Literary Arts

LitWatch June: Pride and plenty to read

Portland-based poet AE Hines announces the presale for his debut book of poems and virtual readings take center stage with many new releases

Cover of Any Dumb Animal (Main Street Rag Publishing Co.)

Nearly every year in June, thousands of individuals across the nation take to the streets to celebrate LGBT+ Pride Month with a series of parades, marches, events, and more. In honor of this year’s pride month, a new book of poems appears on the scene: June marks the presale of Portland author AE Hines’s debut collection of poetry, Any Dumb Animal, forthcoming November 2021 from North Carolina’s Main Street Rag Publishing Co.

According to Hines, the timing for this presale couldn’t be better due to “the book’s strong autobiographical narrative about [his] life growing up and coming out in the rural, evangelical south.” 

While this may be Hines’s first book of poems, he has been published before. Winner of The Red Wheelbarrow Prize and a finalist for the Montreal International Poetry Prize, he has placed individual works in various publications including Canary and Crab Creek Review

What makes Any Dumb Animal particularly fitting for this month in addition to its autobiographical content is that the author and friends have organized a fundraiser in which proceeds of every book preordered will be matched with a donation to The Trevor Project. Founded in 1998 by Peggy Rajski, Randy Stone, and Celeste Lecesne, this nonprofit organization offers suicide prevention and crisis help for LGBTQ+ and transitioning individuals under 25 years of age.

AE Hines, courtesy of the author’s Twitter page

This compellingly candid work speaks the language of courage,
of breath-taking transcendence. Finely crafted, it is a remarkable debut collection. Take note, world: a powerful lyric poet has
emerged. Take note and rejoice!
Paulann Petersen, Sixth Oregon Poet Laureate on Any Dumb Animal

While you patiently await your preorder to arrive, take a look at the many book releases occurring this month. From Donna Ward’s She I Dare Not Name and Daisy Hernández’s The Kissing Bug to a Delve Readers Seminar on Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera presented by Literary Arts, June is the time for heading outside to enjoy a good book in the sunshine.

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Joy Harjo: A poem is a sacred site

Joy Harjo on poetry, heritage, and the importance of honoring the land


“…We knew we were all related in this story, a little gin
will clarify the dark and make us all feel like dancing. We
had something to do with the origins of blues and jazz
I argued with a Pueblo as I filled the jukebox with dimes in June,
forty years later and we still want justice. We are still America. We
know the rumors of our demise. We spit them out. They die
Soon.”

Excerpt from An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo



It was a cloudy Tuesday afternoon as I sat on my couch, back to the window, and pushed my laptop open. Logging in to the Literary Arts & Lectures event page, there was an air of gratitude in the pre-event chatroom, poetry fans expressing their anticipation for the upcoming speaker: Joy Harjo

“We are here to acknowledge the gift of life, to express gratitude for coming together,” she began during a pre-recorded event introduction in which Harjo spoke of the importance of her upcoming projects and touched on the significance of honoring and protecting the land on which we live. “To guard the earth, as a person, as a mother, is not a romantic notion. It means we will have respect for life and the principle of motherhood.”

Joy Harjo/Photograph by Karen Keuhn

The April 20th edition of the 2020/2021 Literary Arts & Lectures Reading Series featured Joy Harjo, the first Native American (Muscogee Nation) poet, performer, and writer to be named Poet Laureate of the United States. As the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate, Harjo has both published a new book of poems called An American Sunrise and actively working to uplift other Native American poets and writers with three special projects: Living Nations, Living Words: An Anthology of First Peoples Poetry; Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First Peoples Poetry; and When the Light of the World was Sub­dued, Our Songs Came Through — A Nor­ton Anthol­o­gy of Native Nations Poet­ry.

Each of these projects is a marvel of distinctive poetry, grounded literary voice, and historic abundance. Living Nations, Living Words: An Anthology of First Peoples Poetry is the first printed, historically comprehensive Native American poetry anthology. This anthology is paired with its sister project, a beautiful digital platform created in partnership with the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center. This project, Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First Peoples Poetry, comprises a map (with no visible boundaries) that lists the origins of each participating author. State lines, names, cities, and even country markers have been removed to honor the wholeness of the land. 

“The earliest indigenous maps of North America were not drawn,” says Harjo, “They were markers that mirrored the layout of the heavens. Anything from a mountain to a simple basket could be a marker. Many native poems contain maps of stars and the skies, markers of the sacred lands.” 

