Why read books by women? A quote from famed Portland novelist Ursula K. Le Guin says it all: “We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”
Ursula K. Le Guin
You needn’t be be a fantasy buff to recognize the name and novels of Portland’s own Ursula K. Le Guin (1929–2018). Described by The New York Times as “America’s greatest living science fiction writer,” Le Guin moved here in 1959 and wrote some of the genre’s most celebrated works. Her novels include the beloved A Wizard of Earthsea, The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness. (For an extra treat, listen to Le Guin’s 2010 joint talk with Margaret Atwood at Portland’s Literary Arts lecture series.)
You’ve almost definitely seen a copy of Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir chronicling her 1,100-mile (1,770 km) hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). This Oprah Book Club pick (adapted into a film in 2014) has inspired thousands of readers to hike the PCT. The book ends with Strayed settling in Portland, where she still resides. Not that outdoorsy? Try Strayed’s self-help book Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. The collection of advice columns was recently adapted for the stage and is in development as an HBO series. And Strayed still shares her wisdom along with co-host Steve Almond on Dear Sugar Radio, a weekly podcast.
One of America’s most successful living authors, 100-year-old librarian Beverly Cleary is beloved by children worldwide for her Ramona series. The stories span five decades and includes the titles Beezus and Ramona and Ramona the Pest. Like the fictional Ramona, Cleary grew up in Portland. Fans can visit the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden on Northeast Klickitat Street (yes, it’s a real street!) to find statues of Ramona, Henry and Ribsy.
Abigail Scott Duniway
Born in 1834, Abigail Scott Duniway traveled with her family along the storied Oregon Trail. She went on to found The New Northwest, a weekly Portland newspaper dedicated to women’s rights. Track down collections of her pioneering essays, which chronicle both her westward journey and her crusades for suffrage, at Portland libraries and bookstores. (Fun fact: A downtown hotel will be renamed to honor Duniway in 2017.)
Portland native Katherine Dunn (1945–2016) was best known for her 1989 novel Geek Love. A National Book Award finalist, it tells the story of a traveling carnival populated by genetically mutated siblings (eek!). Dunn came up with the idea while wandering through the Washington Park Rose Garden (now the International Rose Test Garden). Why not grab a copy and read among the flowers? Dunn also wrote extensively about boxing and took up the sport herself in her 40s. One Ring Circus: Dispatches from the World of Boxing collects her essays on the subject.
An enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Elizabeth Woody became Oregon’s first Native American poet laureate in 2016. Find her rich, evocative poetry in the collections Seven Hands, Seven Hearts and Hand into Stone. (Another fun fact: Woody also illustrated the poetry collection Old Shirts & New Skins by Sherman Alexie, another prominent Northwest Native American author.)
Hilarious Portlander (and New York Times bestseller) Chelsea Cain has written more than a dozen books spanning many genres. Cain also pens stacks of columns for alt-weekly The Portland Mercury and daily newspaper The Oregonian. Try her gory Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell thriller series, her defiantly feminist Mockingbird comics or her silly Hippie Handbook.