Monday, November 24, 2008

The last word on Wordstock.


Night of Literary Feasts: A wonderful idea for any festival, and hosted by the fabulous Larry Colton, this was a very relaxed party out at a vineyard half an hour's drive from the city on the Friday night. We dined and supped on delicious food and wine and then sat down for a panel with Kim Barnes, William Ketteridge, Ann Packer and Selden Edwards. We sat there while Larry asked us some informal questions which produced some wonderful anecdotes from my illustrious companions.

Saturday: My talk with Dave Boling, author of Guernica. Dave was utterly charming and a great speaker, and when the small but very receptive audience was a bit hesitant about asking questions in the end, he drawled "Oh, come aaahhhhn!" The whole event was held in a large expo space at the Portland Convention Centre, with exhibitors and bookstores as well as different stages, so several events took place at once. Visitors paid $5 to get for the whole day and could drift from session to session. I have never seen it done this way but it seeemed to work brilliantly. There were thousands of book-lovers throughout the day and the buzz was fantastic, with people wandering around clutching book bags, reading programmes, browsing stands and listening to authors.

To get an idea of what it looked like, here is a photo I took from the stage as my First Novels panel on Sunday was starting. By the end of the hour, all the seats were full and people were standing in the aisles. You can see activity going on behind the audience, but this doesn't really give you an idea of the scale of things as it shows only a sliver of the convention centre.

It''s...LIVE WIRE!: I was very lucky to get a ticket (thanks Greg!) to Live Wire ("Variety for the ears. Vaudeville for the mind"), the live taping of a radio show at the very cool Aladdin Theatre, an old vaudeville theatre in SE Portland. Think Prairie Home Companion crossed with The Daily Show. I finally got my dancing-in-the-streets moment when they were warming up the audience and asked: "How do we feel about the election results?" and hundreds of people screamed and roared and cheered and it was one of the most elating experiences I have ever had. Truly a highlight, up there with "Ding dong the wicked witch is dead". Over the next couple of hours I was treated to a great show - sharp, funny, entertaining - and was witness to some unexpected pleasures, such as: hearing cartoonist extraordinaire Lynda Barry in conversation with graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel; "humorist, former literary agent, and minor television celebrity" John Hodgman, along with his troubador sidekick Jonathan Coulton, and another helping of the wonderful Anis Mojgani. For more information and to actually hear the event itself, go to In the meantime, here's a taste:

Sunday: A great First Novels panel with Selden Edwards and Randa Jarrar. Another highlight of the festival was meeting Selden and his lovely wife Gaby, whom I have now adopted as my American mom and pop. Selden spent 34 years writing The Little Book (nearly my whole life, I pointed out to him, and he took it with good grace), which has now become one of the big books of the year worldwide, so Selden is the poster boy for perseverence and patience. And his success couldn't have happened to a nicer man.

I finished the festival fairly exhausted back in my hotel room with Randa, drinking wine and gossiping. It is so nice when you meet strangers that you feel so comfortable with when you're both so far from home.

Random Thoughts:

# Portland has only 800,000 people and yet they can sell out a 600-seat theatre for a poetry slam on the same night that a poetry reading attracts 1200 people. I would therefore like to think that somewhere like Auckland can make just such an effort the next time its festival is on.

# I had dinner with an old friend of my mother's who told me that as a self-employed artist, her health insurance costs her $US400 per month and she still has to pay the first $5000 of any medical treatment she gets. Therefore, the insurance is basically not health insurance, but bankruptcy insurance. It makes me glad to be living in a country with more socialist leanings (I was glad anyway of course, it just made me realise even more how lucky we are. I shudder to think what will happen in the future).

# Because many of the 180 or so authors involved in the festival are not well-known in New Zealand, and because there were so many of them, I didn't know where to start. I had to let fate lead me where it may. I wish I could have been in many more places at once and taken the time to hear more authors, but most of the ones I did see were very nice suprises.

# It was great to catch up again with Mark Sarvas, he of The Elegant Variation, who I met in Christchurch, but our schedules clashed somewhat and we didn't see each other speak or get to hang out as much as we would have liked.

#Portland rocks - the place, the people. Everyone I spoke to loves their city with a passion and feels that they live on an island of sanity in an otherwise crazy world. I will definitely be returning.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing all this Rachael, next best thing to being there. What wonderful experiences you have had.

Tomatohead said...

Yep, cheers for the thoughts on PDX. It is a neat, neat town, even if the sun doesn't like to shine there much. Wordstock sounds so neat! One day, when our sprog can come with or be left with a grandparent, we'll be there!

If the town is good enough for the Mint Chicks.....

Anonymous said...

I'm thrilled you had such a great time in Portland, Rachael. You're welcome back whenever you'd like to come!

Vanda Symon said...

It sounds like you had a fabulous time away. Have you come back energised and rearing to go, or whistful and a bit lost?

I would never have considered as a Portland a destination before. It sounds like a great place.