Joy Harjo/Photograph by Julien Lienard

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Freewheeling iridescence of the abalone

Port Orford author Ann Vileisis has been nominated for an Oregon Book Award for her nonfiction work on the Northern California shellfish

Port Orford author Ann Vileisis is a 2021 Oregon Book Award finalist in general nonfiction for Abalone, The Remarkable History and Uncertain Future of California’s Iconic Shellfish, published last year by Oregon State University Press. Vileisis, an independent scholar, is intrigued by environmental history; her other books are Kitchen Literacy and Discovering the Unknown Landscape, A History of America’s Wetlands. We talked with Vileisis about the coast, her book, and the marine gastropod; her comments have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did you land in Port Orford?

Vileisis: My husband, Tim (Palmer), and I were exploring the coast. He was working on his book, Pacific High, and we came through Port Orford and recognized it as a neat place. We came back years later and just fell in love with the area. One thing led to another. We’ve been here for 20 years; I can’t believe it.

Until she ran across one on the beach at Big Sur, Ann Vileisis says her experience with abalone was limited to a shell her family used as an ashtray.

Does living in such a small town (population 954) far from metro areas make it easier or harder for you as a writer?

It makes it harder. When you are part of a little community, you have to pitch in. The life I ended up weaving together includes writing, conservation activism, and independent scholar — researching and trying to figure things out. It all weaves together really well.

Tell us how you came to write about abalone.

It was one of those pivotal moments in my life. It was just a glorious day.… I was walking on the beach in Big Sur, jumping from rock to rock, and on this little patch of beach was this brilliant, beautiful little shell. It was glimmery with the iridescence of the abalone. I couldn’t believe that an animal could make such a beautiful thing. At that moment, I didn’t really know much about abalone. I was vaguely aware that abalone had been a seafood, but I don’t really know much about them. Because I had a background in history and food history, it got me really interested to know more about that animal. I asked around and most people thought the history of abalone was the story of a fishery that was once really big and was lost. When I dug deeper, I realized there is a much bigger ecological context and deeper history to understand.

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The story of a man and his dog

Pacific City author Ben Moon’s memoir, “Denali,” is a finalist for an Oregon Book Award

Pacific City author and filmmaker Ben Moon has been named a finalist for Literary Arts’ 2021 Oregon Book Award in Creative Nonfiction for his memoir, Denali: A Man, a Dog, and the Friendship of a Lifetime. Some may already know Moon’s short film, Denali, less than 10 minutes long and garnering 8 million hits in its first week. His memoir, published by Penguin Books in January 2020, is also the subject of a film being produced by Max Winkler.

Moon adopted Denali from an animal shelter, and the two set out across the American West. When Moon was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at age 29, he faced a difficult battle with the disease, according to the book jacket blurb, and “Denali never once left his side until they were back out surfing and climbing crags.” Soon after,  Denali was struck by the same disease, and “Ben had the chance to return the favor.” The book is described as the story of “this powerful friendship that shaped Ben and Denali’s lives, showing the strength and love that we give and receive when we have our friends by our side.”

We talked with Moon about his first book and making the Literary Arts short list.

How long have you been writing?

Moon:  I am first and foremost a filmmaker. I was a photographer for about a decade before I got into film. For the past 10 years, I’ve been balancing time with photography and film and maybe even more toward filmmaking. Denali went completely haywire online. Oprah put it on “Super Soul Sunday.” Denali was with me through so many experiences through my mid-20 and late 30s. I wanted to commemorate him through the short film. When it went viral — that doesn’t seem to be the appropriate term in a pandemic — that brought the opportunity to write more about it. The short film was in my dog’s voice and a lot of publishers wanted to do that in a novel. But it didn’t feel appropriate. It’s been done so many times. I wanted to dive deeper and share my story in a deeper form.

How did you get to Pacific City?

I just moved out west to Portland from Michigan. I was a rock climber and I wanted to pursue that … bigger mountains, the ocean. I am just really interested in being outside.

What was it about Denali that made you think there was a film in his life — and yours?

I got Denali with my ex. She convinced me to go to the pound. He was a rescue. Best as I can guess, he was a husky and pit bull mix. He was 8 weeks old. He’d been adopted and dropped back off. It was one of those — there was something more to it. There was a nobility to him I can’t explain.

