Bag & Baggage Danny and the Deep Blue Sea The Vault Theatre Hillsboro Oregon

LitWatch April: Fishtrap’s new home and the Oregon Book Awards 

The calendar holds multiple readings by book award finalists, and an exploration of the question: Do bookstores matter?

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Jeff Deutsch, director of Chicago's Seminary Co-op Bookstores, and author of "In Praise of Good Bookstores"
Jeff Deutsch, director of Chicago’s Seminary Co-op Bookstores, tackles the question, “Do we need bookstores in the 21st century?” in his book, “In Praise of Good Bookstores.”

Along with warmer weather and magnolia trees in bloom, April brings two big announcements: Enterprise-based writing organization Fishtrap’s relocation to the Bowlby Building and the recipients of this year’s Oregon Book Awards.

On April 25, host Kesha Ajose Fisher,  winner of the 2020 Ken Kesey Award for Fiction, will present five writers with Oregon Book Awards in the genres of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, young readers, and graphic literature. The many finalists include Portland’s Zachary Schomburg and his book of poetry, Fjords Vol. II (Black Ocean); Hillsboro’s Jessica (Tyner) Mehta and her book of poems, When We Talk of Stolen Sisters: New and Revised Poems (Not a Pipe Publishing); West Linn’s Omar El Akkad and his novel, What Strange Paradise (Alfred A. Knopf); Portland’s Chris Stuck and his story collection, Give My Love to the Savages (Amistad, HarperCollins); and Portland’s Annelise Heinz and her nonfiction work, Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture (Oxford University Press). To see a complete list of finalists, take a look at the Literary Arts website.

Fishtrap, the community-centric Wallowa County writers organization, is finally getting a home. This month, Fishtrap will move into downtown Enterprise’s Bowlby Building — a customized space featuring a stage, audiovisual systems, audience seating, lighting, and all else needed to host a myriad of events and workshops. The move comes after two years of remote operations and programming that divided the community through distance. 

“I couldn’t be more proud of the way our team managed to reinvent our work during the pandemic, but we miss the sparks that come out of spontaneous conversations,” said Fishtrap’s executive director, Shannon McNerney. “We’ve missed our community of writers and engaging directly with local folks. Having a beautiful, accessible, centrally located space where we can gather together again will be amazing. That’s especially true in our remote, rural world.”

Fishtrap has signed a 10-year lease on the building, McNerney said, and is in the midst of a $56,000 building campaign. In light of the good news, I chatted with McNerney over email about Fishtrap’s history, its plans, and how to help.

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Fishtrap was born of the Summer Fishtrap Gathering of Writers, which stemmed from Kim Stafford’s challenge to host a Western Writer’s Conference in Wallowa County. Can you expand on the history of Fishtrap and how it developed into its current state?

McNerney: Kim Stafford issued the challenge, but Rich Wandschneider took it on and made something real happen. The central issue at the time was the seeming exclusion of Western writers — and Western voices for that matter — by East Coast publishers. Rich was one of several writers and thinkers, including Ursula K. Le Guin and William Stafford, who saw how hard it was for writers west of the Mississippi to get the literary community to take them seriously. Rich and his wife, Judy, owned The Bookloft (still one of the best independent bookstores in Oregon), and he used the connections he made there to gather local folks together to help imagine what a writing conference could look like in this rural place — one that would include local voices and participation. He also solicited the advice of his mentor, journalist and historian Alvin Josephy Jr., to make sure that the history of this place was a central part of its mission: promoting clear thinking and good writing in and about the West. The first Summer Fishtrap Gathering was a three-day event held in the summer of 1988 at Joseph High School.

Over the next 30-plus years, Fishtrap built on the cornerstone of Summer Fishtrap to offer programming year-round to writers of all ages and abilities. We work in the local schools to deliver creative writing instruction in collaboration with local educators. We were one of the organizations to participate in the very first NEA Big Read — and the smallest. We have a monthly series of readings, Fishtrap Fireside, that showcases local writers to packed audiences. We offer writing workshops throughout the year, both online and soon back in person. We have an annual humanities conference, Winter Fishtrap, that centers on a topic that impacts Inland Northwest residents. And in 2019, we began a partnership with Eastern Oregon University with their MFA in Creative Writing.

Fishtrap has a new home, in the 1899 Bowlby Building in Enterprise. Photo by: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives
Fishtrap has a new home in the 1899 Bowlby Building in Enterprise. Photo by: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Where was Fishtrap prior to 2022 and what caused the organization to leave that location?

