“Be open to new things,” Amanda Bullock suggested when asked about the best advice for people attending this year’s Portland Book Festival. The festival “is the perfect opportunity to discover something you didn’t know you liked yet.” The risk of disappointment is low, added Bullock, who directs the festival presented by Literary Arts. “You don’t necessarily need to choose ahead of time; you can experience events as they come.”
After last year’s festival of virtual events and workshops, the Portland Book Festival is back in action beginning Monday and continuing through Nov. 13 as a hybrid in-person and virtual extravaganza featuring a total of 109 authors, moderators, and workshop hosts. Among the presenters are 21 Oregon voices, 18 of them authors from the Portland area, and 23 Portland-based moderators— exemplifying some of the best of what the Northwest literary world has to offer. The festival will be held in three physical venues including the Portland’5 Winningstad and Newmark theaters and the Portland Parks Foundation Tent, as well as online for those who cannot attend in person.
“A lot of things about the festival are simply not translatable to a virtual platform, so we’re very excited to be back in person,” Bullock said. “While we will offer virtual recordings of many events through our podcast and radio show, there’s just something unmissable about actually being there.”
A wide range of ticket prices makes the festival accessible to nearly everyone. Admission to the five days of the virtual festival is on a sliding scale of free to $100. Admission to Nov. 13 events is $15 in advance, $25 on Nov. 13, and free to youth 17 and under. An additional fee to see headliner Louise Erdrich’s live-stream presentation includes a copy of her new book.
Launched in 2005 under the name Wordstock, the Portland Book Festival came under the Literary Arts umbrella in 2014 and relaunched in 2015 with more than 80 authors in attendance.
“I was working in a bookstore in New York City before moving to Portland in 2015 to take the job as festival manager for the relaunch,” Bullock said, adding that the name was changed in 2018. Since then, the number of presenters, venues, and pop-ups has continued to grow to accommodate its increasing popularity among local writers, publishers, and book enthusiasts.
Among offerings Bullock is most excited about is one Nov. 13 by food writers Kate Lebo (The Book of Difficult Fruit) and Cecily Wong (Gastro Obsura) speaking with Liz Crane. “I’m always so excited about the intersection of food writing and literature,” she said.
While Literary Arts accepts unsolicited submissions of books published within 15 months before the festival date, most of the featured authors are carefully curated and hand-picked by Bullock, who spends time with publicists across the country to cultivate a balanced festival line-up. An advisory council helps pick fellowship recipients and authors with a focus on those who provide opportunity for discussion. “We particularly seek book pairings that can make for great discourse when considered in relationship to each other,” she said.
This year’s semi-virtual platform allows authors to transcend geographic boundaries, with Louise Erdrich of Minnesota talking Nov. 13 with Trevino Brings Plenty, a Portland-based Lakota Sioux poet, musician, and author of Wakpá Wanáǧi, Ghost River. The unconventional event will broadcast Erdrich virtually for a real-time discussion with the in-person moderator before a live audience in the Newmark Theatre.
Erdrich received the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Night Watchman, as well as the 2012 National Book Award for The Round House. She is the author of more than 40 books, including poetry collections Jacklight (1984), Baptism of Desire (1989), and Original Fire: New and Selected Poems (2003). Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa, and much of her work draws on Native American themes. Erdrich will discuss her new novel, The Sentence, which has been called “a witty ghost story depicting a tale of passion, a complex marriage, and a woman’s relentless errors.”
Another anticipated highlight among in-person events features Gary Shteyngart, New York Times bestselling author and National Jewish Book Award winner, discussing his newest book, Our Country Friends, also taking place Nov.13 in the Newmark. Shteyngart joins Portland author Jon Raymond to discuss the novel about friendship, romance, family, betrayal, and the relationships that transform during a 6-month period of isolation. Born in Leningrad in 1972, Shteyngart has been called “one of his generation’s most original writers” by The New York Times, and his work is considered reminiscent of the great Russian writers including Chekhov, Nabakov, and Gogol.
