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2023 in Review: Amy Leona Havin’s literary year

Our LitWatch columnist looks back on a year of good reading, writing, and talking about books.

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2023 Portland Book Festival. Photo by: Andie Petkus Photographer, courtesy of Literary Arts
The 2023 Portland Book Festival drew thousands to downtown Portland’s Park Blocks in November for author readings, workshops and book shopping. Photo by: Andie Petkus Photographer, courtesy of Literary Arts

2023 proved a full and inviting year of literature, with poet interviews, festivals, book releases, writer conferences, award ceremonies, and plenty of author readings all around. With events spanning the state from Eastern Oregon to the blustery Coast, the past 12 months have made it clearer than ever that Oregonians aim to remain faithfully literary.

I began the year in February with a Poet’s Q&A featuring Willa Schneberg, Portland author, psychotherapist, and founder of the Oregon Jewish Voices reading series. We discussed her new book, The Naked Room, released in January by Broadstone Books. The poetry collection drew on Schneberg’s experiences of the mind, with the book’s six sections named after psychological practices. She told me about her experiences working and writing in Cambodia, and how she has always seen her role as a “poet of witness.”

In March, I had the opportunity to speak with Eleanor Berry, the 2023 Soapstone Bread and Roses Award recipient. After losing her home in the Beachie Creek Fire, the Willamette Valley poet said she “felt compelled both to articulate it and to make something of value from it.” The result was Berry’s collection Works of Wildfire, which won the 2022 Grayson Books Chapbook Award.

Literary Arts announced 15 author recipients of the 2023 Oregon Literary Fellowship in the spring with a celebration during which Portland and Eugene authors read their works. At the Oregon Book Awards ceremony in April, Sindya Bhanoo’s Seeking Fortune Elsewhere received the Oregon Book Award for fiction, Casey Parks won the Sarah Winnemucca Award for Creative Nonfiction for her celebrated memoir Diary of a Misfit, Dane Liu received the Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature for Friends Are Friends, Forever, and Waka T. Brown, won the Leslie Bradshaw Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Literature for Dream, Annie, Dream. Eric Tran of Portland received the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry for Mouth, Sugar, and SmokeLauren Kessler’s Free: Two Years, Six Lives, and the Long Journey Home took the Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction, and Gary Miranda was presented with the Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award.

Later in the season, the Terroir Creative Writing Festival returned to Newberg, and spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hahn’s disciple Cuong Lu visited Broadway Books, while Tom Hanks appeared at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall to talk about his first novel, The Making of Another Motion Picture Masterpiece.

Summer kicked off with the Friends of Yachats Library receiving a $250,000 grant to fund a library expansion and remodel for more access to reading on the Coast, while Gerry Lopez, legendary Hawaii-born big-wave surf icon turned Bend resident, read from his re-released book, Surf Is Where You Find It, at Roundabout Books. In July, Cheryl Strayed spoke at the annual Willamette Writers Conference, which took place over five days in downtown Portland, as Richard W. Etulain, “Oregon historian of the West,” celebrated the release of his memoir, Boyhood Among the Woolies.

In the summer of 1995, Walt Curtis and Bill Plympton drove around Portland while Curtis talked about poetry and ideas. The result was a one-hour documentary, "The Peckerneck Poet."
Portland’s unofficial poet laureate, Walt Curtis, died in August at age 82. In the summer of 1995, Curtis and Bill Plympton collaborated on a short documentary, “The Peckerneck Poet.”

As the summer drew to a close, Paul Koberstein and Jessica Applegate, as well as M Jackson, discussed the impacts of climate chaos in readings at Tsunami Books in Eugene and Roundabout Books in Bend. We then celebrated the life of Portland’s unofficial poet laureate, Walt Curtis, who died at the age of 82. The poet, painter, and writer, whose novel Mala Noche was turned into a film by Gus Van Sant, was an eccentric and beloved figure in Portland’s poetry-reciting club scene in the 1970s and ’80s. Friend and Portland author Leanne Grabel wrote a personal piece on his passing about a month later.

