Jennifer Robin

2020 in review: At last, over & out

2020? Perish the thought. The ups, downs, disasters, trends, outrages, and occasional triumphs of Oregon's arts & culture in a tortuous year.

2020? Perish the thought. Good riddance to bad rubbish: We’re gonna wash that year right out of our hair. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Or, as the old curse has it, “may you live in interesting times” – but not quite this interesting, thank you very much.

The Year That Should Not Speak Its Name led pretty much everyone, including all of us here at Oregon ArtsWatch, on a frantic and astonishing chase. It was discombobulating, because for the most part we were chasing in isolation inside the confines of our own homes, like cats in a cardboard box desperately racing after our own tails. Oh, sure, there were those fair-weather walks through the neighborhood, and the masked-up trips to the grocery store. But, really: Things might’ve been new, but they were far from normal.


Normality, of course, is how the year began. Even optimism. On Jan. 1, 2020, a year ago today, ArtsWatch strode brashly into the Brave New Year with the first dispatch in Vision 2020, an ambitious series of 20 interviews over 20 days with a cross-section of Oregon arts figures who agreed to talk with us about how things looked from their corners of the cultural world, and what they hoped to see in the coming year and decade. They had some terrific insights and ideas, and the series makes for some fascinating reading: From Rachel Barreras-Kleeman’s tale of why she teaches dance to low-income kids on the Coast, to Dañel Malan’s vision of creating bilingual arts through Teatro Milagro, to 18 compelling stories in between, you can find all 20 interviews here. But nobody – least of all those of us at ArtsWatch Central, in our eager editorial innocence – anticipated what was lurking just around the corner.

In January Maya Vivas and Leila Haile talked with Martha Daghlian for ArtsWatch’s “Vision 2020” series about the joys and challenges of running an adventurous art gallery on North Mississippi Avenue featuring work from a wide range of artists who identify as QTPoC (Queer Trans People of Color). Because of the Covid-19 crisis, their Ori Gallery has since shifted to an online presence. Photo courtesy Ori Gallery

And how could any of us have? Yes, news reports buried on the inside pages of the newspapers alerted us to some new virus very far away, but it didn’t seem like much to get alarmed about. Then things began to build, until, come March, the virus was all very real, and all over the place, and in spite of a determined right-wing campaign to persuade people that it was all fake news and the disease was a hoax, the world began to shut down.


Interview: Jennifer Robin on politics, mothers, and mortality

In a time of political unrest, Portland-based author and local literary visionary Jennifer Robin gets candid about her past works, what keeps her writing, and the current state of our society

As one of Portland’s most prolific writers, Jennifer Robin has presented work across a myriad of platforms since the age of 18. Robin is an unapologetically authentic literary voice. Her long and eccentric history includes reading alongside electronic musicians Spirit Duplicator and The Dead Air Fresheners, and a 10-year career as the booker and host of a live experimental music and text radio show on Portland’s KBOO radio.

Robin’s most recent published books, Death Confetti: Pickers, Punks, and Transit Ghosts in Portland, Oregon (Feral House, 2016) and Earthquakes in Candyland (Fungasm Press, 2019) are down-to-earth, intimate, and surreal examinations of the individuals who make up the complex stew that is our society, in turn initiating a whole new group of adoring fans into Robin’s already devoted assembly.

Jennifer Robin’s down-to-earth, intimate, and surreal writing examines the here and now. Photo: Kenneth Barton

I met Jennifer Robin roughly six years ago through a monthly independent reading series that took place in various cafes and minuscule bars across the Southeast Portland area. The first time I heard her read—or rather, saw her perform—her work, I nearly fell off my bar stool. “This is what he did!” she sang into the microphone, her ultra-thick eyeliner, pointedly swaying body language, and commanding tone sending the room into a trance. Within seconds, I was hooked. Hooked on her words and on her candid storytelling; on the beauty she created from the mundane and the grotesque, enough so that I found myself in an online search after the show that eventually resulted in Jennifer Robin’s Facebook page.

While continuing to dazzle audiences on her Youtube channel and newly found Medium platform, Robin seems to have had most interaction with her readers through her Facebook page, where for years she posted captivating character vignettes, larger-than-life tales of her mother, and political stances, all of which broke the usual trend of humdrum Facebook content. Posting stories, book snippets, and even late-night musings into the sex-lives of her neighbors, Robin has been a wealth of contemporary, and sometimes controversial, literary material—sparking discussions, epiphanies, and arguments among her followers.