One of Portland’s flagship arts organizations is facing change on a variety of fronts.
In its fall newsletter emailed Wednesday, Literary Arts Executive Director Andrew Proctor announced that he is taking a leave of absence to fight colon cancer. “It was caught early, during a routine screening, and my doctors anticipate a full recovery,” Proctor wrote.
While receiving radiation treatment this summer, “I have been active this whole time, riding 40-80 miles a week on my bike, taking trips with my family, and camping,” he added, “all while continuing my work at Literary Arts. My doctors are pleased with my health, spirit, and response to treatment (candidly, I feel better than I thought I would).”
Beginning in September, however, Proctor’s treatment moves on to several rounds of chemotherapy, which can be more physically taxing than radiation, and will necessitate an 8-week medical leave. Proctor is tentatively due to return to Literary Arts in November.
Eric Vines will serve as the organization’s interim executive director. Vines is a partner and co-owner of Page Two Partners, a company that, as Proctor’s announcement put it, “helps organizations bridge moments of interruption.” In business since 2018, Page Two Partners contracted with the Leach Botanical Garden for Vines to spend 13 months in 2021-22 as interim executive director. Before that, he spent nine months in 2020-21 as interim board chair of Business for a Better Portland, and from 2019-20 was interim CEO of the XXcelerate Fund to support women in high-tech. Prior to these interim roles, Vines served in multi-year executive director roles for World Forestry Center, the Gray Family Foundation, and the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology.
It was already a time of change for Literary Arts even before Proctor’s announcement. Deputy Director Lydah DeBin, who for the past 12 years has overseen marketing and development, has been appointed executive director of The Center for Fiction in Brooklyn. The newsletter credited DeBin with being “a guiding force in building our community of funders,” and framed her new job as affirming her leadership at Literary Arts.
DeBin’s departure isn’t the only staff change. Literary Arts has also posted a job opening for a senior finance director.
Meanwhile, Literary Arts is preparing to move to a new headquarters east of the Willamette River next spring, departing the organization’s longtime home downtown in the Pittock Block at Southwest Ninth Avenue and Washington Street (facing the new Ritz-Carlton tower). It’s another blow to downtown, which has struggled amidst ongoing office vacancies and homelessness, but also is showing signs of rebound.
Literary Arts’ new home, in the historic circa-1904 former Strowbridge Hardware building at 716 S.E. Grand Ave. near the east end of the Morrison Bridge, will bring added capacity for its programs. It will also benefit the building, which for decades, until a 2018 renovation, had its historic façade and original architectural features covered up; now, it’s an official contributing resource to the East Portland Grand Avenue Historic district.
“This new 14,000-square-foot cultural and community center in the inner industrial eastside of Portland’s downtown core will expand our community reach, anchor our work, and increase our visibility,” the organization wrote in a Cultural Resources Economic Fund Request sent to the Legislature in February. “By creating more classroom, seminar, and event space, and adding a bookstore, café, and commercial kitchen, we’ll have the capacity to welcome more people annually from all walks of life, host more literary and humanities programs, and deepen engagement.”
The nonprofit Literary Arts began in 1984 as the event series Portland Arts and Lectures, founded by Karen Frank (and modeled after City Arts & Lectures in San Francisco) to bring internationally renowned authors and cultural thinkers to Portland. After merging with the Oregon Institute for Literary Arts in 1993 and rebranding as Literary Arts, the organization became producer of the Oregon Book Awards, the state’s most prestigious award honoring Oregon writers and publishers. In 2014, Literary Arts officially acquired the Wordstock book festival, a nine-year-old program created by the Portland-based organization Community of Writers. Renamed the Portland Book Festival in 2018, it brings thousands of readers and writers of all ages together to share in and exchange stories.
Proctor had never been to Portland before he arrived here in 2009 as executive director of Literary Arts. He’d spent the previous decade in New York City, first as a HarperCollins book editor and then directing memberships for the PEN American Center. In college at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain, where he received his MA in English, Proctor studied under the legendary novelist W.G. Sebald and former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion.
In 2014, Portland Monthly magazine gave Proctor one of its Light A Fire Awards (honoring the local nonprofit community) for “broadening the diversity and scope of Portland’s literary empire.” Zach Dundas went on to write, “When Andrew Proctor joined Literary Arts in 2009, the Canadian-born publishing vet jolted Portland’s flagship writing nonprofit with a dose of extroverted moxie.”