Each week, WW writer John Minervini brings you the latest in book reviews, author Q&A's and Portland literary gossip. Click here to join the Tome Raider mailing list.
Portland literati (right, clothed) enjoy fancy appetizers amid classical sculpture (left, nude) at the 2008 Oregon Book Awards, Nov. 10.
Oregon Book Awards:
7:30pm @ the Portland Art Museum
If you had asked on Saturday, I would have told you that Wordstock 2008 was a strictly egalitarian affair. In fact, I would have been hard-pressed to come up with a single event at which tattoos and lumberjackets were unwelcome. No shirt? No Shoes? No problem.
“It minimizes the risk of libel.” - Author Linda Zuckerman, on why she prefers to write animal characters instead of human characters.
But that was before the Oregon Book Awards
(Nov. 10). Hot dog! Portland lit scenesters really know how to dress up. Admission to the event was only $15, but to see all the flutter-sleeved cocktail dresses and rope-shouldered blazers, you'd think tickets cost $1500. Last night, amid the Corinthian columns, classical sculpture and wrought-iron light fixtures of the Portland Art Museum's Fields Ballroom, Literary Arts gathered 500 logophiles (a sold-out house) to honor Oregon's best writers. Here's who won:
MC John Daniel christened the festivities with an ambitious introduction, an abridged but authoritative history of the written word
, from cuneiform to the text message. And although a regional awards ceremony might not have been the ideal time to debut a sweeping interpretation of the function of language, certainly no one could accuse Daniel of failing to take himself seriously enough.
The evening's other indisputable highlight was the receipt of the Distinguished Writer Award
by Barry Lopez.
It all started with the presenter, artist Rick Bartow. Wearing multicolored beads, with spiky gray hair like a latter-day David Bowie, Bartow announced to the audience that he planned to honor his friend the best way he knew how, with a song. He then proceeded to sing several verses in an indeterminate Native American tongue, wailing, dancing back and forth, and rhythmically joggling his right hand
. Each verse culminated with a horse-like whinny and a fluttery hand gesture
“I'd like to say I met my wife here, but actually, I met her in Tucson.” - Barry Lopez
After the song, Bartow wrapped an emotional Lopez in a purple-patterned Native American blanket
, and the two embraced. But the unconventional performance didn't stop there. Lopez himself then fetched a wicked-looking eskimo story teller's knife
out of his coat pocket and displayed it for the audience. Lopez said the knife, which had been carved from 100-year-old walrus bone
, was intended to remind him of a writer's moral obligation to his community.
Left to right: Authors Jacob Anderson-Minshall, Diane Anderson-Minshall, Beren deMotier, Marc Acito and moderator Ariel Gore.
Queer Portland Panel:
12:30pm @ The Community of Writers stage
We know that we are marginalized. We are intentionally marginalized.” - Diane Anderson-Minshall
Sunday's sleeper hit was definitely the Queer Portland panel.
Authors Jacob Anderson-Minshall (Transnation
), Diane Anderson-Minshall (Curve
Magazine), Beren deMotier (The Brides of March
) and Marc Acito (Attack of the Theater People
) joined moderator Ariel Gore (Hip Mama
) to discuss issues of sexuality as they pertained to writing and publishing. That may sound pretty tame, but the house was packed. Latecomers lined the walls and stood in the back of the room for lack of chairs.
Each author began by reading an excerpt from a recent work, which set the tone for his or her contributions to the ensuing audience Q&A. By far the two most controversial were the Anderson-Minshalls, who read about the violence of Christian “cure” therapies (Diane) and the experience of being perceived as a transgendered “monster” while walking down Hawthorne Boulevard (Jacob).
“I'd like to think it's pearls of wisdom...but most of the time, it's just, like, pearls!” - Marc Acito, discussing the appeal of his prose
What followed was a half-hour of refreshingly (and sometimes uncomfortably) honest discussion about LGBTQ writing, primarily centered around self-censorship the perceived dichotomy between queer-themed literature and the mainstream.
Each author discussed the compromises with which he or she had been confronted on the path to publication: whereas the Anderson-Minshalls affirmed that they were content to write for a primarily gay audience, Acito admitted to having removed “butt love” from his writing so as not to alienate straight readers. Faced with agents and editors who told her that a violation of her civil rights was not interesting enough to sell books, Beren deMotier chose to self-publish The Brides of March
, a memoir about her same-sex marriage and its subsequent annulment by the Supreme Court. Moderator Ariel Gore confessed that she had a book deal canceled after she refused to remove explicit homosexual content.
Reading from his novel
Garden of Last Days, author Andre Dubus III assumed different dialects when portraying different characters. The experience was not unlike a bedtime story.
Andre Dubus III:
1:30 pm @ the Powell's Books stage
When you read Andre Dubus' stuff, you assume he's gonna be a nerd in person. I mean, to get that deep down into the human psyche, you have to be pretty anemic and professorial and have bad skin, right? Wrong. Up close, Dubus could be mistaken for a football coach. When he talks, he does so with the commonsense folksiness of a taxi driver. That doesn't mean he isn't a huge talent. He is. He just happens to be tall and healthy and easy to understand.
Dubus read from and answered questions about his new book, Garden of Last Days
(Norton, 384 pages, $24.95 - Click here
to read Tome Raider's full review). His was one of Wordstock's better-attended individual presentations, and audience members seemed familiar with his work, primarily Oprah Book Club pick House of Sand and Fog
. While Dubus' style of reading didn't offer any special insights into the interpretation of his work, he nonetheless chose fine, representative passages and delivered them well. He also revealed the initial image out of which Garden was conceived: “a wad of cash on a dresser.”
After the reading, I had the opportunity to ask Dubus a few informal questions about Wordstock. He expressed disappointment at having missed the round of house parties on Friday night—he only got to town Saturday—and said he was excited to meet two of his own favorite authors, Stewart O'Nan and William Least Heat-Moon.
Finally, in response to a question about the value of literary festivals like Wordstock, Dubus waxed poetic:
“Leo Tolstoy said that writing was a process that effected the transfer of feelings from one heart to another. I think this is just another step; it continues that transferrence.” - Andre Dubus III