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Autumn greeted us as Martha Ullman West spoke with Marina Harss about The Boy from Kyiv, her new biography of Ukrainian-American choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, and Linda Meanus, elder, author, and member of the Warm Springs Tribe, released her children’s book, My Name is LaMoosh. In November, a bustling Portland Book Festival was headlined by Viet Thanh Nguyen and Michael Lewis, with excellent readings throughout the day by Tim O’Brien, Jonathan Lethem, Cat Bohannon, and others. Ahead of the event, I interviewed Portland Book Festival featured poets Jane Hirshfield, Elisa Gonzalez, and Victoria Adukwei Bulley about their relationships to poetry and following the curiosities of life.

As the holidays came sweeping in, Bob Hicks profiled Dan Powell on his new book of photographs on the American West, Scene Shifting: Photographs from Left of Iowa, and Richard W. Etulain chronicled five-time Oregon Book Award winner Tracy Daugherty’s journey to deliver a highly researched biography on bestselling author Larry McMurtry.

In December, the Oregon Historical Society held a Holiday Cheer gathering for its 54th Annual Celebration of Oregon Authors, allowing attendees to chat with regional authors and purchase their books. Sonya Sanford, chef, artist, and owner of Beetroot Market & Deli in Portland, celebrated the release of her debut cookbook, Braids, while The Moth: Mainstage returned to Portland with a new lineup of on-the-fly storytellers.

Lastly, I briefly chatted with Oregon authors and publishers Judith Barrington, Irene Cooper, Brian S. Ellis, Jessica Mehta, Maureen R. Michaelson, Carla Perry, Lisa Steinman, and others about their favorite books to give to others.

With most winter holidays passed, may this year’s bountiful literary schedule carry on into 2024 and inspire us all with creativity along the way. Wishing you a good cup of coffee, a nice place to sit, and — of course — a great book.

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MORE “2023: A YEAR IN REVIEW” STORIES

  • 2023 in Review: The look of visual artsFrom the Rothko Pavilion to Converge 45 to the Hallie Ford’s 25th anniversary and much more, a look at some of the highlights of Oregon’s year in the worlds of museums and visual art.
  • Stage & Studio: A look back on 2023. In her year-ending podcast, Dmae Lo Roberts talks with ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks about the cultural highs and lows of 2023, and the lingering effects of the pandemic on the arts.
  • Out with a bang: The Top Ten movies of 2023From Poor Things and Barbie to Dream Scenario and Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Marc Mohan shares his picks for this year’s best films.
  • 2023: Around and about OregonFrom coast to desert to hills and valleys and places in between, culture thrived in towns large and small around the state. Wherever people were, so was art.
  • 2023 in Review: Jamuna Chiarini’s year in dance. From a magnificent dancerly takeover of Zidell Yards to a push/FOLD contemporary festival to her own solo Odissi show, our DanceWatch columnist steps deftly through a busy year.
  • 2023 in Review: What we heard this year. Music Editor Matthew Neil Andrews’  longitudinal study of everything we loved (and a few things we didn’t) in Oregon music this year, and last year, world without end, amen.
  • 2023 in Review: Remembering those we lostKatherine Ace, Yaki Bergman, Margaret Chapman, Walt Curtis, Darcelle, Cai Emmons, Michael Griggs, Donald Jenkins, Henk Pander and more: Oregon arts figures who died in 2023.
  • 2023 in Review: In Oregon, a long and lively cultural trip around the sun. It was a year of building booms, an Off-Broadway triumph, a financial flop in the Legislature, a great cultural-funding divorce, AI everywhere, and a good number of artistic happy surprises.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Amy Leona Havin is a poet, essayist, and arts journalist based in Portland, Oregon. She writes about language arts, dance, and film for Oregon ArtsWatch and is a staff writer with The Oregonian/OregonLive. Her work has been published in San Diego Poetry Annual, HereIn Arts Journal, Humana Obscura, The Chronicle, and others. She has been an artist-in-residence at Disjecta Contemporary Art Center, Archipelago Gallery, and Art/Lab, and was shortlisted for the Bridport International Creative Writing Prize in poetry. Havin holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornish College of the Arts and is the Artistic Director of Portland-based dance performance company, The Holding Project.

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