Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Life in a Literary City - Portlandia is for Writers

First, confession time. I've only watched the TV show PORTLANDIA once or twice. I didn't care for it. Why? There was no affection for the place they were mocking. I mention this because the overly-quirky, accept-the-fringe, coffee-loving atmosphere PORTLANDIA mocks is the same atmosphere that has fostered an incredibly literary city that I am proud to call home.

When I first moved to Portland, Oregon, I was blown away by two facts. First, something called Portland Arts and Lectures, featuring literary speakers and expensive tickets, was routinely sold out. Second, on a Saturday night in Portland, the Anne Hughes Coffee Shop at Powell's Books was packed with literary geeks like me until late into the night. "I have found my tribe!" I thought.

Portland has a thriving writer's community that's given birth to all sorts of literary events, including Wordstock and the Willamette Writers Conference, not to mention Haystack and the Pacific Northwest Children's Book Conference. Portland is also home to such literary talents as Ursula LeGuin. And recently, not one, but two Portland-based writers were selected for inclusion in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES. Other selections were previously published in two nationally-recognized Portland-based magazines, TIN HOUSE and GLIMMER TRAIN.

Maybe its the nine months of rain. What else is there to do but hunker down inside with a good book, or write your own? With all that gray, drizzly weather, we lean on coffee just to keep our spirits up, but maybe that thriving coffee shop culture fuels good literature. Maybe it's the afore-mentioned quirky, fringe vibe, which leaves so much room for artists of all sorts. Maybe it's the low cost of living. Yes, we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, but it takes less money to get by in Portland, so folks who quit the day job to work on their novel can make it on less money.

Whatever the reason, Portland is a literary city, a city of writers and readers, a city that values words, and I feel lucky to be here.

Where do you call home? Would you say it's a literary city? Where have you found your community of writers, live or online? What do you think fosters a literary climate? Which cities would you cite as writer-friendly and why?


  1. I call Portland home, too, and I agree that it is a literary city. I love those occasional glimpses of someone reading a book while walking down a tree-lined street. I've done that, too. A much prettier vision than walking while texting!

  2. Your comment reminded me of one of my favorite off-beat theater moments here. A few years ago, as part of the Time-Base Art Project, Sam and I, along with a bunch of other local actors, read aloud on street corners downtown near Powell's books. There were several different books being read at once throughout the course of a weekend, I think. Folks signed up for shifts. We stood on the corner and read aloud, picking up wherever the last shift left off. People stopped to listen, bought us beverages, asked questions. I lucked out. I read CATCH-22, and I happened to get the chapter that included the explanation of the term "Catch-22."


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