wordstock, pt.2

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

S A T U R D A Y, cont.

wordstock, pt. 1
wordstock, pt. 3

Noon Colson Whitehead: I was looking forward to this reading because I had enjoyed The Intuitionist quite a bit a couple of years ago. It was pretty well attended -- not full by any means, but I think there were more people than at the "Sassy Stories" panel. The important thing is I didn't have to move since both readings were at the Powell's stage. If you click on the Colson Whitehead link above, he's put the full text of the first piece he read, Proposal for an Alternative Use of the Empire State Building, on the Occasion of Its 75th Anniversary up on his website. It's pretty funny. After that, he read from his latest novel Apex Hides the Hurt. BB had to leave shortly into the Empire State piece, so he missed out on the 'nomenclature consultant,' from Apex and that consultant's obsessive love of the phrase "shuttle bus." I must be very suggestible, because now I love it too. (I'm serious -- try saying it. It is very satisfying.) The weirdest thing about this reading was that every time Whitehead would pause to take a drink of water, someone would start clapping like he was finished. So then he had to start saying, "there's more to this section..". Anyway... During the Q &A someone asked him if he always wrote about race. He answered that he was interested in history, technology, cities, and race, but that race was just one of the filters he writes through. (other filters include New York city and being someone that doesn't leave the house that often.) Shuttle bus aside, I will probably wait a while to read Apex, but I just picked up his collection of essays ( The Colossus of New York: a city in thirteen parts ) from the library today.

I skipped the 1PM readings and left the convention center to get lunch. I got back earlier than I thought I would, and since there wasn't anything I was planning to see until Jessica Abel at 3, I decided to just take a stab at something at 2PM. You know, maybe some wildly fantastic synchronistic Sign From Above would lead me to my new favorite author. (Stranger things have happened.) I decided to go to the Hawthorne Books Feature, which was described in the Wordstock Guide as "another panel of its most popular and inventive writers. Award-winning short-story writer Poe Ballantine will publish his third book this July, a novel entitled Decline of the Lawrence Welk Empire. Kassten Alonso's Core: A Romance was a finalist for the 2005 Oregon Book Award for fiction."
It seemed like a good choice, so I went to the Portland Stage where this was being held (the Portland Stage was one of the smaller stages across the way from the main Wordstock area). My experiment in random choosing did not have an auspicious beginning. The reading had already begun and I became the jackass who bursts into the room late and is desperate to just sit down already. (not to be confused with the 13 other jackasses who followed, one of whom held an entire hushed but still audible cell phone conversation before leaving.) Once I sat down I noticed that the guy reading looked sort of like Matthew Broderick. (I had no idea at this point who was who because I missed any introductions. In fact, I didn't know who was who until after google image search. But since I know now, I can say with authority that it was Kassten Alonso) Maybe it was the boyish face, maybe it was the haircut, but as Alonso read (and acted things out like brrr, cold accompanied by dramatic shivers ), it felt like I was being goofed by Ferris Bueller as sociopath. (the character he was reading (and acting!) had some dead-bunny/barn-burning issues.) Despite my initial mishaps and misgivings, by the end I had fallen into the rhythm of his reading. Poe Ballantine read next, which was a change of pace and a lot of fun. He began by warning the parents of the kids in the audience that "there was some bad language," which turned out to be in reference to a drink called the Flaming Asshole. He read quickly and with conversational zinginess. No dead bunnies that I heard, but there was a 21st birthday being celebrated in the heyday of 70's fashion -- so it was scary in its own way.

3PM Jessica Abel: I didn't know what to expect from Jessica Abel -- I knew she had done both the writing and art for some graphic novels, that she was about my age, and that's about it. But weighing this (all of which is at least moderately interesting to me) against fighting people for a seat at the Joyce Carol Oates reading at the Borders stage... it seemed like a good idea. And I was right! She came out with someone from Powell's who asked her questions about her process and her work (somehow they knew that left to its own devices, the audience would ask 60% good questions, and 40% bullshit questions, although that ratio may be generous). The guy asking the questions seemed nervous, but did a fine job. She was there discussing her latest book, La Perdida. Go here for an overview from when the graphic novels came out in issues (before they were collected into the hardback), and here for an interview with her. I'm glad I decided to see her. She had a powerpoint slideshow thing, read some from her book, and talked about how she works both in coming up with the story and how she lays out the panels. Very interesting.

4PM Dave Eggers: Between Jessica Abel and when Dave Eggers was scheduled to come on (also to the Powell's stage), the audience filled up. Filled up so much that they made everyone move to the center to fill in empty seats. There were still people spilling out all along the edges and at the back (I would guess there were probably 800-1000 people there). I was already in the middle of the middle, so I stayed put. (the adorable high-school emo boy and the non-smelly hippie boy who were each sitting about 3 seats away on either side had to move to me. A complete reversal from my usual 'sit by a stranger' luck, which often involves holding my breath.) It seemed like the reading got off to a very late start. When Eggers finally showed up, he was quickly forgiven by everybody because in addition to being famous and highly regarded, it turns out that Dave Eggers is extremely charming as well. Apparently the delay was something to do with changing his mind about what he was going to read, and then having to find it. Anyway, the first piece he read was something he wrote for the Guardian about the comic-book evil of Dick Cheney, and how it's funny, but not funny. At all. (well that link is for some short short stories he did for them, but not the one he read.) Following that, he read from a new work that isn't out yet (a novel based on the experiences of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan). The question and answer session for this reading was actually not too bad. He seemed very excited to be there, said that he thought Community of Writers (Wordstock host) was a great program (and very similar in mission to his program at 826 Valencia). What I think I liked best about him and this reading was his enthusiasm for the written word -- reading it, writing it, helping others to write it. He was generous while answering audience quesitons and seemed genuinely honored and glad to be there.
A lovely way to end the first day of Wordstock. (Until I whacked my head on the chair in front of me, but I can't really hold him responsible for that.)
Sunday at Wordstock coming up next
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