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Port. Lit.

As my farewell blog for Powell's, I wanted to be able to compile all of my favorite Portland-related things. There would be food, and clothes, and thrift shops, and parks, and record stores, and beer, and yoga. It would be a smorgasbord of Portland. I sat down to make my list, starting with Portland's literary delights. And I had to stop there. There were too many book and writing-related links, and the post was ridiculously long. So, for those new to Portland, or just new to the literary scene, I give you:

Port. Lit: A Short List of the Portland Literary Scene

1. So, obviously I'm a fan of Tin House, one of the most respected literary journals in the country, which spawned one of the most respected independent presses. The Tin House blog has great features like "Book Clubbing," in which writers tell you about a favorite bookstore, and "Lost & Found" (my favorite), in which authors tell you about an out-of-print or largely forgotten book they adore.

2. There's also Propeller Books, the books project of Propeller Magazine, both bringing you some of the finest writing to be found anywhere, through the blood, sweat, and tears of 2011 Oregon Book Award Nominee Dan DeWeese and friends. The magazine offers some of the best book reviews and interviews with writers, local and otherwise, I've read anywhere.

3. One of the most influential indie presses in Portland — the one that started a sensation and kept the passion alive — is, of course, Future Tense powered by Powell's Books's small press superhero, Kevin Sampsell. I don't think it would be hyperbole to say that Kevin has had a lot to do with the rise and success of small presses all over the Northwest and (dare I say it? yes, I dare) the country.

4. When I read about Matthew Stadler's Publication Studio in Bookforum last year, he instantly became my author crush of the month. The whole enterprise sounded utterly romantic: broke novelist acquires a book-making machine and borrows a storefront. You might as well be in 1920's Paris. Artisan bookmaking in the heart of Portland. Sigh.

5. The Burnside Review is knocking my socks off lately. That's all I really have to say about it. Just read it. It's a delightful way to blow off work for a couple of hours and emerge feeling literate. (Check out their chapbook series, too. Only $6 each! Collect them all!)

6. DIY Publishing! Portland is a city rich in creative resources. The Independent Publishing Resource Center has been at the heart of self-publishing in Portland for as long as I've lived here (since 1999). Along with Kevin Sampsell, the IPRC is what come to mind when I think of truly independent, homegrown, Portland publishing. IPRC brings publishing resources to the community, right above one of Portland's other literary gems:

7. Reading Frenzy. You may not know this about Reading Frenzy, because of the "quality smut" (their words, not mine) sometimes in their windows on SW Oak, but they have some pretty awesome children's books. Seriously.

8. The Loggernaut Reading Series has been around... for years, I honestly don't know how long. I remember readings at the old Mississippi Studios. At Loggernaut, you'll see up-and-coming writers, before they burst out on the scene, alongside established, award-winning authors. Attending a reading series is a great way to keep up with the local literary scene. Bonus: it's a great first date for you winsome, bookish types.

9. Ampersand Vintage. Perhaps the only retail source of vintage mugshots in the Portland Metro area, Ampersand also has the best curated selection of art books and obscure literature I've ever seen. Go for the ephemera, stay for the books. I dare you not to buy something.

10. Take quality writing classes with local authors without taking out a $35,000 loan! I was so excited to find out about Crow Arts Manor, the writing community resource sprung from The Burnside Review. Along with The Attic, and other, smaller writing groups around town, you can workshop your writing and study and hone the craft of your genre without going into debt. Portland excels at this type of thing: a group of talented individuals creating a space for their life's work and making it accessible to the community at large.

11. Small Doggies: It's an online magazine; it's a forum for cultural criticism; it's a reading series. It's a favorite of the literary dudes in my life, which endears it to me even more.

12. Writer's Dojo. I hate to give away my neighborhood haunts, but Writer's Dojo is a peaceful place to write and its own pocket of literary goodness, hidden away in St. Johns. It's not a coffee shop, but there's probably some fresh St. Johns Coffee Roasters brew at hand. Also at hand are other hard-working writers and DojoCreative, the ad agency in the basement that pays for the literary salon upstairs.

13. Sick of the city? Go to the beach to write! The Oregon Writer's Colony offers an affordable little retreat for writers, complete with an author-in-residence. I'll be the House Mentor for a weekend in November, but check out the offerings throughout the year. But the secret's out, so sign up early!

14. Writers next door. It's a virtue or a curse, depending on your perspective (I bat for virtue), but Portland attracts and breeds creative types. Your neighbor is probably a writer. But don't ask her what her book is about; it'll get awkward. Just go to your neighborhood bookstore and buy a copy.

÷ ÷ ÷

Alexis M. Smith grew up in Soldotna, Alaska, and Seattle, Washington. She received an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. She has written for Tarpaulin Sky and She has a son and two cats, and they all live together in a little apartment in Portland, Oregon. Glaciers is her first novel.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Glaciers (Tin House New Voice)
    Used Trade Paper $5.95

Alexis Smith is the author of Glaciers (Tin House New Voice)

One Response to "Port. Lit."

    Meagan January 24th, 2012 at 6:41 am

    I was in a bookstore yesterday and the color of your cover jumped out at me. I loved how compact the book felt in my hands and the way the inside cover flap can be used as a book mark. (I am a dork for such things!)I flipped to a random the entire thing and...well, it was love at first paragraph. Some books just suck me in. I could not put it back on the shelf. It came home with me and I devoured it in 2 hours...why so long? I wanted to savor it. It is insightful and tender and filled with longings we can all see in ourselves. It was just a wonderful story from start to finish. It was my found "treasure" for the day. And I really have been in need of a treasure lately. Thank you for writing is going in the mail this week to be shared with another friend in another state who also has longings. And from there...hopefully it will crisscross the country.

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