Author Stevan Allred—along with hundreds of other authors—attended Book Fest at the Portland Art Museum, autographing books and answering fan questions. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard

Portland Book Festival’s unpublished authors

 Workshops help local writers hone their craft

The Portland Book Festival, held on Nov. 9, attracts upward of ten thousand visitors every year. Crowds pour into the Portland Art Museum, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and the handful of other venues hosting talks by authors from Oregon and across the world.

The book festival this year offered 11 different two-hour writing workshops, taught by a mix of local and national writers. With titles such as “The Ethics of Writing Outside of Your Ethnicity,” “Using Collage in Memoir” and “Building a Writing Career on the Internet,” the workshops attracted a diverse pool of writers working to build off of their existing skills. 

The Northwest Film Center on the corner of Salmon and 10th hosted this year’s collection of writer’s workshops. Two workshops in particular used structure to grapple with the struggle faced by all burgeoning authors: writer’s block. “Using Collage in Memoir,” taught by Wendy Noonan, and “Experiments in Narrative Structure,” taught by Miranda Schmidt, both challenged workshop participants to forgo chronology in their works to break from traditional and limiting forms. 

In the case of Noonan’s class, the focus was specifically on the collage form. The form borrows terminology and technique from the visual arts, merging fragmentary sections into a resonant final product that both alludes to and resists cohesion. “We are all people with stories burning inside of us,” Noonan said at the opening of her class. “Your story may resist a cohesive narrative because it’s so sad or so messed up.”

Miranda Schmidt’s class also rebuked the status quo, but instead of deconstructing cohesion, “Experiments in Narrative Structure” resisted the standard narrative structure. Usually represented as a pyramid with the dramatic climax at the top, Schmidt explained that this structure inherently limits the stories a writer is able to tell. “We’ve been taught a very narrow narrative structure, and this structure inherently veers toward violent and external resolution of the conflict,” Schmidt said.

The workshops brought together local master’s students, new empty nesters and visitors from other countries under the roof of the Northwest Film Center. Included in the fee for the workshops was admission to the rest of the Portland Book Festival, so all amateur authors had the opportunity to experience the hundreds of events unfolding a block south in the Park Blocks.