Since 2000, Fishtrap has operated out of a 1910 Craftsman house known locally as the Coffin House (family home of late Chieftain newspaper editor Gwen Coffin). It was a great old house that served as the office, small event space, meeting space, and even housed early writers-in-residence for a few years. In recent years, it became increasingly evident that we’d outgrown the space. Programs like Fishtrap Fireside or classroom visits from local schools regularly strained the house past safe and comfortable capacity limits — and that was pre-COVID. To make it work in the way we’d need it to now, the house would have required a lot of work, including adding more event space, a new kitchen and upstairs bathroom, and upgrades to the heating and cooling systems. It became obvious that we were asking the old house to become something it was never designed to be. In May of 2021, the decision was made to list the house and look for a space that would be a better fit for our needs both now and in the future, and provide a gathering space for our community nonprofits as well. The Bowlby Building is that space.

What hopes/plans do you have for future events and programming? Is anything lined up yet?

So many plans… In the short term, our current events will be better situated with a fully accessible (ADA) space, lots of elbow room, efficient heating and cooling, and TWO working bathrooms. Heaven. We will be able to host all events for our larger programs like Winter Fishtrap and the Big Read in our own space, something we’ve never been able to do before. We’re also planning on making the space available for local book and writing groups, creating an afterschool program for high school students, and making the space available for free for local nonprofits like the Wallowa Valley Music Alliance and the MidValley Theatre Company

What can people do to help with Fishtrap’s transition to its new home in the Bowlby Building?

Sponsor
Portland Playhouse A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens Portland Oregon

It’s not unique, but we need financial support. We are planning for the space to be something that our whole Wallowa County community can be proud of and enjoy, but that costs real dollars. We don’t want to go into debt or use funds to outfit the space that could be used to ensure Fishtrap’s long-term stability. Donations are so important. Fishtrap received a generous matching grant from the Roundhouse Foundation, and support from both the Wildhorse Foundation and the Eastern Oregon Visitors Association, but we still need to raise just over $10,000 to meet all our goals. Folks can contribute to the Bowlby Campaign here. Then come and see us!

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Week 1: April 1-7

Elisa Shua Dusapin in Conversation with Meaghan O’Connell
Presented by Powell’s Books
Friday, April 1
7 p.m., in person
Powell’s City of Books
1005 W. Burnside St., Portland
Book purchase required for event access

Elisa Shua Dusapin, winner of the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature, will be joined in person by the author of And Now We Have Everything, Meaghan O’Connell. Dusapin will discuss her new novel, Winter in Sokcho (Open Letter) — a story about a French Korean woman working as a guesthouse receptionist in a tourist town — which considers concepts of intimacy, alienation, shared identities.

Spring brings Adam Sawyer, author of “Urban Hikes Oregon” to Powell’s Books to discuss some of the 40 best urban hikes in the state, which may or may not include a cow.

Adam Sawyer: Urban Hikes Oregon
Monday, April 4
7 p.m., in person
Powell’s City of Books
1005 W. Burnside St., Portland
Book purchase required for event access

In perfect time for spring, Adam Sawyer’s Urban Hikes Oregon details the 40 best hikes in the state and the restaurants to try out afterward. Including family-friendly walking options, Cannon Beach sightseeing, and a downtown Eugene brewery-hopping guide, Urban Hikes Oregon will help make it easier for everyone to get outdoors this year.

Oregon Book Award Finalist Reading: Graphic Literature
Presented by Literary Arts
Tuesday, April 5
7-8:30 p.m., via ZOOM
Free 

Portland-based Oregon Book Award Graphic Literature finalists Breena Bard, Cat Farris, Matt Fraction, Steve Lieber, Sarah Mirk, and Aron Nels Steinke will participate in a virtual reading of their finalist works. The reading is open to the public; advance registration is recommended.

Chloé Cooper Jones in Conversation with Lydia Kiesling
Presented by Powell’s Books
Thursday, April 7
7 p.m., in person
Powell’s City of Books
1005 W. Burnside St., Portland
Book purchase required for event access

Chloé Cooper Jones, Pulitzer Prize finalist and recipient of the Whiting Creative Nonfiction Grant, will talk with The Golden State author, Lydia Kiesling, about Jones’ new memoir, Easy Beauty. In her account about unexpectedly becoming a mother, Jones recounts her experiences with disability, reclaiming spaces, and breaking the myths of traditional beauty and desirability.

