The Portland Book Festival
Portland’s first fully in-person book festival since the ~*you know*~ took place on a most perfect Oregon day. Hundreds of attendees lined up beneath placid gray skies on the lawn outside of the Portland Art Museum and neighboring venues to receive their wristbands and maybe a cup of coffee from a vendor that was well-place inside of the registration tent.
The Portland Book Festival (PBF) itself would last all day on Saturday, November 5, though opening events and workshops were hosted the Friday night before. SJSU ALASC’s very own blogging assistants, Samantha Harteau and Emily Espanol, were there for the event that boasted over 70 authors, such as Kwame Alexander, Casey McQuiston, Taylor Jenkins Reid, and George Saunders, among many others.
Finding Our Stories Here
What brought you to the Portland Book Festival?
Samantha: I follow the Powell’s Bookstore Instagram page and saw their posts advertising the event. It sounded interesting and since I don’t live too far away from Portland, I thought it would be a fun date day for my fiancé and I who both love books. I was very excited that tickets for the Portland Book Festival included admission to the Portland Art Museum and a $5 off voucher for any of the vendors a the event. It was to be able to meet another member of the iSchool outside our virtual space!
Emily: Whenever I visit a new city, my itinerary always includes a bookstore, a library, and a museum. I decided to come to Portland from Las Vegas after seeing the incredible author lineup and the admission price ($20!) which included full access to the Portland Art Museum.It was a double whammy! When I got on the scene, I learned that the Portland Art Museum’s “neighboring venues” were theaters and old churches, so my literary arts experience of the city grew into a mini architecture adventure! Being able to catch up with another member of the ALASC blogging team was a major addition to my Portland itinerary!
Samantha: Engaging with Diverse Voices Through Art and Books
While scrolling on Instagram, I saw a post from Powell’s bookstore advertising the Portland Book Festival. A book sale was the first thing that came to mind after seeing the ad. I quickly learned that the PBF would be so much more than a book fair. There would be author talks,
vendors, food trucks, and large audiences, in addition to books for sale. While reading the author lineup for the event, I made my only request to myself to see the Casey McQuiston talk.
The PBF exceeded my expectations. The street outside of the event was closed down for tents and food trucks which created more space for foot traffic. The event was set up in multiple buildings and theaters. Vendors were fun and had engaging displays. My fiance bought a beanie that has an Edgar Allan Poe poem written on it. I was very excited to learn from a vendor that many of the authors at the event will have a book signing session after their talk, so I bought a couple books to be signed. The Portland Art Museum was open for PBF visitors at no additional cost. It was wonderful to see so many people in the art museum engaging with all their incredible displays and collections.
The Casey McQuiston (I Kissed Shara Wheeler) and Emiko Jean (Tokyo Ever After) discussion was the first live author discussion I’ve attended and it was so fun, a bonus of being able to wave to Emily in the audience as well. The authors were both so passionate about the romance genre and were humorous in their discussion responses. Getting their books signed afterwards was so special. I’ve never had an interaction with someone who has a large following and is widely known in the media. PBF staff were asking visitors as they were in line for the book signing if they wanted their books personalized with their names. It was incredible for me to have a book signed by an author and have them write and say my name.
As someone that gets embarrassed that my favorite book genre is young adult romance, it was so empowering to be in a room filled with other readers, fans, and authors who are all passionate about the genre. McQuiston described the romance genre beautifully during the discussion. They explained that romance brings out feelings and emotion and while that can be messy, there’s beauty in the heart of it all. I loved that both authors were passionate about representing diverse voices in a genre that is so special to its readers.
Emily: Who Says Collection Development Can’t Be Fun?
When you get a slice of a library budget for fun reading, you can’t let the power go to your head. You have to be selective, sometimes brutal, and even a little magical (seriously– if you have a functioning crystal ball, CD is where to use it!) to do good collection development.
But sometimes, you can dream.
That’s exactly what I did when I ignored the official PBF schedule. I had one non-negotiable (anything featuring Casey McQuiston, author of Red, White, and Royal Blue) and an empty afternoon. So, I followed the crowds and my curiosity.
I wandered into the Winningstad theater and listened to author Erika Hatasaki (Somewhere Sisters) talk about her reporting on girls separated at an Vietnamese orphanage and the difficulties of assimilation and the power imbalances behind their identities. I sat in when Lan Samantha Chang (The Family Chao) and Silvia Moreno Garcia (The Daughter of Doctor Moreau) chatted about family secrets and the craft of reinterpreting old works like The Brothers Karamazov and The Island of Doctor Moreau in the lower floor of the Portland Art Museum. Ilistened to Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes (!) in a grand old church (pictured). Finally, event of events, I listened to Emiko Jean and Casey McQuiston defend the romance genre, especially as it features more diverse characters (and got to wave to Samantha in the second row!).
What my wandering told me is that readers want diversity– there had to be a reason why the panels with Chang and Moreno Garcia, Jean and McQuiston were so well-attended in the festival’s largest theater! Readers also want to see difficult themes explored– identity, loss, love. These themes and others, such as “flashback,” “inheritance,”and “unlikely allies” which were devised by the event organizers, also inspired display ideas. When you don’t know if a book will be put on hold by a dozen people the moment you order it, it helps to know you can push them forward in an interesting display!
Find Your Own Stories
As the afternoon faded into evening, we stayed in line for Casey McQuiston’s signing as it was moved out of the now-closed museum and into the cool autumn air. By then, vendors had rolled their books away, the PBF information tents had evaporated, and the attendees had scattered into the wind like Portland’s yellowed leaves. But you could still feel a hint of that bookish magic lingering in the alleyways between the PBF’s venues.
Besides a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon, book fests are also a part of your professional development. Take advantage of your cool library job and see what’s out there!