That was the fall of ’99. I had gone through a divorce…. I was kind of rebuilding my life. I lived in the back of my Subaru and was a climber for a few years. Then I got a camper van and did that for three years. Denali had some great years traveling with me in the West. I got diagnosed in June 2004, right when I moved out of my van. He took me through the most challenging experiences of my life.  He was with me for 14.5 years — from just out of college to the brink of my 40s. The film is from a dog’s perspective, Denali talking about our time together. We filmed it during Denali’s final days.

What was his role in helping you through cancer?

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LitWatch Monthly: Joy Harjo and author conversations

March marks another full calendar of author conversations and virtual workshops, including a seminar on the work of United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo

I came into poetry feeling as though, on some level, these words were not just mine but my grandparents’, their parents’.”
― Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo is America’s first Native American Mvskoke Nation Poet Laureate. Named the 23rd United States Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress in 2019, she is the second-ever poet to serve three terms in this position. Her third term, beginning this Spring 2021, brings forth a new digital signature project, Living Nations, Living Words. This unique project will feature a fully interactive map of First Peoples Poetry, focusing on 47 different Native American poets by mapping their works and locations nationwide.

Harjo first began writing poetry in 1973 at the age of 23. Before becoming one of the country’s most beloved living poets, she attended the University of New Mexico to study medicine. Inspired by her heritage, the company of artists around her, and the beauty of New Mexico’s landscape, Harjo changed her major to art before penning her first book of poems, The Last Song, in 1975.

Joy Harjo has continued to inspire many artists and writers throughout her long and successful career as both a poet and musician, describing her work as “a memory on which to build.” Her latest book of poems, An American Sunrise, is a breathtaking collection about the beauty of her native homeland and the forced displacement of her own ancestors. This new book of poems will be the topic of an upcoming six-session-long seminar presented by Literary Arts and Delve Readers Seminars called Joy Harjo: American Sunrise. Each Thursday from March 25 to April 29, writer and educator Danielle Frandina will lead participants in the reading of Harjo’s 2019 release An American Sunrise and her 2012 memoir Crazy Brave.

23rd United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. Photograph by Karen Kuehn.

Open to all poetry lovers, the Joy Harjo: American Sunrise workshop will offer an engaging look into the works and early life of Harjo, examining how themes of ancestry, repetition, and loss exist within her work. On Tuesday, April 20, participants of this course will also be given access to Harjo’s much anticipated live lecture as part of the Portland Arts & Lectures Series.

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LitWatch Monthly: Love and literature

February brings Valentine’s Day and an abundance of virtual literary events from lectures by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to workshops on the intimate act of letter writing

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. 

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LitWatch Monthly: A Bright and Merry December

The December literary scene is shining bright this holiday season with workshops, intensives, open mics, and more

December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porchlight burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.

December is now upon us and with the coming winter my thoughts turn to the poem above titled Oranges. Written by Mexican-American poet and young adult author Gary Soto, Oranges is a gentle and sincere story of a young boy who walks to the home of a girl he admires on a cold and bittersweet December day. The imagery of the poem is crisp and frosted, broken only by the warmth and color of the illuminated porchlight and the oranges he describes carrying in each pocket.

In the Portland literary arts world, the ability for online platform hosting has proven to be our beacon of light on a cold day.  Though many workshops, readings, and festivals throughout this year have been canceled or postponed due to Covid-19 protocols, it feels as though just as many have figured out a new way to survive the uncertainty, burning brightly in the face of any obstacles that greet them.

Ongoing events are finding a steady and stable home online for the coming winter season and many are drawing virtual audiences by offering suggested donation tickets or free events. Readings and meet-ups that are choosing to stay in-person are abiding by rigorous sanitation rules, mandatory mask-wearing, and social distancing guidelines. Though the fears of covid-19 are ever-present, I can’t help but sigh with relief at the hopeful glimmer that is the perseverance of Oregon’s rich and immersive literary scene.

One event in particular that seeks to liven up the winter season is Slamlandia: December on Thursday, December 17 at 7 pm, where poets are encouraged to read their work, participate in community, and witness others in a safe and welcoming space. Presented in partnership with Literary Arts and often hosted by Slammaster Julia Gaskill, Slamlandia’s mission is to provide “an open mic and poetry slam that is creative, fun, and welcoming to all literary communities in Portland”. Whether you have a few new pages you’d like to try out on an eager audience, or are in the mood to hear a line-up of spirited poems, this free virtual event is bound to spice up your Thursday night.

