Wordstock Wrap-Up

Because I’d missed last year’s edition, I was really looking forward to Wordstock, Portland’s book festival, which was held this weekend at the Oregon Convention Center. I got there around 10:30 am, and walked around, through the neatly ordered booths where booksellers, literary magazines, MFA programs, small presses, writers’ conferences, writers’ organizations, and self-published authors were selling their wares. I started my literary peregrinations by popping into the “Sassy Stories” reading, which featured Thisben Nissen, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Vendela Vida. The poster for the talk listed Vendela Vida as “the author of And Now You Can Go, and wife of author Dave Eggers.” Seriously. What does her marriage have to do with anything?

Then I went into the green room to wait for my own panel, which was due to start at 12. The place was alternately desert-hot or freezing cold, but at least the coffee flowed and the company was great. I had a quiet chat with Mary McGarry Morris, who was delightfully down to earth. I caught up with David Hernandez and Lisa Glatt, and got a chance to congratulate her on landing a position at California State University. Local authors Cheryl Strayed, Justin Tussing, and Matt Briggs were also there, waiting to go to the Emerging Voices panel.

As we were both waiting for our International Fiction panel to be announced, Thrity Umrigar and I had an animated conversation about book reviewing, teaching, and writing. Thrity had reviewed my book for the Boston Globe (and, fortunately for me, she’d liked it.) The reading went well, and we had some great questions about how our books were received here in the U.S. as opposed to our native countries, whether we think of a specific audience while writing, and how we identify ourselves. Later, during the book signing, I was seated next to Nigerian author Chikodi Anunobi, whose work I was not familiar with, and so we talked about Nigerian literature for a little bit before Alex and I had to go look for some lunch.

As I was getting coffee, I bumped into Whitney Otto, who was holding an ice pack against the back of her head. “What happened?” I shrieked. She said she’d knocked her head somehow, but now she was feeling fine, and was looking forward to attending Karen Karbo’s reading. I also had a discussion with Marc Acito about comedy writing–Acito himself is very funny, though he says he doesn’t think he’s being funny most of the time, he’s just being candid; people find that amusing.

Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures from my panel with Erin Ergenbright, during which we each read our contributions to The May Queen anthology . Alex, who had the camera, noticed that I was reading at the same time as Andrew Sean Greer. “Andy’s reading!” he said. “See ya!” So here’s Andy, answering questions about The Confessions of Max Tivoli. (No, I imagine him saying, that syndrome about reverse aging doesn’t exist. I made it up.) I can’t wait for his next book.

Let’s see. What else happened? I watched Joyce Carol Oates come and go in the green room and on the festival floor, without mustering the nerve to talk to her. What do you say to someone like her? Hello, Ms. Oates, I love your work? What if she’d said, Take a number, sister.? Nor could I manage to talk to Colson Whitehead, whether before his talk or at the evening party. Again, I say, what can one ask?

The larger stages, which were set up inside the convention floor, remained sparsely attended in the early hours of the day. (No doubt this is because the weather was lovely. This is Portland: When it’s not raining, people go out.) But the turnout got bigger as the day wore on and as the stars came out. Edward Hirsch and Vern Rutsala packed the Mountain Writers Stage, for instance. There was a huge crowd at the “Writing About Iraq” panel, although, tellingly, not a single Iraqi was on the bill. But by far the most popular reading was Dave Eggers’s. Here’s a picture of him as he’s about to go on the Powell’s stage.

I skipped Sunday’s events in favor of Chapter Five of my novel. But you can read more about Wordstock over at the Oregonian, where Jeff Baker delivers the goods, and don’t forget to swing by the Powell’s blog.