Portland, OR has long been considered a beacon for the printed word. While it doesn’t have the publishing powerhouses of New York and Chicago, Portland still boasts a highly active literary scene, anchored by the country’s largest independent bookstore, Powell’s City of Books. Let’s take a closer look at the city that The Atlantic ranked one of the Top 20 Best-Read Cities in America.
Here’s a list of five authors who call (or have called) Portland home, along with a recommended diving-in point for those unfamiliar with their work.
As a writer who has graduated from bartender to full-time novelist, DeWitt serves as an inspiration to working class writers who dream of no longer toiling away at their day (or night) job. With the success of his second novel, The Sisters Brothers, which was adapted into a film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and John C. Reilly as the titular duo, DeWitt now makes his living penning novels and screenplays while calling Portland his home.
Here’s a look into his writing space.
Recommended reading: Although The Sisters Brothers is his claim to fame, largely due to its film adaptation, his more recent work, French Exit, is an absolute must-read. Funny, engaging, and just the right amount of heartbreaking, this novel has also been pegged for a big screen adaptation. It’s set to debut at NY Film Festival this October.
For literary-inclined fans of 80s hair metal and/or Midwest memoirs, Klosterman needs no introduction. For those uninitiated, Klosterman broke into the mainstream in 2003 with the release of his essay collection, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. With that, he went from obscure newspaper bylines to the bookshelves of retail giants such as Urban Outfitters.
So, what does Klosterman enjoy about being a writer in Portland? In an interview with BizJournals, Klosterman said, “Here I feel like I can actually be by myself and daydream and be separate from the world. The other thing that is great is it rains for half the year, and I like writing when it’s raining. I like the sound of the rain on my little office.”
Here’s a look at his home office (rain sounds not included).
Recommended reading: Klosterman is known primarily for non-fiction essays, and his collection Eating The Dinosaur is often overlooked in favor of his more popular releases. However, Dinosaur is Klosterman at his best, chock-full of pop culture analysis and witty asides. Plus, this collection includes “Oh, the Guilt”, an essay which discusses the similarities between Nirvana’s “In Utero” and the infamous Waco siege of 1993. Does it get any more Klosterman than that?
A staple of contemporary Oregon literature, Molly Gloss’s books are commonly found in local bookstores with a Oregon-shaped “Local Author!” sticker attached to their covers. Her novels, usually set in Oregon and always concerning the outdoors, are a great way for those who have never visited the area to experience the particular vibe which radiates from every corner of the Pacific Northwest forests.
Here’s a look at Molly’s writing space.
Recommended reading: A finalist for the Hugo Award, her short story “Lambing Season” is a great introduction to Gloss’s work. Check it out here.
Mitchell S. Jackson
A Portland native, Mitchell S. Jackson began his writing career as a grad student at Portland State. Since the success of his debut novel, The Residue Years, he’s become a writer whose work is hard to ignore. His essays can be found in the New York Times, Esquire, and Harper’s.
Here’s a look at his writing space. (OK, fine, just his bookshelf.)
Recommended reading: Jackson’s aforementioned debut novel, The Residue Years, is an honest look at growing up Black in Portland, a city which many consider to be America’s whitest. While the Black experience is criminally underrepresented in Portland literature, The Residue Years is a powerful step in the right direction.
Ursula K. Le Guin
Perhaps Portland’s most famous writer, Le Guin began publishing her work in 1959 and continued until her death in 2018. As an author of mostly Fantasy and Sci-Fi, the mark she left on the respective genres is difficult to summarize. The Library of Congress did so by recognizing her as a Living Legend in 2000, so maybe we’ll just go with that.
Here’s a look at Le Guin in her element.
Recommended reading: If you’re wanting to experience the broad spectrum of Le Guin’s work, her collection of short stories, The Real and the Unreal, is a great place to start. As the title suggests, this collection, which is usually sold in two separate volumes, includes stories from many genres: sci-fi, fantasy, and realist. I’d recommend the second volume because it includes one of her more celebrated stories, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, which is sure to leave the reader with a creepily beautiful aftertaste. Oregon fun fact: the titular city gets its name from a time Le Guin saw a road sign for Salem, OR in her car mirror. Inspiration truly can strike anywhere!
Feature image via Unsplash