Oregon Book Awards

Stage moms storm the gates

ArtsWatch Weekly: Storm Large and 3 Leg Torso make a movie, Chamber Music NW goes live, the Joy of words, news & views

SUNDAY IS MOTHER’S DAY, AND IN THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS someone in the Pacific Northwest would be producing a streaming version of the great show-biz musical Gypsy, which features that most outrageous stage mom of all time, Mama Rose. So far as we can tell, that isn’t happening – but it’s worth noting that this not-quite-docudrama has Northwest roots. Rose’s daughter Gypsy Rose Lee, the celebrated ecdysiast on whose memoir the musical is based, was born in Seattle. Her sister, Baby June – the actress June Havoc – was born in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Storm Large is Mom, carpooling the boys in the movie “M Is for Mischief,” a musical comedy with 3 Leg Torso.

Ah, but who could be a more Mama Rose-size figure for Mother’s Day than Storm Large, the Portland rocker, musical memoirist, and stage and concert star whose triumphs range from Cabaret to Pink Martini tours to singing Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins at Carnegie Hall to writing and starring in her own musical play, Crazy Enough? And what better sidekicks than the brilliantly eclectic Portland band 3 Leg Torso? Large stars as Mother Torso, an overworked mom of four boys, in the new film M Is for Mischief, which is produced by 3 Leg Torso and Lakewood Center for the Arts (where it was filmed), and co-stars those wry and effervescent boys in the band. It premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday: Ticket details here, and a short film trailer here. In what sounds a bit like a Mom’s Day twist on the movie 9 to 5, Ms. Torso, it seems, has raised good boys: “The brothers secretly use their special musical powers to prank her wretched boss, who learns the hard way that it’s not nice to fool with Mother Torso.”


Oscars, books, and strange things

ArtsWatch Weekly: Oscarmania, Oregon Book Awards, strange tales and a stranger firing, opera's triumph, carving stories, photo stories

ON SUNDAY HOLLYWOOD THREW ITS BIG BACCHANALIA, the 93rd such annual fling, and even in its pandemic-year virtual tuxedo it was an obsessively overproduced wingding that was, at heart, a gigantic sales pitch for the movie industry. Nomadland (based on a book by Jessica Bruder, a former reporter for The Oregonian) won, the late Chadwick Boseman did not, and television viewership numbers took another tumble. Marc Mohan wraps things up smartly in his new “Streamers” column. Most refreshingly, he notes, the studios pushed their big fall and winter releases back to this summer, a move that “allowed greater recognition for films that didn’t conform to Hollywood ‘Oscar-bait’ formulas. As a result, the Academy took a few more halting, belated steps towards racial, gender, and aesthetic diversity.” 

A doff of the ArtsWatch cap also to Portland filmmaker Skye Fitzgerald, who scored his second Oscar nomination for his short documentary Hunger Ward, about the war-caused famine in Yemen and the struggle of two women to feed the devastated nation’s children and infants. Colette, about a former French Resistance member who travels to Germany for the first time in 74 years, won that category, but that takes nothing from Fitzgerald’s achievement. Mohan, ArtsWatch’s movie columnist, talked with Fitzgerald a week before the ceremony, and the resuting interview is worth a second read.

And now, back to our previously scheduled coverage.


Left: Joe Wilkins, author of “Thieve.” Right: Ann Vileisis, author of “Abalone.”

THE OREGON BOOK AWARDS ARE COMING UP SUNDAY, and although they’re much less high-profile than Sunday’s Academy Awards blowout was, a lot of talent and a lot of prestige will be in the virtual room when this year’s winners are announced. That’ll be at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 2, on a special episode of OPB Radio’s The Archive Project, a co-production of OPB and Literary Arts, which also sponsors the annual book awards. (You can see the list of nominees here.)


LitWatch May: Oregon Book Awards

Literary Arts rolls out the Book Award winners, kicking 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


The eyes have it: Art of the camera

ArtsWatch Weekly: Photography gets (beyond) real, the art museum reshuffles the deck, true tales of equity, Ashland's indie film fest, more

“IF ONLY I HAD THOUGHT OF A KODAK!” H.G. Wells’s vexed and haunted Time Traveller exclaims in the classic science-fiction novel The Time Machine. “I could have flashed that glimpse of the Under-world in a second, and examined it at leisure.” Ah, to create in a moment and examine at leisure. Photography, in the popular imagination, is the utilitarian art, the engineer of art forms, a documenter of what already exists: As Sgt. Joe Friday is supposed to have said laconically on the radio and television series Dragnet, “Just the facts, Ma’am.” In fact, though, while documentation is a crucial element of the photographic art form, it is rarely “mere” documentation. A photo has a frame, and a frame provides, quite literally, a point of view. What’s more, that “perfect accident” of a shot might have taken hours of preparation and years of experience to achieve. In the 180-plus years since the introduction of the daguerrotype in 1839, photography has developed into a full-fledged art form, with rich and varied approaches that include but are far from limited to literal description of the physical world. A photographer’s limits are roughly the same as any other artist’s: How far can her skills and imagination take her?

Left: “Falling Apart” (self-portrait), Laura Kurtenbach. Right: “House of Atlas” (from the series “Short Stories/Tall Tales”), Grace Weston.


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?


Photo Shoot: Six Oregon Poets

Photographer K.B. Dixon focuses on National Poetry Month with portraits of half a dozen leading Oregon writers


April marks the 25th Anniversary of National Poetry Month, which was launched in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets. It has become one of the largest literary celebrations in the world.

The portraits here of Oregon poets are previously unpublished images from a series I did in 2019 that focused on Oregon writers in general—the unusually gifted people who make up this state’s diverse and dynamic literary culture.   

My hope back then was to call attention to the uniquely rewarding work of these talented people and, as always, to produce a good photograph. I have the same hope today. 


Oregon’s ninth Poet Laureate, 2018-20; founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College. His newest collection of poems, Singer Come From Afar, will be released April 27, 2021.


In praise of Ramona & ‘Lonesome Dove’

ArtsWatch Weekly: Remembering Beverly Cleary, Larry McMurtry, and composer Stephen Scott; revolutions & the way things change

HERE AT ARTSWATCH WE LIKE TO LOOK FORWARD: Where are our culture and its art taking us? But culture is a cumulative thing, and every present and future is built upon a past – on the people and beliefs and events and achievements that have shaped us. They amplify us and help explain us to ourselves. So today we pause to honor three storytellers who have left us recently, but whose memories and achievements remain a part of us: the children’s novelist and memoirist Beverly Cleary; the novelist of Western life and culture Larry McMurtry; and the musical innovator Stephen Scott, known for his “bowed piano” compositions.

Author Beverly Cleary with her tabby cat, Kitty, in 1955. Photo: Cleary Family Archive

BEVERLY CLEARY, CREATOR of the wonderful world of Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins and the scintillating cast of extraordinarily ordinary kids living extraordinarily ordinary lives in a somewhat antique yet eventful-in-an-everyday-sort-of-way Northeast Portland neighborhood, died last Thursday at the almost biblical age of 104 (she would’ve been 105 on April 12). Her loss is felt not just in her native Oregon but anywhere and everywhere you might bump into a gang of kids, a teacher, a librarian, or a couple of parents happy to see their kids absorbed in the mysteries and delights of a good book. Cleary was born in McMinnville and spent her early years on a farm near Yamhill and then moved with her family to the Portland neighborhood that became the epicenter of action in a string of children’s novels that for verve and wit and imagination beat the pants off most anything assigned in class.