This last Saturday, thousands of book lovers gathered at the South Park Blocks in downtown Portland for Wordstock, an annual book festival hosted by Literary Arts. While not necessarily well-known outside the community—my rideshare driver was very surprised by all of the people gathered around and that the streets were blocked off—the event is one of the largest for the Portland literary world, and yes, you read that right, thousands of people attend. The goal, according to Literary Arts, is to “[build] community around literature through author events, workshops, a book fair, and more.” This year was especially crowded, with over 100 authors participating, including some big-name speakers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, and an estimate of over 10,000 attendees.
The fun kicked off Friday night with Lit Crawl, a series of book-related events hosted at various bars in downtown Portland. I’m proud to say my group, a table of Ooligan students, lived up to our reputation and knocked it out of the park at Hawthorne Books’ Literary Trivia. In a recurring theme for the festival, events were packed, but we managed to make it to a Sci-fi Karaoke Comedy Horror Bingo Night (yes, all that did happen, and yes, it was fantastic) before heading off to Tin House’s after-party.
The next morning, I got in line to pick up my wristband—a line that wrapped around the block. Thankfully, the volunteers were well prepared, and I got through the line and into the Portland Art Museum (where the book fair was being held) in no time.
Now, here’s the secret to Wordstock: you’ve got to pick one or two events that you absolutely can’t miss, and just count the rest as a bonus. Even with my best laid plans, I wasn’t able to make all of the panels I had planned to attend; one panel had filled the theater before I could even get in line. Of the panels I did go to, two stood out.
First, I attended a live recording of OPB’s State of Wonder. The guests were Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, the creators of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, and poets Morgan Parker (There Are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé) and Tommy Pico (Nature Poem). Now, podcasts are a passion of mine, but Parker and Pico shined during their interview, so much so that I immediately went to go buy their books and get them signed—another beauty of attending the book festival.
At the end of the day, I attended a panel about dystopian fiction and how it envisions—in however small of a part—resistance and rebellion. The authors for the panel were Lidia Yuknavitch (The Book of Joan), Omar El Akkad (American War), and Benjamin Percy (The Dark Net). Despite the long day behind us, the crowd was energized to hear the authors’ views on the rebellions and social turmoil they had imagined, especially as all of their works had been written before the 2016 election and published after. This particular panel was marked by a very high level of audience participation, from spontaneous applause to an extended audience question period.
Overall, Wordstock was a great experience. The festival has changed over the years, including condensing from two days to one, but at its heart, there remains an honest love of books and the promotion of the connections that everyone—authors, readers, and publishers alike—get to make over them. I, for one, found new books, new authors, and new publishers to watch. While I will always wish I could go to more author panels, Wordstock does a fantastic job of bringing together authors from the area and across the country to talk about engaging topics. If you’re at all interested, Wordstock is a worthy event, especially at a $15 ticket price.
Do yourself a favor, though: make sure you get in line early.