This past weekend Todd and I traveled to Manzanita, on the northern Oregon coast, as part of the Oregon Book Awards tour. I arrived early at the Hoffman Center in Manzanita and met Susan Denning, the Literary Arts program director. We shook hands, then hugged—how could I do anything but embrace this woman whose name I will forever associate with the best email I received all year? My friends Lynn and Colleen from my Newberg writing group arrived—familiar faces from home! I spotted one of the other authors, K.B. Hixon, who introduced himself as Ken and pulled his wife Sandy over to meet me, too. I shook hands with the third reader, Emily Chenoweth, just before we took the stage together, and I was first to read.
The spotlights were bright and hot (just like my theater days in college—I’d forgotten!), so I scanned the room and smiled and pretended to make eye contact as I gazed blindly out toward the house in between paragraphs. I was surprised how easily I was able to look up from the page as I read; these words and cadences came from my heart when I wrote them five years ago, and I have many phrases memorized simply because they are mine. Ken read after me, a wonderfully fragmented excerpt from his novel, A Painter’s Life, which is constructed like a scrapbook, like the linguistic equivalent of an artist’s studio, like stepping for a moment into the workings of a painter’s mind. Oh—and Ken's book is really, really funny.
And then Emily Chenoweth got up to read. Emily, who not long before the reading was carrying her infant daughter in a front carrier, read a chapter from her novel about a dying woman and her young daughter, Hello, Goodbye. The mother, grown frail from cancer, wonders how she’d ever hated her wide thighs that bore her up so faithfully, how she had neglected to worship her own strong body while she had it. All I could think as I listened was, I must read this book.
Local and visiting writers were then invited for an open mic. Lynn read—wonderful stuff—three poems I knew and one I didn’t. Lynn slipped out without hearing what I heard during conversations after the event: Who was that visiting poet? I hope she comes back. I really enjoyed her reading—does anyone know who she is? I half expected to find Lynn’s glass slipper outside the Hoffman Center when we left at the end of the evening to walk a few blocks to a local writer’s home for a glass of wine and a very relaxed private reception.
I have to tell you that I love Susan, Ken, and Emily. I love them. They’re all so down to earth, so honest, so unpretentious. I want Ken and Emily to win the Oregon Book Award, both for the quality of their writing and for who they are. They can’t both win, because they’re up for the same fiction prize, but there was no sense of competition between them, only camaraderie. What a privilege to read together, to relax and visit and enjoy one another.
The next morning after a walk on the beach, Todd and I checked out of the hotel and joined the others for breakfast together at a local café. Susan held up her camera and interviewed Ken, Emily, and me. I really need to work on keeping my eyes open while I’m talking!
This weekend I heard some great writing by wonderful people. I’m so grateful for the writing community I’m a part of, both here in Newberg and in the state of Oregon. Thank you, Oregon Literary Arts!