Literary Arts

The mission of Literary Arts is to engage readers, support writers, and inspire the next generation with great literature.

I arrived in Portland Oregon 50 years ago and, since then, I’ve seen some remarkable changes in this city. I was here when Powell’s Bookstore first opened. Now it is said to be the world’s largest.

I was here during the energy crises of the 70s when Governor Tom McCall introduced widely adopted energy conservation programs and when Mayor Neil Goldschmidt began planning a metropolitan area that is the envy of city planners throughout this country and abroad.

And I was here when Literary Arts, a nonprofit literary organization was founded 32 years ago. It began with the Portland Arts and Lectures which is now one of the country’s largest literary series.

I vividly recall some of those earlier lectures when the likes of Philip Roth, William Stryon and Robert Coles presented memorable lectures. They were not interviewed, nor did they speak off the cuff about one thing or another. Rather, they delivered a genuine lecture about one of their book(s) or an idea central to their writing life. This year’s speakers include George Saunders, Claudia Rankine, Jesmyn Ward, Dr. Reza Asian and Viet Thanh Nguyen.

Since then Literary Arts has expanded with a variety of new programs. They include:

Oregon Book Awards & Fellowships, which celebrates Oregon’s writers and independent publishers. 

Youth Programs that motivates students to write, publish, and perform their own creative writing. 

Wordstock: Portland’s Book Festival, that brings writers throughout the country for lectures, workshops, and discussions.

Literary Arts also hosts guided discussion groups around great works of literature through a program called Delve. A few of the current, 6 week offerings include:

• The works and correspondence of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop
• Shakespeare’s Complicated Romances
• The writings of Robert Bolano
• Discussion of Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

Portland is a great town for readers. There’s nothing like reading a good book during the long and dreary winters we have around here.

Happy Holidays to everyone. Marks in the Margin will take a Holiday break and will be back early in the New Year.


False Papers

I had long ago learned to prefer the imagined encounter, or the memory of the imagined encounter to the thing itself. Andre Aciman

There is the experience, but before that is the anticipation of the experience, and after that its memory, and don’t forget, there is also the place where the memory occurred, so that you often come to like the place where you recalled the experience, even more than the original experience itself.

This is the way Andre Aciman writes about his experiences in the 14 linked essays of False Papers. His subject is nostalgia and loss. Consider his essay “Letter from Illiers-Combray” (Combray is the fictional town created by Proust in In Search of Lost Time, while Illiers is where Proust’s father was born and where he used to visit as a child. To mark the centennial of Proust’s birth, the little town of Illiers officially changed its name to Illiers-Combray.) Aciman writes:

“Illiers itself was simply a place where the young Proust dreamed of a better life to come. But because the dream never came true, he had learned to love instead the place where the dream was born.”

Or in his essay “Shadow Cities” about a park (Straus Park) he discovered in New York. It was a small park, being restored in the Upper East Side. It reminded him of Alexandria in Egypt where he was born. He writes:

“I come to Straus Park to remember Alexandria, albeit an unreal Alexandria, an Alexandria that does not exist, that I’ve invented … Straus Park itself, now reminding me of something that is not just elsewhere but that is perhaps more in me than it ever was out there, that it is, after all, perhaps just me, a me that is no less a figment of time than this city is a figment of space.”

Or read this passage from another one of his essays. In it, he is speaking to a friend in Paris, while he is in New York, just before he is about to fly to Paris. He writes:

…I said I did not like traveling, I never found Paris relaxing, I would much rather stay in New York and imagine having wonderful dinners in Paris. “Yes, of course,” she agreed, already annoyed.” Since you’re going to Paris, you don’t want to go to Paris. But if you were staying in New York, you’d want to be in Paris. But since you’re not staying, but going, just do me a favor.”. Exasperation bristled in her voice. “When you’re in Paris, think of yourself in New York, longing for Paris, and everything will be fine.”

So it goes, from one essay to the next. I confess I rather like the Aciman’s roaming around, back and forth ambivalence and nostalgia. I also appreciate his view of the importance of putting this down on paper in order to record what is lost and what is recalled.

“Paper displaces place, the way writing displaces living.”


Good Ideas

House of Literature
Imagine a place in the center of your city where you can go to hear writers speak about their work, discuss literature with other readers, or have a meal when you’re in the mood. This is by no means a fanciful idea. The House of Literature in Oslo, Norway is Europe’s largest. “The purpose of the House of Literature is to communicate and promote interest in literature and reading.” The first floor has a bookstore, a cafĂ© and six separate rooms for presentations and conversation. Another floor is devoted to children books. The loft has 50 work spaces for writers and a meeting room which has a large number of literary quarterlies and journals. Isn’t it time to establish a House of Literature in every major metropolitan area of this country?

Climate Solutions
The governor of Oregon, Kate Brown, recently signed two executive orders designed to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Under the governor’s first order, by September 2020 new homes and by October 2022 commercial buildings must be equipped for solar panel installation and by October 2022 all parking structures for new homes and commercial buildings must be wired for at least one electric vehicle charger. The governor's second executive order set a goal of at least 50,000 registered electric vehicles in the state by 2020, a significant increase from the 16,000 currently registered. These two orders demonstrate once again the State of Oregon’s leading role in taking action to preserve the environment.

Digital Pill
Millions of patients do not take the medications prescribed for them. In an effort to deal with this costly problem, the FDA recently approved a digital pill that can inform doctors if and when patients take their medicine. Once consumed, the pill sends a message to a wearable patch, which then relays the information to a app so a patient can track his ingestion of the medication on his smartphone. And with the patient's permission, his physician can also access the information through a special Web site. Currently, the digital pill has only been approved for schizophrenia, acute treatment of bipolar disorder and depression in adults." However, it is clear the technology can be applied far more widely.

Google Search
Of all the digital marvels that exist today, I believe the Google Search “engine” is one of the most remarkable. It is said to get more “traffic” than any other Web site. I have a question: Did the Golden State Warriors win tonight? What is the capital of Burkina Faso? More and more now I find myself turning to Goggle when I want to know or can’t remember something. But Google remembers if I enter the right search words and it does so in not more than a split second. Google's algorithm does the work for me by searching out Web pages that contain the keywords I used to search, then assigning a rank to each page. Higher ranked pages appear further up in the results, meaning that the best links relating to my search are the first ones. What did we do when we sought information before the introduction Google? Well, we trekked to the library and looked for a book or encyclopedia. But I suspect we were by no means as successful as Google is.