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LitWatch May: Oregon Book Awards

The Book Awards kick off a month of virtual events with Oprah, Whitney Otto, Stacey Abrams & Moby-Dick.


ON MARCH 29, LITERARY ARTS announced the 2021 Oregon Books Award finalists, featuring 35 titles from across the state. On Sunday, May 2, we’ll find out who this year’s winners are. Finalists in seven categories, including the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction, Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry, and Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction, were chosen by panels of out-of-state judges, selecting one writer from each grouping as the winner.

2021 Oregon Book Awards Finalists, Literary Arts Website

Among the finalists are Portland poet Eg Skoog, whose Copper Canyon Press release, Travelers Leaving for the City, is up for the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry. Skoog, born in Topeka, Kansas, is the author of three previous books of poems and is a visiting writer at the University of Montana. Based on the 1955 Pittsburgh murder of his own grandfather, Skoog has penned a “long song of arrivals and departures,” according to the publisher. One poem from the collection, Love is Like an Itching in My Heart, eternalizes Portland staple See See Motor Company in its opening lines: 

To wear a vigorous shirt. At See-See Coffee
       in the bathroom, a sticker on the hot-water tank
says It only takes one or two

Another Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry finalist, McMinnville’s Joe Wilkins, has been nominated for his 2018 Blue Lynx Prize recipient collection Thieve. Born and raised in Eastern Montana, Wilkins holds an MFA from the University of Idaho, directs the creative writing program at Linfield University, and serves on the faculty of Eastern Oregon University’s Low Residency MFA program. ArtsWatch’s David Bates profiles him here

“Joe Wilkins’s poems, several of which are aptly subtitled Poem Against the Crumbling of the Republic, connect us by fragile threads to a past, a Western past that’s a stand-in for our larger American past: the hardscrabble and hardworking, a grace and gratitude for what came before, and for what needs further reckoning, or mercy,” said Nance Van Winckel, author of Our Foreigner and Book of No Ledge, in his praise for Thieves.

Among other finalists are Port Orford nonfiction writer Ann Vileisis with Abalone (ArtsWatch’s Lori Tobias interviews her here), Ashland nonfiction writer Edwin Battistella’s Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President, from Washington to Trump, Portland children’s author Jean Reese’s A Game of Fox and Squirrels, and Lidia Yuknavitch’s Verge (Riverhead Books, Penguin Random House).


Oregon Cultural Trust

At 7 p.m. Sunday, May 2, OPB Radio’s The Archive Project will announce this year’s award winners. Hosted by Omar El Akkad and Elena Passarello, this special program will feature readings from past award winners, archival footage, and an interview with this year’s C.E.S. Wood Award recipient, Molly Gloss.

Week 1: May 1-7

Oregon Book Awards Show: The Archive Project

Presented by Literary Arts, The Archive Project, and OPB
Sunday, May 2
7 p.m.

OPB Radio’s The Archive Project will present a special announcement of this year’s Oregon Book Award winners. Featuring 35 titles from across the state, finalists in seven categories – fiction, poetry, general nonfiction, creative nonfiction, children’s literature, young-adult literature, and drama – were chosen by panels of out-of-state judges and will be narrowed down to one winner from each group.


Oregon Cultural Trust

What Happened to You? by Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD and Oprah Winfrey. Top to bottom: Oprah Winfrey, Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD, Arianna Davis. Courtesy of Powell’s Books

Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD in Conversation With Arianna Davis

Presented by Powell’s Books
Monday, May 3
4 p.m. 
Hosted Virtually
$28.99, book purchase required for entry

Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry, MD, Ph.D., will join Arianna Davis in conversation about their new book What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing (Flatiron). Through scientific and emotional insight into personal self-worth and behavioral patterns, this book explores how individuals can “ultimately recalibrate our responses to circumstances, situations, and relationships” (Oprah Winfrey).

Worldly Festival: Alison Bechdel in Conversation with Cheryl Strayed

Presented by West X Midwest & Literary Arts
Thursday, May 6
2-3 p.m.
Hosted Virtually


Seattle Opera Pagliacci

Join Alison Bechdel and Wild author Cheryl Strayed for a conversation on Bechdel’s The Secret to Superhuman Strength, in which she chronicles her relationship with workout crazes, her quest for physical strength, and her journey back to the heart. As part of the event, copies of Bechdel’s new graphic novel will be distributed free to the first 150 attendees who reserve a copy.

Week 2: May 8-14

Art for the Ladylike by Whitney Otto

Whitney Otto: Art for the Ladylike

Presented by Broadway Books
Monday, May 10
4:30-5:30 p.m. via ZOOM

Broadway Books presents Whitney Otto speaking about her new book Art for the Ladylike, a blend of biography and memoir based on the women artists who have inspired her. Focusing on the lives of eight pioneering women photographers, including Sally Mann and Imogen Cunningham, Otto explores what it means to be a woman and an artist, and the trials and rewards that accompany them.