And with that, I wish you all a merry December full of poetry, lectures, workshops, inspiring conversations, and page-turners you won’t want to put down. May you find your own ‘porch light burning bright’ in the cold of the coming winter. Until next year, Oregonians!

Week 1: December 1-7

A Virtual Conversation with Ernest Cline
Presented by Powell’s City of Books
Monday, December 7
5 pm via ZOOM
$28.99 includes event ticket and book

Powell’s City of Books presents Ernest Cline in a virtual conversation about his newest book, Ready Player Two. Cline is a #1 New York Times bestselling author with published work in over 50 countries, and his Ready Player Two is the highly anticipated sequel to his celebrated Ready Player One, which inspired the popular 2018 Steven Spielberg film. Along with entry to the live conversation, attendees who purchase a ticket/book will be able to submit their author questions to events@powells.com for a chance to be answered during the event.

An Appointment with Emily and Your Chair: Free Writing Session
Presented by Literary Arts
Monday, December 7
7-8 pm via ZOOM
Free Event

Make an appointment with Oregon Book Award finalist Emily Chenoweth and join a group of fellow writers for an evening of prompts “designed to help writers learn about characters they’ve already imagined and flesh out stories they’re in the midst of writing.” Writers of all genres are welcome and though it is suggested, having a pre-prepared character and story are not required. Meant to inspire by means of blocking out time, this free writing session includes a 45-minute silent writing spree with mics and cameras turned off followed by a short verbal video check-in.

Emily Chenoweth leads a free writing session.

Week 2: December 8-14

Book Pub Second Sundays with Lark & Raven and Friends
Presented by Rose City Book Pub
Sunday, December 13
4-6 pm
1329 NE Fremont Street, Portland, OR

For a family-friendly event featuring music, theatre, and book, head over to Book Pub Second Sundays presented by Rose City Book Pub. This month’s exciting line up features International Folk, Americana, and Afro-Cuban artist Lark & Raven, captivating Celtic singer Riona, and a group of “delightful queer, trans, and disabled people with a genre-blurring theatrical folk pop sound” called Sasha & The Children and promises to make for an enjoyable evening out.

Week 3: December 15-21

WITS Writer Winter Reading
Presented by Literary Arts
Thursday, December 17
5:30-7 pm via ZOOM

Literary Arts invites you to “listen to literary excellence” from the comfort of your own home as they celebrate this year’s Writers in the Schools program, which aims to inspire students by hosting working writers in high school classrooms. This year’s WITS event features writers Brian Benson, CJ Wiggan, Dey Rivers, Matt Smith, Meg E. Griffitts, Valarie Pearce, and more.

Slamlandia: December
Presented by Literary Arts
Thursday, December 17
7 pm

If attending a poetry slam is your favorite way to ring in the holiday season, look no further. Slamlandia returns for its December edition, offering a lively open mic where poets are encouraged to read their work, participate in community, and witness others in a safe and welcoming space.

Friday Night Writes
Presented by Wordcrafters In Eugene
Friday, December 18
6-9 pm via ZOOM
$5 members, $10 non-members

Wordcrafters In Eugene presents a recurring Friday night online group for writers. This fun and productive session is open to writers of all genres and offers a 45 minute writing time block followed by 15 minutes of chatting, repeated throughout the evening. With plenty of word games and writing prompts, Friday Night Writes is sure to help you get plenty of writing done on your Friday night in.

Women Who Submit PDX
Sunday, December 20
4-6 pm
Free Virtual Event, RSVP to emma@emmapattee.com

Host Emma Pattee has one big goal in mind — to get more women authors published. Women Who Submit is hosting a submission soiree for women and non-binary writers in order to empower them through encouragement and community. Along with the friendly faces, you’ll find snacks, a small library of literary journals, and even champagne for toasting completed submission.

Week 4: December 22-31

The Work Poetry Workshop with Christopher Luna
Presented by Printed Matte Vancouver and Angst Gallery
Monday, December 28
6-8:30 pm via ZOOM
$20 suggested donation

Need some post-Christmas inspiration? The Work is a monthly drop-in poetry workshop for writers of all levels. Encouraging empathy and compassion, this workshop seeks to inspire writers in “sparking the shifts in consciousness which can lead to healing, personal growth, and an interest in fighting for progressive social change.” The Work is hosted by Christopher Luna in association with Niche Wine Bar and Ghost Town Poetry Open Mic, and recommends bringing a pre-written poem to share with the group.