Highlights from the Portland Book Festival

Highlights from the Portland Book Festival

“Books are incredible because they can take us to places we’ve never been and they can introduce us to characters that we’ve never seen,” said Executive Director of Literary Arts, Andrew Proctor. “In short, books can give us a glimpse into what’s possible.” 

Since 2005, the city of Portland has held the Portland Book Festival in downtown Portland. Previously called, “Wordstock,” the festival celebrates all kinds of authors, readers, and writers. The festival is simply for anyone that likes books. 

This year, more than 100 authors presented at the festival. Of those authors, over 40 percent identify as having racially, ethnically, or culturally diverse backgrounds and another 40 percent are from the Pacific Northwest. Wow! With all of these events throughout the day, it is difficult to make it through even a solid portion of them. In that case, here are the top four events from this year’s Portland Book Festival.

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is a five-time New York Times bestselling author. His newest novel, Talking to Strangers, seeks to explain what happens when we encounter someone new and what it says about us. Gladwell’s overall relaxed, down-to-earth demeanor kept the audience actively engaged as he shared his love for humanity and his hopes for the future. During his discussion with Andrew Proctor, serving as moderator, Gladwell discussed his fascination with memoirs of retired mid-level government bureaucrats, his obsession with moving people to tears, how we display our emotions and how that affects others, the problems with the police code in the United States, the theory of truth default, and his absolute love and adoration for his late father. In answering an audience question about how we can get better at talking to strangers, Gladwell encourages us to “Leave your comfortable world…the most important thing we can do, particularly when you’re young, is to go somewhere else.” 

Ambassador Susan Rice

As former National Security Advisor under the Obama administration, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during President Bill Clinton‘s second term, as well as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013, Ambassador Susan Rice has her fair share of stories to tell. In her memoir, Tough Love: My Stories of the Things Worth Writing For, Rice expresses some of the best of times and some of the worst of times as one of the nation’s largest decision makers. During her discussion, Rice expresses how she learned at a young age to “not take any crap.” This knowledge that, as she puts it, “resilience matters” pushed her to write her memoir in which she addresses the backlash of Benghazi and how it affected her and her family. 

Tim O’Brien

Most well known for his novels regarding Vietnam, such as The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien is a well loved author. His newest novel, Dad’s Maybe Book, strays away from his traditional subject to talk about his sons instead. At 73, O’Brien is a rather older father to 16 and 14 year old sons. His novel covers this very subject as he delves into his own mortality. He opens the novel with a letter he wrote to his oldest son, Timmy, 16 months after his birth. During his talk, O’Brien tells the story of finding out his mother had died when he was on holiday with his family in the south of France. His kids didn’t say much at the time and neither did he. Later that evening he asked Timmy if he was thinking about Grandma. Timmy turned and said, “No. I’m thinking about you thinking about Grandma.” He shares how proud he was of his son that day. O’Brien’s talk left audience members in tears, wanting more of his heartfelt expressions found in his novel. 

Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is a well beloved young adult (YA) author of novels such as Eleanor & Park, Fangirl, and Carry On. Despite it being one of the last events of the festival, the room was packed with YA readers for Rowell’s conversation about her latest book, Wayward Son, a sequel to Carry On. A sequel, which, she says she didn’t plan on writing. However, she’s always been fascinated by the genre of fantasy so she just keeps writing. Rowell joked about how when she gets stuck with the mechanics of how certain things work she just has to remind herself that it’s all make believe. “Oh yeah! Dragons don’t exist!” said Rowell. “I can do what I want!” Her warm, inviting nature engaged audience members throughout the discussion as she closed out the festival on a fun note. 


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