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Wordstock 2015 Recap

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This weekend I attended the newly relaunched Wordstock, a book festival in Portland, Oregon, now run by Literary Arts. The one-day event was held at the Portland Art Museum, and it was very well-attended.

I got there before the talks started and stopped by the book fair, though it took me a little while to find it, tucked away on the third floor of the Mark Building. Various publishers and literary organizations had booths there, along with a Powell’s Books storefront selling many of the titles by authors appearing at the festival. The stage was used for book signings. It was a nice space overall but felt a little cramped, particularly when there were lines for Powell’s or book signings, because those just ran into the aisles between booths. I saw a few familiar names from past Wordstock festivals.

Wordstock letterpress
The IPRC and Wheelhouse Press had a great letterpress demo. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

One particularly fun activity was the letterpress demo out in the lobby of the book fair, run by the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) and Wheelhouse Press. It was set up with the Wordstock chair made out of words, and you got to ink it, load the paper, and pull the roller across the type to make this mini poster.

My kids each got to try it as well. I asked about how the chair shape was made: there’s a wood frame for the type that was hand-cut, and then the individual letters were typeset by hand, squeezed in to fill the shape and hold them in place.

Wordstock print
My print, made on a letterpress. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The result is pretty great. I love seeing things made on a letterpress and I’m thinking maybe I’ll need to take a trip to the IPRC sometime to learn some more about it.

Wordstock photo booth
My kids clown around in the photo booth; our photo strip. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

There was also a photo booth with the iconic red chair–you got to dress up with various props, and the photographer snapped three photos and printed them out on a bookmark.

Simon Winchester
Simon Winchester speaks with Geoff Norcross about his new book, ‘Pacific.’ Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The first talk I went to was at the Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) Stage: host Geoff Norcross interviewed Simon Winchester, author of countless books but most recently Pacific. It was fascinating–Winchester examines the Pacific Ocean from several different angles. For instance, I learned that carbon dating was affected in the 1950s by all the nuclear tests done in the Pacific, which released a lot of carbon-14 into the atmosphere. Winchester also talked about surfing, and how the movie Gidget is largely responsible for the spread of surfing across the United States. Oh, and at one point Norcross asked Winchester about the subtitle of the book. In the US, the subtitle is: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers. Quite a mouthful. In the UK and Australia, the subtitle is Winchester’s more succinct title, The Ocean of the Future. Why? Well, apparently it has something to do with American publishers and SEO.

My kids joined me for Wordstock after that, and we went to hear Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri give a reading of their new picture book Robo-Sauce. It’s a pretty hilarious book about a kid who turns into a robot (thanks to the robo-sauce) and then starts shooting everything else with robo-sauce. The highlight is when the book itself transforms into a Robo-Book, thanks to a fancy fold-out book jacket.

Salmieri and Rubin
Dan Salmieri (left) and Adam Rubin reveal the monster kids helped create: Gluuuu Tokyo Stinky Pizza. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

After the reading, they also demonstrated collaboration by having the kids pick what various parts of a monster were made of, while Salmieri drew according to their specifications. And then they turned singer Emily Arrow into a robot with their real-life Robo-Sauce.

I tried getting back to the OPB Stage because I knew Ursula K. Le Guin would be there for State of Wonder, but the room was packed–apparently you had to be in line at least an hour ahead of time to get in. So instead I took my kids up to see the book fair, and then we had lunch.

Maile Meloy
Maile Meloy answers audience questions about her books. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

After lunch we got to hear Maile Meloy share a little about her Apothecary trilogy. I interviewed her several years ago at Wordstock after reading the first book in the trilogy, The Apothecary. It was fun to hear a little bit about the final book, The After-Room, and some more about her writing process. She showed us the book trailer for the new book, and answered a lot of questions from the audience.

The Apothecary series is set in post-war London and involves some kids who are able to do mix some magical concoctions thanks to a book called the Pharmacopoeia, and they get into all sorts of adventures. I highly recommend it–and will be looking up the third book myself.

Jonathan Hill
Jonathan Hill leads a comics workshop for middle schoolers. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Finally, my oldest daughter attended a comics workshop for middle grade kids taught by Jonathan Hill–whom I also interviewed at Wordstock in 2011. Hill teaches comics to teens and college students, and his lesson this weekend was about pacing, editing, and timing. He handed out small notecards to the kids, and had them draw four different frames (one per card): a character walking down the street, the character seeing a box, the character opening the box, and the character screaming at what’s in the box–all without showing what’s actually in the box. Then he had them add two more frames to the story, but these two frames could go anywhere in the line, to see how the story changes depending on where you insert frames. He also had them think about how many frames they could remove and still communicate the story. It was a cool demonstration of how the pace of the story changes depending on what details you choose to show.

Comics Workshop
My daughter works on a comic at Jonathan Hill’s workshop. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

That, unfortunately, was all I was able to attend on Saturday due to some other family engagements, but we had a good time. I know there were also some kick-off events on Friday night, plus a “Lit Crawl” after the festival held at various venues. This year’s festival felt a bit more intimate than those in the past, and there were pros and cons about that.

Wordstock OPB Stage
The OPB Stage (seen here before the talks started) was in a big ballroom, surrounded by sculptures. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

It was a drizzly day on Saturday, and, with events held in three buildings, that meant a lot of splashing back and forth between venues. The rooms were certainly much nicer than being in the huge convention center–in particular, the stages were all totally separate from each other. In previous years, there were several stages set up in the main hall, which meant a lot of noise spilling over from other stages. However, it seemed to me that the museum, especially the Mark Building, where the largest stage was located, was not designed to handle huge crowds entering and exiting at the same time. There were frequent bottlenecks at the one set of double doors, with very few people using the exit-only doors to the side.

Portland Art Museum
My kids admire some artwork in the Portland Art Museum between events. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

In the morning when there were people in line to pick up their wristbands, it wasn’t clear that those who already had wristbands could go straight up to the doors and enter rather than waiting in the same line (in the rain). Also, having things on multiple floors made it a challenge to get from one event to another, and I know there were people who had a hard time figuring out where things were. In the future, I’d recommend better signage to control the traffic flow, and maybe some more buffer time in between events so that people who wanted to go from one stage to another would have time for that.

Overall, I’m glad Wordstock is back, and I hope next year I can spend a little more time prepping ahead of time so I can participate more fully.

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