Cool, hip and fresh are just a few of the words being used to describe the re-launch of Wordstock, Portland’s Annual Book Festival, on Saturday, Nov. 7. It’s the event’s 10th anniversary, but attendees can expect significant changes from previous years.
Wordstock, previously its own entity, has been acquired by Literary Arts, the 30-year-old nationally recognized hub of all things literary in Portland, perhaps best known for its Arts & Lectures series, Writers in the Schools Program and the many ways it promotes Oregon’s writers and publishers. And under their direction, Wordstock is getting a bit of a face-lift.
“There’s going to be a lot of things that people who know and love Wordstock will recognize, but it’s also going to be a very different event in a lot of ways,” said Amanda Bullock, the festival manager. “We’re really focusing on making it a festival for everyone and a festival for readers and writers and everyone who loves books.”
Instead of the sterile convention center, much of the festival will take place at the Portland Art Museum.
“The venue is a huge change and really defining a lot of how the festival is changing also. It’s a little denser,” Bullock said.
Even though it’s only one day, instead of two, Bullock said they’ve built a full weekend of activities: an opening night party on Friday, multiple day-long events on Saturday, and the first ever Lit Crawl, produced with Litquake (a San Francisco-based literary nonprofit).
One primary venue and partner is the First Congregational Church of Christ, across the street from PAM, where big names like Jon Krakauer, Barry Lopez, Cheryl Strayed and Jon Irving are anticipated to draw a large audience.
There are five main stages, fewer than in the past, but this year there will also be “pop-up” stages throughout PAM featuring readings and musical performances by other artists, some of whom were selected out of hundreds of open submissions.
Bullock travelled across the United States to meet with other professionals, seeking their opinions about who should be featured.
“I went to New York in March and met with a lot of publishers, and we really paid attention to what’s coming out this year,” Bullock said. “The festival is all books that are published in 2015.”
They also strived for an even split between regional work and authors coming from out of state.
“The goal, which we hit exactly, was to be 50 percent local or regional authors, and 50 percent people who are coming from farther afield,” Bullock said.
In addition to readings, the festival offers workshops that may especially appeal to students.
“If you’re not a creative writing major but want to try your hand at flash fiction, this would be a really good time to try it,” Bullock said.
And while pleasure reading might not fit in a busy Portland State student’s midterm schedule, Bullock suggests that this is a great way to find books you might not have heard of otherwise, for holiday and summer reading time.
Tin House, a Portland literary magazine and independent press, is also playing a key role this year as they have in the past and they, too, are really excited about the changes. Nanci McCloskey, the director of publicity and rights, is looking forward to Lit Crawl.
“We are having a Nerd Jeopardy night,” McCloskey said. “It’s going to be so fun,”
And some of their featured writers—Glenn Taylor, Sara Jaffe, Claire Vaye Watkins—are going to participate. Overall, McCloskey has very high expectations for Wordstock.
“I think this is going to be a literary festival like none other,” McCloskey said. “I think it’s going to be incredibly cool and hip in a specifically Portland way. I’m sold. I think it’s great and it feels really fresh like nothing else.”
Lending more spice to the event is Live Wire!, a variety radio that has been involved with the festival since inception. The station is also enthusiastic about the re-launch. Robyn Tenebaum, executive producer of Live Wire!, is delighted about their venue, too.
“We’re back at the Aladdin Theatre for Wordstock, so we’re really excited to be back in our original home,” Tenebaum said.
They’re expecting to fill the Aladdin to capacity, about 600 people, with a strong line-up: Diana Nyad, Jesse Eisenberg, Sloane Crosley and Heidi Julavits, as well as two musical guests who are also involved in the day long event—Laura Gibson (the inspiration for National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Concerts) and Israel Nebeker (the lead singer and guitarist for Blind Pilot).
Live Wire! is a show that’s focused on the 20-something crowd and would love PSU students to come. In fact, there will be a block of student tickets set aside for the reduced price of $15.
In addition to spoken word and music, film is also being incorporated at the Northwest Film Center’s Whitsell Auditorium, located inside PAM. Exhibition Programs Manager Morgen Ruff and PR & Marketing Manager Benna Gottfried met with Bullock to decide on the program.
“We selected two of the Wordstock authors to identify a film that has influenced their work and then identified a Portland-area community leader to interview them after we screen their selected films,” Gottfried said.
Those authors are Sandra Cisneros and Wendell Pierce. On Friday night they will screen Federico Fellini’s 1952 The White Sheik with Cisneros, and on Saturday Les Blank’s 1978 Always for Pleasure.
Another important difference this year: the food.
“One of the complaints about the convention center was that the food was really bad,” Bullock said. “So we’re excited that we have some really great food trucks and we’ll have a tent with beer and wine and cider. You can’t have any kind of event in Portland without beer and wine and cider.”
It’s hard to anticipate how many people will attend, but they’re expecting thousands. With this many organizations and authors coming together from around the state and the country, it seems that the festival will likely achieve another one of Bullock’s goals.
“The goal is to inspire serious FOMO—fear of missing out,” Bullock said.