It was a rainy afternoon downtown at the Portland Art Museum, the air filled with the smell of food trucks and the space alive with chatter. Bookworms from all walks of life gathered beneath a white tent to listen to authors talk about their latest works. Beyond the tent, Portlanders walked between neighboring venues and attended readings, discussions, workshops and exhibits.
Sophomore Dezi Moulton, one of 13 student attendees, emphasized the value of the festival as a coming together of diverse individuals around art and literature.
“There's so many different types of people here and so much celebration of identities and individuality, as well as a togetherness that I just think is really brought out with festivals like this,” Moulton said.
The Portland Book Festival — the largest of its kind in the Northwest — was held in-person after the pandemic had forced it online in recent years. UP students were invited to attend by the English department, which distributes free wristbands each year to many English majors.
The festival was advertised as an opportunity for students to hear from their favorite authors and to discover new writers. Moulton was able to hear from one of his favorite authors, Casey McQuiston.
“She [McQuinton] and a co-author were talking about a new project that they had going on,” Moulton said. “It was pretty fun. And after that, I got to meet both of them and get book signings.”
When Moulton had gone to the festival in years past, he’d heard from celebrated authors like Laurie Halse Anderson — who authored the famous novel, “Speak” — and engaged in creative writing workshops.
Like Moulton, sophomore Tait Vigeland, a returning festival-goer, enjoyed the variety of experiences there. Vigeland mentioned seeing art exhibits, food vendors, book sales and much more.
“It's very interactive,” Vigeland said. “Whatever purpose you come for, you can walk away with something else.”
As an art-lover, Vigeland spent time in the Portland Art Museum where many festival events were hosted, and she also bought a book from Portland author Mitchell Jackson.
While the opportunities at the festival vary, so do the reasons for why students might consider attending if they haven’t already.
Moulton, a commuter student, talked about how the festival allows students who don’t spend much time on campus to connect through a mutual interest in literature.
“I've found that events like that have really helped me build friendships,” Moulton said.
English Chair Lars Larson, who’s been going to the festival for years, said similar things about its broader cultural and community significance. For him, not only is the festival about people themselves coming together, but their ideas and creativity as well.
“It's reconnecting us with ideas and history and difference and I don't see many institutions that foster it.”
Larson, who was one of four faculty members who went this year, believes that, for a low cost, what students get to experience has an outsize impact.
“Its contribution is profound in the sense that it's an annual banquet of literary ideas for everyone … to see that storytelling is a living, breathing thing that can connect us with each other,” Larson said.
It’s evident that there are numerous reasons to attend the festival, from buying books and hearing authors to being a part of the exchange of culture and ideas. English students can look forward to the yearly email informing them about the festival and the department’s free wristband supply — and they might soon find themselves returning guests.
Riley Martinez is a reporter for The Beacon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org