Wordstock: Like Comic-Con, But With Actual Books

Geek Culture

Wordstock 2009 - photo provided by Wordstock, used with permission.Wordstock 2009 - photo provided by Wordstock, used with permission.

Wordstock Book Fair 2009 – photo provided by Wordstock, used with permission.

Wordstock LogoWordstock LogoYears ago when I lived in Portland, there was this event that started up called Wordstock. It was like a big book fair, with lots of writers and publishers gathering in the convention center for readings and other book-related activities. It’s like Comic-Con (well, a bit smaller) except that it’s still focused on books and hasn’t been invaded by Hollywood. I was delighted to find out that it’s coming up again, and I’ll be in town for it.

Executive Director Greg Netzer took some time to answer a few questions about Wordstock.

GeekDad: For those who haven’t ever heard of Wordstock, what is it, in a nutshell?

Greg Netzer: The Wordstock Festival is the largest book and literary celebration in the Pacific Northwest, and one of the biggest in the US. It is a multi-day, multi-event festival that is all about books, writers, and storytelling. The biggest single event in the festival is the Wordstock Book Fair, which will take place the weekend of October 8-9 in Portland, Oregon. We’ll have 175 writers from around the world, 7 performance stages, 24 writers’ workshops, and 125 exhibitors on hand. It’s like a combination performance festival/literary conference/trade show.

GD: I’d mostly thought of Wordstock as the festival. What are some of the surrounding events that book-lovers won’t want to miss?

GN: Many of the events preceding the book fair are hosted by other literary organizations in Portland. As a community we try to use it as our big annual opportunity to showcase the incredible depth and variety of literary activity here. But if there’s a single event prior to the book fair not to miss, it is our opening night event on Thursday, October 6 — a documentary called “To Be Heard,” which follows three NYC teenagers through high school through the lens of their participation in a writing program that focuses on slam poetry. It’s the best example I’ve ever seen of how writing can change a life.

GD: How did Wordstock get started?

GN: The organization Wordstock began as a professional development program for K-12 teachers, and over time, we came to believe that the best way to showcase the importance of writing in the lives of every day people like us was to find a way to celebrate it on a large scale. From that idea, the festival was born.

Wordstock Book Fair 2009 - photo provided by Wordstock, used with permission.Wordstock Book Fair 2009 - photo provided by Wordstock, used with permission.

Wordstock Book Fair 2009 – photo provided by Wordstock, used with permission.

GD: Tell us a little bit about this year’s theme, “America is a story that never ends.”

GN: Every year when we curate the festival, we find a couple of literary niches to pay extra attention to — mystery, science fiction, graphic novels, food writing, etc. This year, no such niches were appearing among the many writers and books we considered, but we did see a similarity in the ways many of these writers talked about their journeys and experiences in America. That emerged as an overarching theme, and we’re thrilled with the many different experiences we’ll be able to showcase this year, where you can hear about oil spills, rock music, war, migration, labor movements, Islam, nature, censorship, food, children’s books, and the beauty of the Spanish language.

GD: What has been your favorite part of Wordstock in previous years? What are you looking forward to this year?

GN: My favorite part has always been the opening night celebration, which is different every year, so I’m looking forward to “To Be Heard.” But the thing I’m most excited about this year is the appearance of Jennifer Egan, the winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I’m the lucky person who gets to interview her onstage, and I’m really looking forward to that conversation.

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