Viewed from Portland, the publishing world can seem far away, sequestered in the distant East. Author friends have informed me that to be a writer you need to move to New York, where supposedly every single living American writer resides.
That said, there may be no real reason to leverage a desperate move to Park Slope, where the Jonathans Lethem, Franzen and Safran Foer all live—within six blocks of each other. Portland does still offer some genuine possibilities for the young or aspiring writer.
Absent local fanfare, Portland-based literary magazine Tin House has been putting out some of the best writing in the country for a while now. Last May, they also inaugurated a series of books—the New Voice series—devoted to finding and publishing first-time authors.
According to Executive Editor Lee Montgomery, publishing outside of New York's tail-chasing literary grind and bustle has obvious disadvantages. However, she says, "it can also be helpful not to work within a small culture [like New York's publishing world] where everyone is talking about the same authors. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss."
The imprint published eight books in its first year, and three of its newest fiction writers will be reading at Powell's this Friday, including Michele Matheson—once a child star on TV's Mr. Belvedere—who will read from Saving Angelfish, her novel about a Los Angeles junkie.
The readings will kick off Tin House's nationally renowned weeklong session of summer writers workshops, seminars and readings at Reed College's stately environs, where one can probably still get high off the residual substances left over from the previous school year (or simply drink the fabled Tin House martinis).
While writers workshops have been the source of occasional ire in the literary community, one has to admit it's nice to get a little advice sometimes, especially from authors of the caliber of T.C. Boyle, Annie Proulx, Aimee Bender, Charles Baxter and local luminary Charles D'Ambrosio—who will all be part of Tin House's workshop this year.
Does it help get you published? Well, maybe. Sometimes. Dan Raeburn credits his publication in the New Yorker to Nick Flynn's course at a previous workshop, and former participant Alex Lemon got his first book of poems published on the New Voice imprint.
Seminars and faculty readings are open to the public, and include literary agents (paradoxically) offering advice on how to find literary agents, as well as Steve Almond telling you how to write a sex scene that doesn't go flaccid.
New Voice series writers Josh Goldfaden, Michele Matheson and Mary Otis read on Friday, July 6, at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm. Free. Tin House Summer Writer's Workshop seminars and readings are held daily Sunday-Saturday, July 8-15, on the Reed College campus, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd.