Trippingly of the Tongue: an (In)complete Look at Ongoing Reading Series in Portland

Portland is a city known for being well read, highly literate, and highly supportive of the literary arts in general. This reputation seems well deserved. Portland is home to the world’s largest bookstore, Powell’s City of Books,boasts one of the best-attended writer’s lecture series in the nation, Portland Arts and Lectures, and houses a great many literary-minded nonprofits, writer’s organizations, and small literary presses like Hawthorne Books and Tin House. Powell’s Books hosts book releases and author events almost every night of the week at their two main locations; many of Portland’s smaller bookstores host readings and author events several nights of the week as well. Writer’s groups, small presses, literary nonprofits, and individual writers stage and promote book releases, themed readings, and other events throughout the year. On almost any night, any time of the year, a person can find somewhere in Portland to listen to a poet, novelist, short-fiction author, or essayist read from their work, usually without resorting to attending an open mic or poetry slam (though there are plenty of those as well).

One of the main points of contact between writers and audiences in Portland are the city’s many ongoing literary reading series. What follows is a look at six Portland reading series, from high-profile literary events that bring touring authors and poets to town, to lowbrow locals-only affairs. For a complete listing of ongoing and single-night literary events, visit Swamplit.

  • Bone Tax is an ongoing series, held the third Saturday of every month at Ford Food and Drink on Southeast 11th. The reading is sponsored by Bone Tax Press, hosted by Ross Robbins (the publisher at Bone Tax), and often features writers whose work has been recently published by the press. Recent installments of the series have featured C.A. Conrad, Kevin Sampsell, John Beer, and Emily Kendal Frey. The series is free to attend.
  • Burnt Tongue is an ongoing quarterly series created to honor the impact of local literary luminary Tom Spanbauer. Domi Shoemaker, the series founder and host, selects as many as twenty readers from the community of writers that surrounds Spanbauer, as well as at least one guest author who has never participated in Spanbauer’s classes. Recent featured authors include Mark Russell, Ooligan author Sean Davis, and Portland poet Dena Rash Guzman. The series is held at Crush on Southeast Morrison and asks for a donation at the door for its scholarship fund for emerging writers in the Portland area. For more information on upcoming readings, check out the reading’s Facebook page.
  • If Not For Kidnap began as a house reading/party with a handful of poets reading from their work and a band providing musical interludes. In the years since, it has moved out of host Donald Dunbar’s home and into Ristretto Roasters on North Williams. The reading is held monthly, and recent installments have featured Lisa Ciccarello, Carl Adamshick, and James Gendron. For more information, check out their website. The reading is free.
  • The Reading at Tony’sis the recently resurrected series hosted by Portland author and poet Tommy Gaffney. Taking place the first Monday of every month, the reading features an open mic followed by a featured reader, and is housed in one of the diviest bars in the Portland metro area—Tony’s Tavern on West Burnside. A recent installment featured Nathan Tompkins. For information on upcoming readings, check out the reading’sFacebook page. The reading is free.
  • Salon Skid Row is the fledgling series hosted weekly at the brand-new Corner Bar at the Rialto on Southwest Alder. Host (and bartender) Josh Lubin launched the weekly reading and film series to draw attention to the Corner Bar as it rose from the ashes of recently shuttered Jack London Bar in the Rialto’s basement. Recent installments have featured Robert Duncan Gray, Robin Bateman, Sam Snoek-Brown, and Greg Gerding. The reading begins every Tuesday at seven, with a film presentation to follow. The reading is free.
  • Unchaste Readers: Women Reading Their Minds is a bimonthly reading featuring women of all ages reading work from all genres on a variety of topics. The reading moves from venue to venue, but is always on the third Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. Recent shows have featured Lidia Yuknavitch, A.M. O’Malley, and Carrie Seitzinger. For information on upcoming readings visitUnchaste Readers. The reading asks for a nominal donation.
  • Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before’s Launch at Another Read Through

    Another Read Through is a charming bookstore on North Mississippi Avenue that provides an appealing mix of new books from local authors and used books from a wider range of authors and genres. Staffed by friendly folks, the store hosted the official launch for Karelia Stetz-Waters’s Forgive Me If I’ve Told You This Before on Sunday, November 16. Another Read Through’s event space is small, intended to seat about thirty people, but the event was packed with closer to fifty people; it was standing room only before anyone even stepped up to the podium. Thanks to the Eisenhower Bagelhouse, an abundance of free coffee was available to attendees after the reading and panel discussion.
    Elisa, Another Read Through’s owner, began with a touching introduction detailing how her personal attachment to Stetz-Waters’s writing led her to stock her books in the store. She was followed by Ooligan’s own Jess Miller, who has been with the press since Forgive Me was acquired. Stetz-Waters shared elements of the long but rewarding journey with Ooligan Press that brought Forgive Me to publication. The highlight of the event was her animated and thoughtful reading from the chapter “Dance, Then, Wherever You May Be,” which is available to watch in the video below.

    Following the reading, the discussion opened up to George Nicola, a longtime Oregon LGBTQ rights activist who represents the Gay and Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest, an organization dedicated to LGBTQ history. He focused on Oregon’s fraught track record with the LGBTQ community, which includes thirty-five attempts to ban same-sex marriage or homosexuality in some form or another; these are not only measures that made it onto a ballot (such as the antigay Ballot Measure 9 from the early ’90s, featured in Forgive Me’s plot), but also those that never left the state legislature. Equally upsetting is the fact that statewide civil rights protection was not achieved until 2007. Mr. Nicola then handed it over to lawyer Lea Ann Easton of Dorsay & Easton, LLP, who was an integral part of the legal team that worked to strike down Oregon’s same-sex marriage ban last year. She discussed the intricacies of the legal process, as well as the landmark 2012 tax lawsuit originating in New York state, Windsor v. United States, which allowed states to contest same-sex marriage bans through lawsuits rather than by altering state constitutions.
    Thoughtful events like these demonstrate the care with which Ooligan approaches the publishing process and release of each title. It was heartwarming to hear the author’s side of the journey and positive experiences with Ooligan, and I think the attendees appreciated the chance to not only hear Karelia Stetz-Waters read from her novel but also to find out more about the LGBTQ struggle for equality in Oregon. The continued support of Another Read Through, the fans, and LGBTQ celebrities like Tegan and Sara confirm the importance of Triinu’s story.