When 8,500 people descended on the Portland Art Museum for the revived Portland Book Festival (formerly “Wordstock”) in 2015, the message to its new organizer, Literary Arts, was clear: Portlanders love to get their read on, and this festival — missing in action for more than two years — had not been forgotten.
Founded in 2005 by local writer Larry Colton and renamed in 2018, the annual festival always featured an impressive lineup of local and national authors and a book fair. But its original incarnation, held at the expansive Oregon Convention Center through–2013, wasn’t quite the “metaphorical public square” that Literary Arts Executive Director Andrew Proctor, the festival’s new leader, had in mind.
Enter the Portland Art Museum. As the festival’s rebooted primary venue, the museum provides a backdrop for art, history and culture to merge with conversation, books and ideas. (Other venues include the nearby Oregon Historical Society, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Winningstad theater, First Congregational Church, Northwest Film Center and The Old Church.) With Literary Arts at the helm, the festival is now condensed into a robust one-day event (with partner events, including a “Lit Crawl,” taking place throughout the weekend). The fest is packed with on-stage author conversations, interviews, panels, interactive Q + A’s, pop-up readings in galleries, teaching workshops, kids’ story times, live music, an expanded book fair and — in true Portland fashion — food trucks parked outside.
In short, Portland Book Festival’s new iteration celebrates contemporary literature in a way that feels, well, contemporary.
“When you think of Portland’s profile, it’s a cool town with great food and wine and people who love to read and are serious about the arts,” says Proctor. “The idea that you can have a festival of books and ideas that’s incredibly fun to be at, all distilled into downtown with a huge book fair and an entire museum, for [the ticket price of] $15 — this is something that could only happen in Portland.”