Wendell Pierce


It’s been a rough few years for Wordstock by the sounds of it. There’s been trouble with management, trouble with venues and a history of financial woe that led to the Portland festival taking 2014 off. But if the 2015 festival, which took place in and around the Portland Art Museum last Saturday, was anything to go by, it looks like the dark times are over.

Part of the reason this year’s festival was so massively enjoyable was that unlike previous years, this time the event was packed into one very full day, with three main stages offering nine consecutive hours of high-quality literary chat. And consecutive they surely were. To be fair, the events were kept diligently on time, but if your next chosen event was on a different stage, that left only a couple of minutes to push through the crowds and duck between buildings to catch it from the start. It did give the day a real momentum, but combined with the art museum’s handful of restrooms it also meant that anyone determined not to miss a thing had to choose between punctuality and their bladder. But it’s a small complaint, and nothing a few Honey Buckets won’t remedy next year.

Editor’s Note: Angie Jabine was also on hand for Wordstock and caught an entirely different lineup of authors. Read her report here.

So who was there? Simon Winchester for a start, resplendent in a tan sports coat and jeans, talking to OPB’s Geoff Norcross about his new non-fiction book, Pacific. The Wall Street Journal hates it apparently, but Mr Winchester didn’t seem too put out.

“Now all I want is for Bill O’Reilly to hate it,” he said, and to judge by the giggles from the audience there’s no major overlap between the Fox crowd and the book crowd. Winchester, it seems, knows something about everything and spoke engagingly on plate tectonics, weather systems, the militarization of the Pacific, the origins of surfing, nuclear testing in the Bikini Islands, deep sea mining and more besides. And it was remarkably bright and breezy for a talk with such key points as the inevitable decline of the United States and the possibility of total human extinction in the next 500 years.