Portland has a well-deserved reputation as a bookish city. Its literary climate springs, in part, from its actual climate. During the months of interminable rain it is natural to retreat to bookstores and libraries, or curl up at home with a favorite volume. The city’s creative energy, fueled by coffee, craft beer and local wine, helps foment works of imagination by local writers. This keeps the local literary scene fresh and, importantly, means lots of opportunities to hear authors in person – be they native sons and daughters or out-of-town literati. With our frugal guide to free readings, first-hand encounters with great books and their writers won’t cost the moon.
This small but venerable indie bookstore in the heart of Multnomah Village, on the west side, plays host to a variety of free readings. They range in subject matter from mystery to young adult to cooking. The common thread is that most of the featured authors are local, or have local connections, which generates a community buzz.
In spring and fall, which are peak publishing season, Annie Bloom’s holds up to three events a week. On occasion, they have ticketed events at “The Vault” at O’Connors restaurant next door, with a copy of the author’s book included in the price of the ticket. When the reading is over, you can stretch your legs browsing the neighboring small shops and bars. Check upcoming events at this link.
Multnomah and Washington County Libraries
If you’re at loose ends some afternoon or evening, check local library listings for literary events. Multnomah County outposts – which include the central library downtown, Hillsdale, Troutdale, Gresham, Belmont, and beyond – have a lively schedule of readings and lectures. These cover diverse topics, from a panel discussion between historical novelists to poetry workshops – and beyond.
Should you find yourself further afield, Washington County also has a full calendar of events across branches including Tigard, Beaverton, Aloha and Forest Grove.
This Northeast Portland stalwart is another favorite space for author readings, “99 percent” of which are free, according to co-owner Sally McPherson. Subject matter is wide open, with emissaries of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and more taking turns to share their work. Even if you pop in on an off-day you will still find personalized material from local authors like Cheryl Strayed, who has the honor of a section dedicated to signed copies of her work.
Powell’s City of Books
No mention of PDX literary events would be complete without a nod to Powell’s City of Books. As the biggest thing in local literary retail it is a huge draw for both writers and readers. This allows it to offer a steady diet of readings, most free, and many from household name authors. There is the rare ticketed celebrity encounter (Senator Al Franken was one such recent guest) but, on those occasions, a copy of the book is included in the price.
Write Around Portland
Write Around Portland readings are a moving demonstration of the power of writing. Founded in 1999 by Liza Halley and Ben Moorad to offer writing workshops to marginalized communities, WAP has held some 600 volunteer-led workshops attended by over 5,
000 adults and youth. At the end of each workshop season, the writers’ work is collected and published in an anthology.
This is the source for the public readings, which are held each spring and fall at churches and community centers around the city, says program coordinator Jenny Chu. They are free to attend and you’ll hear from dozens of local writers, most celebrating their first appearance in print.
This nonprofit sponsors Portland’s annual book festival Wordstock every November. But they also host a number of free readings and literary discussions as well as the ticketed Portland Arts & Lecture series.
Portland is a proudly well-read, book-loving burg. Consider one of these events to advance your own literary world – for free.