Week 2: April 8-14

Maggie Doyne in Conversation with Cheryl Strayed
Presented by Powell’s Books
Monday, April 11
7 p.m., in person
Powell’s City of Books
1005 W. Burnside St., Portland
Book purchase required for event access

From the suburbs of New Jersey to opening an orphanage in Nepal, Between the Mountain and the Sky (Harper Horizon) tells Maggie Doyne’s coming-of-age story as she navigates love, loss, pain, and healing — and the power that comes from those experiences. Doyne will be joined by Cheryl Strayed, celebrated author of Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things.

Week 3: April 15-21

Oregon Book Award Finalist Reading: Children’s Literature Story Time
Presented by Literary Arts
Saturday, April 16
10-11 a.m., via ZOOM
Free 

Join 2022 Oregon Book Award finalists for the Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature – Waka T. Brown (West Linn), Cathy Camper (Portland), Jennie Englund (Ashland), Gabi Snyder (Corvallis), and Tracy Subisak (Portland) – in a virtual storytime reading. This event is appropriate for children of all ages and pre-registration is recommended.

Jeff Deutsch in Conversation with Ada Calhoun
Presented by Powell’s Books
Tuesday, April 19
5 p.m., via ZOOM
Free 

“Do we need bookstores in the 21st century? If so, what makes a good one?” These are questions author Jeff Deutsch, director of Chicago’s Seminary Co-op Bookstores, takes on in In Praise of Good Bookstores (Princeton). From his Orthodox Jewish upbringing, his experience as a bookseller, and his interactions with community members in bookstore settings, Deutsch speaks in defense of bookstores and outlines their importance for a flourishing future society. He will be joined by Ada Calhoun, author of Why We Can’t Sleep.

Oregon Book Award Finalist Reading: Fiction and Poetry
Presented by Literary Arts
Wednesday, April 20
7-8:30 p.m., via ZOOM
Free 

Get a sneak peak at the works of Oregon Book Award fiction and poetry finalists in this virtual reading featuring Irene Cooper (Bend), Emily Kendal Frey (Portland), Jessica (Tyner) Mehta (Hillsboro), Zachary Schomburg (Portland), Dao Strom (Portland), Callum Angus (Portland), Omar El Akkad (West Linn), Tracey Lange (Bend), A.E. Osworth (Portland), and Chris Stuck (Portland). This reading is open to the public, and advance registration is recommended.

Week 4: April 22-31

Kate Kelly in Conversation with Congressman Jamie Raskin
Presented by Powell’s Books
Friday, April 22
5 p.m., via ZOOM
Free 

In her Ordinary Equality: The Fearless Women and Queer People Who Shaped the U.S. Constitution and the Equal Rights Amendment (Gibbs Smith), Kate Kelly looks at women’s constitutional equality and the marginalized genders of America that have been systematically undermined for the last century. In an illustrated look at history, law, and activism, Kelly aims to “provide a much-needed fresh perspective on the ERA for feminists of all ages.” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland), author of Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy, will join Kelly.

Kesha Ajose-Fisher, winner of the 2020 Ken Kesey Award for Fiction and author of "No God Like the Mother," is host of the 2022 Oregon Book Awards.
Kesha Ajose Fisher, winner of the 2020 Ken Kesey Award for Fiction and author of “No God Like the Mother,” is host of the 2022 Oregon Book Awards.

2022 Oregon Book Awards
Presented by Literary Arts
Monday, April 25
7:30-9:30 p.m., in person
Portland Center Stage at The Armory
128 N.W. 11th Ave., Portland
$12-$65

Join Literary Arts at Portland Center State at the Armory for an evening that honors the 2022 Oregon Book Award finalists in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, young readers, and graphic literature. The event will be hosted by Kesha Ajose Fisher, winner of the 2020 Ken Kesey Award for Fiction and author of No God Like the Mother.

Amy Leona Havin is a writer, choreographer, and filmmaker based in Portland, Oregon. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, Washington, and is the Artistic Director of Portland-based multi-media dance company The Holding Project. Her works can be read in Humana Obscura, San Diego Poetry Annual, The Dust Magazine, The Chronicle, Mountain Bluebird Magazine, and others, and she has been shortlisted for the Bridport International Writing Competition Prize in Poetry. Havin’s artistic process is rooted in classical and somatic movement practices, non-fiction writing, and honoring the landscape of the natural world.

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