Friday, June 13, 2014

LitHop PDX 2014

The LitHop's clever banner, with Loretta Stinson reading.
 Last night, Erica and I had the pleasure of getting to do something both literary and extremely local, wandering up to Alberta Street in Northeast Portland to wander about the second LitHop PDX.

Created in 2013, the goal of the LitHop is to gather a large grouping of readers, loosely organized by publisher, and give them a chance to share with an audience for about 10-15 minutes. Listeners can then stay at one station for the entire night or, if they so choose, "hop" around from station to station, sampling everything from zines to memoir to experimental fiction. Basically, it's a wordsmith version of a pub crawl, except this is even better, because not only do you get the beer, you get readings, too, instead of a shitty cover band.

Amberson reads while friend Rachel draws.
Erica and I started at the IPRC's section, which featured three zine readers: Zach Auburn, Joshua James Amberson, and Moe Bowstern. Bowstern quipped that she's been in zines so long that none of the folks at the Portland Zine Symposium have even heard of her these days. She also discussed being an aging radical and the perception folks have of her.

Though I'm a bit biased because he's a friend, I thought Josh's reading was the best, both due to having a friend "improv draw" while he read from his zines and because the quality of his writing is very strong. Josh also has a good reading voice, which helps. Auburn's work, with its Colbert Report satirical bent, didn't work as well in a live reading, and the audience nearly turned on him before he explained it was all a joke.

Justin Hawking reads to a packed house.
Of the locations I visited, the IPRC's was by far the busiest. It was a packed house by the time we left, after Justin Hawking discussed his love for Moby Dick and those who have a love/hate relationship for it.

After that, Erica and I moved on to see what the other publishers has to offer. I stayed briefly at the Eraserhead Press station, but being honest, weird fiction just isn't my thing. Erica remained, telling me later about the story of a haunted wheelchair. I'm almost sorry I missed that one.

The Eraserhead Press crowd.
While Erica was at Eraserhead, I moved on to Hawthorne Books, where I really enjoyed Loretta Stinson's reading from her upcoming memoir. She kept her voice strong while recounting an extremely difficult point in her life, living from place to place across Portland with an addict who wasn't willing to give up. When she talked about desperation moves--like taking sugar out of his diet based on something she'd read--it was very powerful. One of the best readings I heard that night.

I ended my time at the Hop by going over to Publication Studio, which has a mission to bring books they admire to the world via the on-demand system. I didn't get much of a chance to check out their stuff, but I did hear Ashby Collinson read from something she said she's created earlier that day. It was very free-form, which doesn't always work when read aloud, but the crowd was extremely appreciative.

Loretta Stinson reads by firelight at evening comes on.
One of the things that was fascinating to me was looking at the different crowds who gathered for each station/publisher. The IPRC was a mix of young, zine types and a smattering of older, well-dressed folks. Eraserhead featured people with crafted beards, dyed hair, and patches all over jean jackets. Hawthorne was the upper-middle class crowd, clapping politely while eating overpriced food and sipping cocktails and import beers. Publication Studio had the preppy twenty-somethings, unsure of whether they'd fall into the outsider group or move to being young professionals.

It was, in short, a look at some of the different kinds of people in Portland, separated by literary styles. It also marked the only limitation of the Hop itself. Because the readers are all related to each other, folks tended to flock to that which most interested them. I did not see a lot of people moving from one station to the other, even when there were designated break times. It might be interesting for the 2015 edition to mix things up a little bit, combining publishers and alternating readers. That way the listeners could be exposed to something new.

But if that's the worst thing you can say about an event--people only heard the things they wanted to hear--then it's a pretty damned good one. And LitHop PDX 2014 definitely was a damned good one. Everything was organized, stayed mostly on time, had the proper mikes and amps, and the readings I saw all did a great job of telling a complete story, even in their limited amount of time.

I'm not the biggest fan of going to readings, because listening to the same person for a lengthy period of time isn't my cup of tea. A setting like this, however, where the readers rotate and the variety is strong, is just about the perfect way to experience one. I'm very much looking forward to LitHop 2015, and I hope that we are able to attend. If you missed out this year, keep your eyes open for next year. This is a reading series that's highly recommended.

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