Livestream Reading: J.T. Bushnell


All Classical Radio James Depreist

Presented by Annie Bloom’s Books
Thursday, May 13
7-8 p.m.
Hosted Virtually

Join J.T. Bushnell for a livestream reading from his debut novel, The Step Back. A coming-of-age story based in a small Northern California town, The Step Back explores the consequences of absence and betrayal as well as the naivete of a young ex-basketball player coming to terms with his emotional relationships and increasing responsibilities.

Stacey Abrams in Conversation With Katie Couric

Presented by Powell’s Books
Friday, May 14
5 p.m.
Hosted Virtually
$28, book purchase required for entry

Politician, lawyer, and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams joins television journalist and New York Times bestselling author Katie Couric in conversation about Abrams’ new book, While Justice Sleeps. In this astute fiction suspense thriller, Abrams chronicles the life of young law clerk Avery Keene amid a series of shocking events.

Week 3: May 15-21


All Classical Radio James Depreist

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Spring 2021 Delve Readers Seminar: Moby-Dick

Presented by Literary Arts
Mondays, May 17-24, June 7-28
6:30-8:30 p.m. via ZOOM

Join Literary Arts Delve Readers Seminar guide Christopher Lord for a six-week series on Melville’s Moby-Dick. Exploring the 1851 novel about a man, a whale, and so much more, this virtual learning seminar promises to be educational, thought-provoking, and enjoyable. 

2020/2021 Portland Arts & Lectures: Yaa Gyasi

Presented by Literary Arts
Tuesday, May 18
6-7:30 p.m.
Hosted Virtually

2020/2021 Portland Arts & Lectures Series presents Yaa Gyasi, author of the best-selling novel Homecoming. Gyasi, winner of the EN/Hemingway Award and the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for best first book, will speak about her newest book, Transcendent Kingdom (Knopf). A heartfelt story about family and perseverance, Transcendent Kingdom follows 28-year-old Gifty and her Ghanaian-American mother, who suffers from deep depression.

Claire Fuller in Conversation With Ron Rash


Washougal Art & Music Festival

Presented by Powell’s Books
Wednesday, May 19
5 p.m. via ZOOM

Powell’s Books presents Claire Fuller, author of Swimming Lessons, in Conversation with writer Ron Rash to talk about her new novel, Unsettled Ground (Tin House). A story of family history and the startling secrets in the lives of 51-year-old twins, Unsettled Ground has been called “engrossing” by Entertainment Weekly and “revelatory” by The Times.

Week 4: May 22-31

Jonathan Taplin in Conversation With Robbie Robertson

Presented by Powell’s Books
Tuesday, May 25
5 p.m. via ZOOM


Seattle Opera Pagliacci

Jonathan Taplin has been there for the pinnacle of every major cultural wave in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. From tour-managing for Bob Dylan and The Band to developing one of the first video-on-demand technologies of the 1990s, Taplin has seen and lived out all the glory days first-hand – Woodstock, Hollywood, and beyond. From this cultural witness and lifelong producer comes his newest book, The Magic Years (Heyday). Featuring tableaux from Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Martin Scorsese, and more, this new work is ripe with the fever of rock and roll. Taplin will be joined in conversation with Robbie Robertson, guitarist and songwriter for The Band.

Ten Magic Years: Scenes from a Rock-and-Roll Life by Jonathan Taplin. Top to bottom: Jonathan Taplin, Robbie Robertson. Courtesy of Powell’s Books.

The Madwoman in the Attic and the Monstrous Feminine

Presented by Literary Arts
Tuesdays, May 25-June 29
6-8 p.m. via ZOOM

Led by Pacific Northwest College of the Arts instructor Wendy Noonan, this Literary Arts Delve Readers Seminar will explore the archetypal tropes of the madwoman in the attic and the monstrous feminine. Dissecting stories of madness and haunting along with their metaphors for social violence, race, gender, and class warfare, participants of this seminar will discuss Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in this Castle, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, and Rachel Ingal’s Mrs. Caliban.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Amy Leona Havin is a poet, essayist, and arts journalist based in Portland, Oregon. She writes about language arts, dance, and film for Oregon ArtsWatch and is a staff writer with The Oregonian/OregonLive. Her work has been published in San Diego Poetry Annual, HereIn Arts Journal, Humana Obscura, The Chronicle, and others. She has been an artist-in-residence at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, Archipelago Gallery, and Art/Lab, and was shortlisted for the Bridport International Creative Writing Prize in poetry. Havin holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornish College of the Arts and is the Artistic Director of Portland-based dance performance company, The Holding Project.


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