by Molly MacGilbert, Development & Marketing Intern, Portland State University student
While the past year has presented challenges for the arts and for nonprofits, it has urged us to reflect upon why our work here at Literary Arts is as crucial as ever. This year, our stats show that literature is not dying out; in fact, our literary community is only growing and expanding further. Literary Arts is proud to serve as a platform for the voices of our community to be found, shared, and celebrated.
“Literary Arts is a model of community responsiveness that generates true intellectual excitement.”
— Louise Erdrich, National Book Award winner and Portland Arts & Lectures 16-17 visiting author
Erdrich talks with students and community members at the Native American Youth and Family Center before her Portland Arts & Lectures event.
We aim to engage readers by bringing some of the most powerful voices of the modern age to our city to share a range of ideas, experiences, and findings that provoke passionate conversations on momentous topics.
The 2016-2017 season of Portland Arts and Lectures began with National Book Award winner Louise Erdrich who, along with her lecture at the concert hall, visited the Native American Youth and Family Center to discuss her visions of justice. The season came to a close with Siddhartha Mukherjee, whose most recent work The Gene: An Intimate History explores the exciting past, present, and future of the genetic field.
In March, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Matthew Desmond gave a lecture on his timely book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, which discusses homelessness and the housing crisis, a topic that resonated with an audience of over 2,000 at the Multnomah County Library downtown. In November, Wordstock: Portland’s Book Festival spread through various venues surrounding the Southwest Park Blocks to welcome over 175 local and national writers. 2016 Wordstock Author Diana Abu-Jaber described the festival as “a glorious, daylong reminder that books really matter.” Passionate readers engaged more intimately with important books at our Delve readers seminars. On Oregon Public Broadcasting Radio and online, our third season of The Archive Project inspired 15,000 monthly listeners with free recordings of lectures, readings, and our Verselandia! Youth Poetry Slam.
“…To look at the long, illustrious list of previous [Oregon Book Award] winners… [is] to know that your work and your words are now part of the literary heritage of Oregon and the Northwest.”
— Joe Wilkins, 2017 winner of the Stafford/Hall Award in Poetry
We work to help individuals of all ages and backgrounds find their own unique voice, to encourage them to let these voices be heard, and to provide opportunities for a diverse range of voices to come together to support and inspire one another.
The Oregon Book Awards and Fellowships highlight the diversity of Oregonian perceptions and experiences. We celebrated 32 awards finalists this year and awarded 11 fellowships of $3,500 each. Beyond the out-of=state selection process and awards ceremony in Portland, OBA authors visited public schools, libraries, community centers, and theaters throughout Oregon to engage readers statewide.
This year, our downtown community space continued to serve as home to writing classes that welcomed students from all backgrounds and experience levels, and to our free or low-cost @LiteraryArts events including the woman-led Unchaste Readers Series, Incite: Queer Writers Read, and PDX Jazz events that emphasized the exciting connection between music, culture, and literature.
“We need stories to inspire empathy, and we need empathy so badly right now.”
— Cleveland High School student
Our Youth Programs focus on inspiring the next generation of voices and thinkers.
In the classroom, our Writers in the Schools Residencies connected 23 professional writers with 1,085 public high school students this year. Author visits brought accomplished authors to talk in Portland Public Schools. including Pulitzer-Prize winning author Colum McCann, who visited Madison High School in February to speak about his philosophy of radical empathy. We hope to steer students towards their brightest futures with the College Essay Mentoring Project, which guided 233 students this year in writing college application essays and scholarship applications.
Beyond the classroom, we encourage young writers to share their work at student readings and our Verselandia! City-Wide Youth Poetry Slam, which had its largest audience to date this year. The Students to the Schnitz program brought 1,193 students to lecture events this season at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. These students are full of the enthusiasm and passion that will form the future of literature.
Beyond our own efforts to support and strengthen our community, we are reminded of the importance of literature overall. Writers and readers, no matter their age or background, can find common ground in the entertainment, intrigue, and emotional impact literature provides. The vocalization of modern struggles and sharing of diverse viewpoints proves to be a powerful antidote to oppression, which is why literature in its various forms continues to serve as a powerful medium for uniting communities and shaping the future. As we move forward, Literary Arts will continue to work to amplify the voices of our community, to emphasize the power of literature, and to help everyone find their story.