October 28th, 2009 5:33 pm | by Jonanna Widner News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Literature, Sans Snacks

“I love being a public servant” Oregon Attorney General John Kroger drawled at Monday night's Oregon Book Awards ceremony, as he was picking up his award for Creative Nonfiction, “but what I really wanted to be growing up is a writer. It's a precious thing to have a book published.

Precious indeed, and, these days, a even more rare thing. Although Convictions, Kroger's engrossing chronicle of his life as a high-profile prosecutor, has done well as far as these things go, the reality is, the economy sucks, people read less, and the only thing dropping more quickly than the skittish Dow index is the number of cents per word a decent writer gets paid (ahem...). We keep hearing it: Old media is dead, no one reads anymore, and the best way to get published is to have your Twitter feed turned into a book.

And yet, you'd never have known it at the Book Awards, now in their 23rd year and still sponsored by the Literary Arts council. As dour as the climate may be, the atmosphere inside the Pearl District's Gerding Theater was warm and slightly buzzed with good cheer, and while the audience proved of a predictably older set, the group of winners was sprinkled with youth.

This was no more noteworthy than with the Poetry award. Named for William Stafford (who wrote more than 50 books) and Hazel Hall (the “Emily Dickinson of Oregon”), the award went to Portland's own young gun Matthew Dickman, for his book All-American Poem. “It's odd for a guy who grew up around 92nd and Foster to be standing on this stage,” Dickman said, surveying the cush innards of the theater, “especially standing on it completely sober.”

A booze joke may be an old writerly standby, but in uttering it Dickman embodied a tradition--not just a joke-y one, but the age-old tradition of putting pen to parchment, typewriter key to paper, keyboard to computer screen. We may not live in a time where writers are not appreciated as much or by as many, but it is still a precious thing to publish a book.

Of course, there is still reality to contend with. As the crowd milled about the reception area, searching for the bar and queuing up to get books signed and shake hands, a much older man, stooped over like Uncle Junior from The Sopranos, searched fussily for something that wasn't there. He frowned and grumped, “Last year they nice hors d'oeurves.” True, the times have changed. But the writing continues.

Photo of Matthew Dickman (right) with his twin brother and fellow poet Michael courtesy of wweek.com.

2009 Winners of the Oregon Book Awards
Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children's Literature: Deborah Hopkinson, Keep On! The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-discoverer of the North Pole

Leslie Bradshaw Award for Young Adult Literature: Roland Smith, I.Q. Book One: Independence Hall

Walt Morey Young Readers Literary Legacy Award: Read to the Dogs of Portland

Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction: Tracy Daugherty, Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme

Sarah Winnemucca Award for Creative Nonfiction: John Kroger, Convictions: A Prosecutor's Battles Against Mafia Killers, Drug Kingpins, and Enron Thieves

Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award: Matt Love, founder and publisher, Nestucca Spit Press

Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry: Matthew Dickman, All-American Poem

Ken Kesey Award for Fiction: Jon Raymond, Livability: Stories
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