Wordstock, one of the largest celebrations of literature and literacy in the Pacific Northwest, is gaining a new parent. Literary Arts, a nonprofit literary organization based in Portland, Ore., will organize the next installment of the annual festival, which is slated for November 2015.
Wordstock started in 2005 and came out of Community of Writers, a program focused on supporting arts education in schools. As Wordstock grew in scope, its board began talking with several local organizations about giving the festival a new home. Literary Arts eagerly responded. “The goal is to create, or rather build on, a world-class book festival and make it a place you have to go,” said Andrew Proctor, executive director of Literary Arts, who noted that, as part of the agreement, Literary Arts acquired Wordstock’s physical and intellectual property, as well as the name of the festival. And while there will be significant changes, Proctor said that Literary Arts “doesn’t want to lose Wordstock’s institutional memory—there are a lot of great things about this festival that we want to make sure come along in its transformation.”
Perhaps the most significant change will be to the festival’s venue. Previously held at Portland’s convention center, Wordstock will take place at the Portland Art Museum next year. “We looked at other festivals, and every one I can name has a venue partner,” said Proctor. And while the art museum is not funding the festival, “the in-kind value of getting the entire museum campus for a whole day is very significant.”
Proctor hopes to emulate flagship literary festivals like the Brooklyn Book Fair, the Texas Book Fair in Austin, and the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The aim is to create a festival so packed with literary events that “you have to study the program, you have to circle things, and you have to plan your trip,” Proctor said.
One part of the new Wordstock will be having Powell’s Books on board as the event’s official bookselling partner. The Portland chain has worked with and sponsored Literary Arts for 29 years. Emily Powell, the third-generation owner of the nationally recognized bookstore, believes that “Literary Arts’ stewardship of Wordstock will bring a vibrant, world-class literary festival to Portland—one that both delves deeply into our rich literary community and history, and connects to a literary conversation currently happening on a broad global stage.”
Staying true to Wordstock’s original goal of mentoring Oregon teachers and bringing literature to schools statewide, Proctor said that everyone under 18 will be able to attend the festival for free. “One of our missions is to develop young readers, especially at the high school level, which is what [Literary Arts] does with the Writers in Schools program. So creating zero barriers to entry for [those kids] is really important,” he noted.
The next festival is still a year away, but Proctor is eager to start bringing the Portland arts community into the picture. Three foundations—the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, the Meyer Memorial Trust, and the M.J. Murdoch Charitable Trust—provided the seed funds for the new venture, creating a bedrock of consortium funding over three years that “allows Literary Arts to go out and hire somebody who can start activating the community,” Proctor said. The objective is to “create a dense festival of ideas and books and literature where there’s a lot of dialogue and exchange; it’s a little frenetic and there’s a lot of serendipity in the discovery of just being there.”