gormley. Photo by: David Bates

Bush Barn really packed the gallery for this one. More than 70 zines are displayed, and artwork by Miranda Abrams and Eilish Gormley adorns the walls. The gallery space is relatively small, but there’s a lot to look at. Visitors should plan on spending at least a half-hour to take it all in. There’s plenty to read; it’s like folding a leisurely bookstore visit into an art-gallery trip.

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‘It’s not my poetry that matters, it’s poetry that matters’

Conversation and coffee with Oregon Book Awards finalist José Angel Araguz. Plus, McMinnville's festival of recycled art.

Here are two ways to know a poet:

One is to read the work, which in the case of José Angel Araguz, offers an astonishingly intimate window into his journals – not “poetry notebooks,” per se, but the Moleskines where he writes his personal diary by hand. Here, one gets a sense of his concerns and perspectives, his feel for language, etc. After completing a volume, he’ll put it aside, and only a year or two later when he returns does the poetry start to take shape.

The other is to meet for coffee.

I did both. As I drained an Americano at Starbucks, Araguz apologized a couple of times for the “tangential” nature of his thoughts, which over the course of an hour twisted and turned through anecdotes, opinions, and recollections. Interviews like this can be tough, though this one soon morphs into the kind that isn’t – an absorbing conversation with a clear takeaway, which is this: This gentle-spoken, 36-year-old first-generation American from Corpus Christi, Texas, is as passionate an advocate for poetry as you’re likely to meet.

Yamhill County poet José Angel Araguz: an advocate for poetry.

Araguz was among those up for an award Monday at the Oregon Book Awards, held in the Gerding Theater at the Armory in Portland. His collection Until We Are Level Again, published in 2018 by Mongrel Empire Press, was nominated for the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry by Oregon Literary Arts. Like much of his work, it’s a memoirish collection inspired by the years he spent growing up poor, and particularly, by a father who died in prison when Araguz was only seven.

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