The local cultural vessel known as the Back Room is about to embark on a new voyage.
Literary honcho Matthew Stadler, who has overseen the "occasional series of presentation/symposia/bacchanals" since the summer of 2005, is handing the steering wheel over to Stephanie Snyder, curator and director of the Cooley Gallery at Reed College. Stadler, who plans to work on two books, heads to Mexico in August with a $50,000 United States Artist Fellowship under his belt. Though he's returning to Portland and the Back Room after his 10-month hiatus, there will be much rocking of the boat in his wake.
Not only is the Monday, July 16, edition of the Back Room the last Stadler will coordinate before he leaves, it also marks the release of The Back Room: An Anthology (Clear Cut Press, $15), a 500-page culmination of the past two years of writings from the Back Room events.
The Back Room series grew from Stadler's amorphous position as now-defunct food operation ripe's "Writer in Residence"—each event features food prepared by local chefs (often former ripe co-head Naomi Pomeroy) and music coordinated by Curtis Knapp of Marriage Records, and introduces writers, artists and critics selected by Stadler and Snyder. Along the way, the events have become a showcase for conversations between those artists.
"If there's anything about the Back Room I'm most excited about, it's that we've made an economy that pays writers, musicians and servers," explains Stadler, who calls the series a "group effort." To wit, Monday's edition will allow any guest to interview anyone else in the room—for five minutes.
While Stadler's role in the Back Room has been mainly as a writer, the change in leadership will bring about a small shift in programming. Though the past two years have seen appearances by a variety of cultural figures—everybody from Gore Vidal, Marc Joseph and Wayne Koestenbaum to Independent Publishing Resource Center head Pablo de Ocampo—future events will likely feature more arts-related programming. "I see this year as an extension of my life as a curator," says Snyder.
A sneak preview: An event with Marko Lulic and Peter Kreider—artists to be featured in a fall show at the Cooley Gallery, a possible appearance from conceptual artist Suzanne Lacy, and a celebration of Portland-based Plazm magazine.
Snyder isn't willing to look too far into the Back Room's future, however: "I don't see it as something that has to last forever," she says. "It serves a function, place and time." .
The Back Room: an Anthology