Portland Book Festival: Short Stories, Terrible Poets, and the Art of Homecoming

Oregon writers were well represented on the podiums and library tables at the Portland Book Festival on Saturday. (Kate Peyton is a neighbor – and she’s from Canada). Photography: Karen Bate

On a rainy Saturday morning with coffee in my hand, I climbed the crowded steps to the First Uniting Christ Church in Portland. The line had begun to form an hour earlier; We were all there to witness one of the first and most popular events of the Portland Book Festival, George Saunders and Jess Walter in conversation with the OPB morning edition Host Jeff Norcross.

Attendance figures for the festival, drawn up by Literary Arts, weren’t available on Sunday, but among the crowds attending the events at nine downtown venues, the festival — the first to be held 100 percent in person since the pandemic — appeared to be a success.

With the participation of more than 70 authors, the festival offered far more than any visitor could possibly absorb. My day began with a session titled Long Live Short Stories, where Saunders and Walter lit the room with their generous and lively energy.

“If the heat doesn’t rise, you have to take a different path,” Saunders said when asked about the planning process for his new story collection. liberation day. He said his philosophy in writing is to try to reduce anxiety for others, and the work itself is both terrifying and funny at the same time as a result. After reading a section of the story beastHe called it, “only bizarre as the real world,” and explained that it typically aimed to narratively simulate real-world systems of power and difficulty. As allegories of modern day struggles, he went on, short stories have the power to show how easy our snap judgments can be.

Walter, who read from his new book, angel romeHe started as a fiction writer and said that putting together a collection of short stories sounds more like putting together a yard sale than creating a comprehensive concept album. Although he has said that he is not writing an autobiography, he is relying on his experiences, such as living outside the literary network in Spokane, to bring the work to life. He said that loneliness seemed to him to be a reality of life and was very visible in his stories.

Truth is a major theme of both books, which explore notions of the self, perceived survival, and ego disintegration through the realization of reality, annihilation, and hope. Walter, like Saunders, tends toward developing parodies of the ruined parts of our world, forming sparks of hope through satirical and ironic humor and showing improbable connections between characters to surprise and delight the reader.

On the other hand, poets CJ Evans and Saeed Jones feel that hope is a ladder with little stability. They appeared at noon at the Portland Theater 5 brunch in a session titled “The Intimate Apocalypse”, moderated by Erica Stevens, editor of the Jones Group. Alive at the end of the world.

Evans, editor-in-chief of Two Lines Press and author spirits, he said he is fully convinced that we live in the last century that will exist. His poignant and timeless poetry is full of images of nature, stormy, and abundance, yet it springs from a place of anxiety. Evans said that although the environmental and political devastation of our world need not control the poem, he couldn’t help but think of the invisible struggles of friends, neighbors, children, and students, as well as the ever-increasing societal fear of mass shootings as he developed his work. He said he still tries to notice the charitable efforts of others, and to find beauty in our world today.

Jones said he started small when he wrote his new collection of poems, and later decided to explore the plurality of grief that eventually expands toward what he calls “the end of days.” Like Evans, Jones explores disaster as an attempt to distance himself from it. His poetry collection presents personal accounts of grief after the loss of his mother, as well as warning widely about human rights issues in America.

“The dystopia is a whole kind of culture,” he explained. “So who will be its historian? Whose voice will be heard?”

Although his humor is grim and witty — he jokes that “we live in the age of flop” and his poetry collections and Evans’s “have the same prescription for anxiety medication” — he considers himself a happy person. He said, “Love and pleasure are the twins of sadness and loss.” “It’s important that you remember that.”

In between readings and conversations by the authors, I visited the book market in the Great Ballroom of the Portland Museum of Art. More than 50 exhibitors from bookstores, small print shops, and universities lined the aisles, which were packed like a county fair. There were lines to learn about the writing programs of eastern Oregon at Fishtrap, to buy Edward Gorey’s illustration puzzles as holiday gifts, and to pick up signed volumes from Powell’s Books table. At Red Hen Press, run by publisher Mark E.Cull, Portland poet and writer Kim Stafford signed copies of his collections Wild honey, coarse saltAnd the The singer comes from Afar.

Later in the afternoon, I headed to the Museum’s Miller Gallery for “Home,” a lecture by Chelsea Becker and Morgan Talty, and moderated by John Freeman, founder of Freeman’s Literary Magazine and Executive Editor at Alfred Knopf.

Defining writers, Freeman said, “Short stories are where America’s geographies fly.”


Profile Theater King of the Yees at Imago Theater Portland Oregon

For Baker, author Goodshot And the SorrowThe house is surrounded by land, production and debt. Originally from Fresno and now living in Portland, she found her hometown to be the only place she could write about. As a reader interested in compact stories where the stakes are high, she writes about low-income families struggling to provide for their families, in stories dealing with domestic violence, drug addiction, and sex work.

“There is danger at every turn,” Baker said of her characters. “And for many of them, most of the danger lies in leaving.”

Talty also writes about home but it comes from a different landscape, both ecologically and culturally. Instead of the dry agricultural valleys of central California, Tully grew up on the Penobscot Indian Reservation in Maine’s wet river climate. His latest collection of Tin House Books, night live rez, explores violence as a result of repressed communications and the consequences of colonialism. For Talty, despair is a plot point from which he can derive tragedy and humor—sometimes interchangeably—in his work.

For both writers, setting is an important aspect that allows their characters to exist. The authors agree that places you love but want to leave are places that will always draw your mind.


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