The festival will also feature pop-up events by Charles Valle, Jennifer Hanlon Wilde, Brittney Corrigan, Alyssa Ogi, and others in partnership with the Portland Art Museum. Pop-up authors will present their work throughout the museum, paired with a particular art piece, painting, or exhibit that complements their work. The in-person festival pass includes admission to the museum for pop-ups and general museum access on the day of the festival.
Also back this year is the Book Fair, offering a snapshot of the Portland book world including tables by Annie Bloom’s Books, Powell’s Books, Broadway Books, and a variety of local small presses from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the museum’s basement.
To learn more about how to attend the Portland Book Festival, COVID-19 safety protocols, and to purchase virtual and in-person festival passes, visit the Portland Book Festival’s Frequently Asked Questions webpage and take a look at the calendar of highlighted events (which includes a webinar workshop the day after the festival) below.
Tenderness: Donika Kelly, Brandon Taylor, and Kirstin Valdez Quade. Monday, Nov. 8, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Hosted virtually. Poet Kelly; Taylor, author of Filthy Animals; and debut novelist Valdez Quade will be joined by moderators Christopher Rose, Genevieve Hudson, and Fiona McCann to discuss the theme of “tenderness” in their work.
Freedom: Aminder Dhaliwal, Nathan Harris, and Maggie Nelson. Tuesday, Nov. 9, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Hosted virtually. Cartoonist Dhaliwal; Harris, whose first novel is The Sweetness of Water; and award-winning author Nelson will be joined by moderators Tiffany Camhi of Oregon Public Broadcasting, Gabriel Urza, and Masha Gessen to discuss the thematic throughline of “freedom” in their work.
Home: Rita Dove, Lauren Groff, and Qian Julie Wang. Wednesday, Nov. 10, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Hosted virtually. Dove, a former U.S. poet laureate; novelist Groff; and debut memoirist Wang will be joined by National Book Award winner Mary Szybist, Literary Arts’ executive director Andrew Proctor, and Jenn Chavez of OPB to discuss the role “home” plays in their work.
Dispatches from Anarres: Tales in Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin. Saturday, Nov. 13, 10 to 11 a.m., Portland’5 Brunish Theatre. Contributors Jason Arias, Rene Denfeld, Juhea Kim, and Jesse Kwak join moderator Arwen Spicer to celebrate the works of Ursula K. Le Guin. Described by Literary Arts as “embodying the anarchic spirit of Le Guin’s hometown of Portland,” the presentation will feature eight stories in honor of Le Guin’s legacy, encompassing sci-fi, fantasy, and realism genres.
Loaners: The Making of a Street Library. Saturday, Nov. 13, 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., Portland Parks Foundation Tent, 1010 SW Park Ave. Street Books founder Laura Moulton will be joined by book-borrower and writer Ben Hodgson and Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!, to discuss Moulton and Hodgson’s dual-memoir about a mobile library serving Portland’s houseless community.
Intersections: Chris Stuck and Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. Saturday, Nov. 13, 1 to 2 p.m., Portland Art Museum, Miller Gallery. Author of Give My Love to the Savages, Stuck and award-winning writer Van Alst will talk with Margaret Malone, author of People Like You, about race, perspective, and intersectionality in America.
Grains for Every Season: Joshua McFadden and Jim Meehan. Saturday, Nov. 13, 2 to 3 p.m., Portland’5 Winningstad Theatre. Portland chef McFadden (Ava Gene’s, Tusk, Medjool, and Cicoria) and cocktail savant Meehan will discuss McFadden’s new book, Grains for Every Season: Rethinking Our Way with Grains, co-written with Martha Holmberg, editor-in-chief of Fine Cooking magazine.
Fear and Writing Webinar. Sunday, Nov. 14, 2 to 4 p.m. Hosted virtually, advance registration required. The final Portland Book Festival event of 2021, this 2-hour virtual workshop about breaking through fear while writing will be led by Peg Cheng, author of Rebel Millionaire and The Contenders. Rather than submitting to fear, learn how to work with fear and harness it to enhance the creative process.