A healthy debate is percolating in response to my profile of Tom Bissell, bandying whether he really is the finest writer in Portland. I contend he is. (Commenter Dan Felder sagely notes that Bissell is a Guggenheim Fellow; he's using the estimated $43,000 prize to finish his apostle-tomb book Bones That Shine Like Fire.)
But there are lots of alternatives; as soon as I handed Bissell those laurels, I felt a need to apologize to Willy Vlautin and Patrick DeWitt. I asked my colleagues to provide their local literary paragons, and immediately received the following nominations.
BEN WATERHOUSE: "I don't know if she counts any longer, given that she hasn't published much of anything in the last 22 years, but I believe Katherine Dunn's Geek Love remains the most influential work ever published by a Portland writer. Without its morbid, bizarre influence, Palahniuk would probably still be fixing Freightliners."
CHRIS STAMM: "I'm pretty sure Matthew Stadler wrote them before moving here, but the strange, beautiful, haunting books The Sex Offender and Allan Stein are better than anything written by a Portlander since Stadler moved here, so...he qualifies, right?"
CASEY JARMAN: "I've been reading more Tom Bissell than anyone else as of late. As a gamer, I was so relieved to find a videogame critic/writer who takes the medium seriously but doesn't elevate bad art: The videogame industry is in an awful, derivative place and it needs someone like Bissell to explain exactly what's wrong to gamers and non-gamers alike. I think he'll play a role in changing that industry, and that's exciting. But if I have to talk about my all-time favorite Portland writer, I'll say Joe Sacco. Some idiots out there might take issue with the word "author" being applied to a cartoonist, but Sacco's writing skills are just as deep and refined and his drawing is. His landmark book Palestine changed the way I consumed media and viewed Mid-east politics when I was a college student, but it also told a great personal story. All of Sacco's stories, though, are eye-opening and heartfelt. He's one of the finest journalists, cartoonists and writers around. [Honorable mentions: Douglas Wolk, Willy Vlautin, Nick Jaina, Aaron Mesh]"
MATTHEW KORFHAGE: "There are a number of strong writers in their thirties and forties living here—really an unlikely wealth of them—but respect is due where it's due: Ursula K. Le Guin has been publishing thought provoking, truly strange, truly beautiful fictions here for over forty five years now, in prose whose grace and lucidity is made all the more remarkable by its alien, anthropologically complex subject matter. So yeah: she gets my vote."
Because there's no better way to celebrate art than to arbitrarily rank it, I'll throw the question to you, with a handy poll. In all seriousness, however, Portland's writers have earned fiery partisanship, and arguing over writing beats arguing about comparatively trivial matters. Defend your choice or offer other nominations in the comments.