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LitWatch Monthly: Love and literature

February on the literary arts front is looking warm and cozy, surrounded by cups of hot chocolate and coffee, and seated in comfortable chairs.


On December 16, 1884, Oscar Wilde penned to his wife, Constance Lloyd, a letter of both intoxicating literary prowess and heartfelt affection:

Dear and Beloved, Here I am, and you at the Antipodes. O execrable facts, that keep our lips from kissing, though our souls are one. What can I tell you by letter? Alas! nothing that I would tell you. The message of the gods to each other travel not by pen and ink and indeed your bodily presence here would not make you more real: for I feel your fingers in my hair, your cheek brushing mine. The air is full of the music of your voice, my soul and body seem no longer mine, but mingled in some exquisite ecstasy with yours. I feel incomplete without you. Ever and ever yours, Oscar.

Though now in the digital age of 2021, when letters such as this one are seldom delivered by post, Wilde’s words still deliver the vulnerable sentiment and beauty that they did in 1884. From Zelda Fitzgerald and Jack London to Simone de Beauvoir and Khalil Gibran, writers have injected poetry into their epistolary engagements, drawing from their literary muse and delighting the recipients who read them.

Oscar Wilde in 1884/Photograph by Napoleon Sarony

It is not necessary, however, to be a prolific author in order to write a compelling letter. An upcoming workshop presented by Literary Arts called Four Letters: The Epistolary Form seeks to teach exactly that. This four-session series, occurring on Thursday evenings from February 25 through March 18, was created for the letter-writing literary in each of us. Whether your writing experience consists of having published multiple novels or only scribbling phrases into the notes section of your smartphone, the class suggests letter writing as an inherently generous act that can be done by all. 

Led by Daniela Molnar, founder of the Art + Ecology program at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, participants will be guided through the process of writing four letters, each acting as a step in the formation of a new letter writing ritual. Molnar will deliver prompts, support, and guidance along this journey while looking closely at several other remarkable and noteworthy epistolary exchanges.

Along with this letter writing course, February in lit-land has much to offer. Take a look at this month’s abundant calendar including a book club, field guide release, visual poem, children’s book reading, and multiple conversations featuring authors Thom Hartmann, Elizabeth Kolbert, Nicole Perlroth, and more.

Week 1: February 1-7

Thom Hartmann in Conversation With David Korten
Presented by Powell’s Books
Tuesday, February 2
5 pm via ZOOM
Free Event

Thom Hartmann, popular progressive radio host and author of The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy From the Ruling Class, speaks with author and co-founder of YES! Magazine David Korten about the battle against oligarchy in America. Hatmann will discuss the practical measures we can take to minimize the influence of money in politics, break up media monopolies, and essentially change the future of America.

A Different Sort of Gilead: Marilynne Robinson
Presented by Literary Arts
Tuesdays, February 2-March 9
6-8 pm via ZOOM

In this seminar led by Sara Atwood, participants will read Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Gilead as well as her Pulitzer Prize shortlisted novel, Housekeeping. Narrative, structure, language, and craftsmanship within Robinson’s writing will all be explored during the weekly sessions with special attention to the questions of family, home, memory, and the fraught nature of human relationships posed within the work.

Presented by Fertile Ground
Wednesday, February 3
9 pm
Hosted Virtually
Free Event

Written and directed by queer femme. Portland-based, multi-disciplinary artists Joni Renee Wentworth and Hannah Piper Burn, Lilies tells a love story against the backdrop of farm simulator games, archival agricultural footage, and psychedelic abstraction. Part of Fertile Ground’s virtual 2021 Main Stage, Lilies is a poignant and compelling visual poem that explores themes of birth, becoming, class, femme health, and gay sufficiency.

Livestream Reading: Jared Blank
Presented by Annie Bloom’s Books
Thursday, February 4
7 pm via ZOOM
Free Event

Join Oregon author Jared Blank in conversation with Miguel De La Rosa of creative consultancy Vadela and past president of The International Dyslexia Association Oregon Branch, Jane Cooper. Blank, author of Running the Distance, will discuss his challenges and successes with Dyslexia and Sensory Processing Disorder through the lens of his new book. After running the World Marathon Challenge in 2018 to raise funds and awareness for the International Dyslexia Foundation, Blank has chosen to share his story in hopes that it will inspire others.

White Bird Dance Trinity Irish The Reser Beaverton Oregon

Casual Craft + Book Club
Presented by Sellwood Community House
1436 SE Spokane Street
Thursday, February 4
4:30 pm
Free Event

If you’ve been craving a cozy gathering, join Sellwood Community House for a responsibly-distanced, mask-adorned book discussion under its outdoor pavilion. This month’s novel, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, follows “the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem” and has been called “dazzling, devastating, and truly captivating” by The Washington Post. 

The Unchaste Variety Show
Presented by zines + things and Unchaste Readers
Curated by Jenny Forrester
Saturday, February 6
6 pm
Hosted Virtually
$5 suggested donation

Portland-based zine publisher zines+things and Jenny Forrester’s Unchaste Readers present a virtual variety show featuring 12 musicians, poets, artists, and performers including Nina Rockwell, Renée Muzquiz, Alissa Hattman, Michelle Cruz Gonzales, Mai’a Williams, Pam Houston, and more. 

