MR. CHAIRMAN: Wordstock's Greg Netzer. IMAGE: Christine Taylor
Wordstock is the name, and storytelling its game. The no-holds-barred bookish blitzkrieg is approaching its fifth year, and executive director Greg Netzer promises it is kicking more asses and taking more names than ever. "For Wordstock to be worth a damn, it's gotta be a place that evolves," he says. "It's gotta be something that speaks to and helps and is a rallying place for the literary community." Prepare not only for big names like Richard Dawkins and James Ellroy and local notables like David Biespiel and Carol Ann Bassett, but also for international writers, the Flash Choir and a curious abundance of food writing. Go ahead and judge this book by its cover.
Wordstock 2009 will focus on three genres oftentimes shut out from the members-only literature club: young-adult fiction, memoir and food writing. It is both a challenge to and an embrace of literary tradition: "Take food writing, for instance," says Netzer. "We have a food scientist talking about the way foods look together; a food journalist talking about the system of how we get our food and what that says about capitalism; we have a book by this woman who tasted 99 different kinds of whiskey; there's a couple of cookbooks, one by a farmer; we have a book about foraging for food. We said, 'Let's talk about the broadest way we can think about what food writing is,' and…[mimics head exploding]."
The genre of food lit isn't the only thing Wordstock is helping to broaden: The festival has adapted to the role of linchpin for Portland's word-minded community. "There's about a dozen other literary organizations that are either moving their events to the week of the festival, or to the floor of the festival," says Netzer. During the week of Wordstock, IPRC will hold its annual Text Ball; p:ear and Portland Noir contributors will present "p:ear noir"; the Flash Choir (of PICA's Time-Based Art Festival) will perform an original piece based on 10 works of William Stafford; and the list goes on. All of this scattered in and around Wordstock's offerings of panels, writing and teaching workshops, readings, and sundry ephemera. This happy conglomeration is no fixed program; Wordstock is designed to bend with the ebb and flow. "I don't think books are going to go away; we'll always tell stories," says Netzer. "The ways we choose to tell them or the ways we choose to deliver them to one another—that's always going to change."
You probably celebrated your 15th birthday with a pool party, or trying not to vomit at Oaks Park, or playing Midnight Madness laser tag at Ultrazone. But Reading Frenzy is excavating an activity associated less with the midteens and more with pretweens for its big one-five: show and tell. Showcasing 15 (please take note of the pattern) RF alums, including Rebecca Gilbert, Meredith Butner and Icky Ciccone, the birthday party is both a tribute to and a catch-up sesh with the store's "amazing revolving cast of paid and volunteer staff." Ninkasi Brewery provides the free, ahem, beer.
The world has already accepted that David Byrne is really, really cool. From his tenure as Talking Heads main man, to collaborations with Brian Eno, to his embrace of indie artists like Fiery Furnaces and Dirty Projectors, even to that London concert last spring where he performed in a tutu—irrevocably, unquestionably cool. Well, guess what? He's heavily into bicycling, too. In support of his ode to two-wheeled travelin',
Byrne will speak with (and, well, outshine) Timo Forsberg (from the City of Portland's transportation options division), BikePortland.org's Jonathan Maus, and Alta Planning Design's Mia Birk.
Boilerplate must be seen to be believed. Billed as "the world's first robot soldier," Paul Guinan and his wife, Anina Bennett, have been recording this Victorian wonder online since 2000. From reports and reproduced photographs of Boilerplate with Teddy Roosevelt and Pancho Villa, to biographies of his inventor, Archibald Campion, the Portland couple's website is encyclopedic to a fault. The kick behind all of this painstaking documentation? It is, of course, a grandiloquent fabrication. October marks the unveiling of
a coffee-table compendium of the steamy stud described by the Robotics Society of America as "awesome" and by NASA as "cool." Obviously.
With the words "Russian literature," the mind immediately zips to genre-defining giants like Leo Tolstoy or Nikolai Gogol; there is no doubt unprecedented works have come out of Russia, but why must this reputation terminate at the end of the 19th century? Portland's own Tin House has done the world a service in its release of
which has compiled 22 stories—almost all of which have never been published in English—by authors so current they can only just recall the USSR. As editors Mikhail Iossel and Jeff Parker explain in the foreword, literature is one of the last bastions of free expression in Russia, left uncensored because it is perceived by authorities to carry less impact than TV or mainstream media. Think of these stories (or
) as the final frontier.