A Look Back at the Portland Book Festival

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The Portland Book Festival

Black-barked trees with yellow leaves reaching towards gray skies. A white registration tent with a red Portland Book Festival banner sits beneath the trees in the distance.
The most perfect Oregon day

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?

Emily Espanol and Samantha Harteau. Emily is a woman with black hair and red glasses. Samantha is a woman with blonde hair and a book on her sweater. Both are smiling.
Emily and Samantha in line for the McQuiston/Jean book signing!

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 title page of Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean signed in sharpie by the author. The inscription reads: "To Samantha, Always lead with your heart! xo Emiko Jean"
“Always lead with your heart! xo Emiko Jean”

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 title page of "I Kissed Shara Wheeler" signed by the author in Sharpie. The inscription reads, "For Samantha. Signed Casey McQuiston"
“For Samantha -Casey McQuiston”

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.

An old church where Brandon Taylor, who is the author of Filthy Animals, hosted Fleet Foxes lead singer Robin Pecknold. The ceilings are vaulted and lined with dark brown wood. A round stained glass window hangs above the choir loft on the left. A wooden organ stands against the far wall on the right behind the speakers.
Brandon Taylor (Filthy Animals) hosts Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes) in an old church

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!).

Emiko Jean and Casey McQuiston sit on stage inside of the Portland Art Museum.
Jules Ohman sits with the authors of the hour, Emiko Jean and Casey McQuiston, in a theater inside of the Portland Art Museum

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!

Four readers stand in the Portland Art Museum, reading and checking their phones.

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!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Debbie Faires

    Very interesting! Thanks for sharing so many descriptive details and photos.

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