Wildsam: Pacific Northwest Book Launch & Literary Reading
Presented by Wildsam
Sunday, February 7
4 pm 
Hosted Virtually
Free Event

Celebrate Wildsam’s new release of the Pacific Northwest Field Guide, part of the American Road Trip Series. For those who love road trips as much as I do, this volume will serve as a beautiful ‘roadmap’ of all that the Northwest has to offer. Reading original writing from the book will be authors Smith Henderson, Leah Sottile, Marjorie Celona, and Emma Noyes, followed by a conversation and Q&A hosted by Wildsam editor Zach Dundas.

Week 2: February 8-14

Livestream Reading: Meg Weber with Joshua Mohr
Presented by Annie Bloom’s Books
Monday, February 8
7-8 pm via ZOOM
Free Event

Memoir author Meg Weber will be in conversation with Joshua Mohr, writer of Model Citizen, discussing A Year of Mr. Lucky. A journey of erotic encounters, pain and pleasure, explorations of self-worth, submission, yearning, and healing, A Year of Mr. Lucky chronicles Weber’s experiences as a queer single parent as she re-enters the world of dating after a recent divorce.

Elizabeth Kolbert in Conversation With Bill McKibben
Presented by Powell’s Books
Tuesday, February 9
5 pm via ZOOM
Free Event

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Kolbert will be in conversation with author and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben to discuss her newest book, Under a White Sky. In Under a White Sky, Kolbert considers the impacts of human intervention on the condition of our planet, meeting with preservation scientists attempting to save the world’s rarest fish, engineers turning carbon emissions into stone, and researchers attempting to develop “super coral” that can survive on a hotter globe.

Rebecca Carroll in Conversation With Desus Nice
Presented by Powell’s Books
Thursday, February 11
5 pm via ZOOM
Free Event

Cultural critic Rebecca Carrol talks with Desus Nice about her memoir, Surviving the White Gaze, published by Simon and Schuster. After growing up as the only black person in a rural New Hampshire town, Carrol chronicles her experiences with her birth mother and her struggles with difficult boyfriends, depression, eating disorders, and excessive drinking in an illuminating story of healing.

Week 3: February 15-21
Sloth Wasn’t Sleepy Virtual Story Time with Kate Messner
Presented by Green Bean Books
Tuesday, February 16
11 am
Hosted Virtually
Free Event

For those with little ones who love to read, join Green Bean Books for virtual storytime with children’s book author Kate Messner. Messner will read from Sloth Wasn’t Sleepy, a delightful bedtime tale with beautiful illustrations by Valentina Toro about a baby sloth who worries about going to sleep, and a mama sloth who teaches readers about mindfulness techniques such as calming the breath and thinking pleasant thoughts.

Nicole Perlroth in Conversation With John Markoff
Presented by Powell’s Books
Wednesday, February 17
5 pm via ZOOM
Free Event

Based on years of reporting and hundreds of interviews, New York Times reporter Nicole Perlroth’s This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends considers the consequences of the global cyber arms race and the security threats posed to both large institutions and individuals. Joined by John Markoff, former New York Times cybersecurity reporter and author of Machines of Loving Grace, Perlroth will discuss the complexities of zero day, a software bug that allows a hacker to break into your devices and move around undetected, and its global consequences.

Portland Arts and Lectures: Ibram X. Kendi
Presented by Literary Arts 2020/2021 Portland Arts and Lectures Series
Thursday, February 18
6-8 pm
Hosted Virtually

Bestselling author and founding director of The Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, Ibram X. Kendi, will give a two-hour lecture as part of the Literary Arts 2020/2021 Portland Arts and Lectures Series. One of the most praised authors of his time, Kendi’s 2016 book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, won a National Book Award for Nonfiction while his third release, How to Be Antiracist was called “the most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western mind” by the New York Times.

Week 4: February 22-28

Two Rivers Book Club February
Presented by Two Rivers Book Club
Tuesday, February 23
6:30-8 pm via ZOOM
Free Event

This February, Two Rivers Book Club will be discussing In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, a memoir examining the writer’s experiences with domestic abuse, her religious upbringing, and the stereotype of lesbian relationships portrayed as safe and utopian. In the Dream House’s unique chapter structure offers the readers a wide array of discussion points from fairytale tropes to the history and reality of abuse in queer relationships.

Dystopias of Turkish Modernity: Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book and Bilge Karasu’s Night
Presented by Literary Arts Delve Seminar Series
Thursday, February 25-April 1
6-8 pm via ZOOM

In this Delve Seminar, participants will consider the dystopian novels of two acclaimed modern Turkish authors, Bilge Karasu and Orhan Pamuk. Published in 1985 and translated into English, Karasu’s Night depicts a violent secretive regime determined to murder its dissidents while Pamuk’s 1990 release The Black Book turns from a protagonist’s search for his missing wife into a mystery quest involving mystical yearning and a self-transformation. While the primary objective of this course is to create your own critical musings on both works, participants will be urged to examine the narrative strategies, styles, and aesthetic traits of the respective texts.

Four Letters: The Epistolary Form
Presented by Literary Arts
Thursdays, February 25-March 18
6-8 pm via ZOOM

For the literary romantic in each of us, Four Letters: The Epistolary Form creates an environment in which letter writing is viewed as an inherently generous act. In this workshop, you will be led through the process of writing four letters, each acting as a step in the development of your new letter writing ritual. You will receive prompts, support, and guidance along this journey while looking closely at several other remarkable and noteworthy epistolary exchanges.

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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