Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Literary Arts

Portland is probably the most literary city I’ve ever lived in. Literary Arts have done their fair share in “enriching the lives of Oregonians through language and literature” since 1984. At first, the Collins Gallery exhibit at Central Library focusing on the organization’s contributions seemed kind of boring to me but as I looked around and found out more of what they were about, it ended up being quite fascinating.

There were books by, pictures of, and correspondences from authors who have participated in the company’s various programs or won their Oregon Book Awards. The letters were fun to read, especially the ones in which the writer would explain for whatever reason why he or she was turning down the invitation to take part in the Portland Arts & Lectures series of talks and readings. It just seemed to prove how immensely guarded and private some writers are. One of the more famous rejection letters came from science fiction writer Isaac Asimov and, during the exhibit reception, the executive director of Literary Arts shared that a more recent rejection was from Barbara Kingsolver who was the most asked for author. On the flip side, there were also letters by those who’ve enjoyed participating in the program. Matt Groening, of "The Simpsons" fame and Portland native, even donated back his speaker’s fee to them. The curator also explained there were even some meanly written letters by authors who just refused to come at all, ever, but he decided not to put those in display.

I liked seeing how Literary Arts have promoted literature and encouraged interactions between the writers and readers. There were examples of Poetry in Motion cards, which I’ve seen and read while riding public transportation. Writers in the Schools (or WITS) was a fairly recent program they’ve started in which they bring a professional writer to a high school and for one semester would teach creative writing to the students. Literary Arts also offers grants and fellowships to writers. In the panel discussion following the reception, one of the panelists (which included famous local author Ursula K. Le Guin and the owner of Powell’s, Michael Powell) told a story of how one writer used the money he was given to fix a leaky roof over his writing desk. I think it’s small simple acts like those that sometimes make the difference. Other topics included a short history of Literary Arts, their impact in the community and cultural landscape, and future plans and programs.

The audience seemed highly educated for the most part. But the refreshments of wraps, fruits and vegetables, cheese and crackers, cookies, coffee, and lemonade also attracted freeloaders and homeless people. One such person actually stationed herself by the food during the reception and then another one attended the panel discussion only to snore through the whole thing. Overall, though, the event was attended by people who were appreciative of Literary Arts and everything they’ve done to make Portland a city of readers.

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