Here’s a truism about Oregonians: No matter how high-brow the event, count on us to forgo the glitz and shi shi for a practical fleece and a pair of durable clogs. I’ve seen Tevas and socks at the symphony. I’ve spotted galoshes at the opera. And last night, as fat raindrops pelted our heads and fall leaves swooped in the air like ragged ghosts, literary luminaries, fans and wannabes (me included) filed into the Armory Theater for the Oregon Book Awards. Most of us had on our trusty Oregon suit: rain jacket, wool socks, comfortable shoes. Despite the palpable excitement in the theater, the glam factor was glassy-eyed and in need of a hasty 911 call. But then it occurred to me that writers – with a few exceptions – are not the glamorous set. We sit at desks curling our wool-covered toes as we search for just the right word or phrase. Writers are traditionally the observers, the quiet people, the folks who let our dialogue and prose – rather than Dolce & Gabbana and Donna Karan – define us.
Rumpled host and author Tom Bissell got the short evening started (the whole event lasted less than an hour) with some self-deprecating humor and one wry observation that this economy/season is one of the worst for literary endeavors, but that is always a terrible time for literary pursuits. (Side note: check out Portland-based literary mag Tin House’s latest pub that riffs well on this same theme.)
One early evening shocker: Virginia Euwer’s much-anticipated This Full House was trumped by Roland Smith’s I.Q. Book One: Independence Hall in the Young Adult Lit category.
Another upset included Oregon Attorney General John Kroger winning the Sarah Winnemucca Award for Creative Nonfiction over more seasoned nominees including Floyd Skloot, Debra Gwartney and Bibi Gaston. Kroger’s book, Convictions: A Prosecutor’s Battle Against Mafia Killers, Drug Kingpins, and Enron Thieves, has been called "engrossing" and "probably the frankest discussion ever of the extraordinary ethical dilemmas that go with wielding the government’s crushing power over lives," by author Scott Turow.
The Ken Kesey Award for Fiction went to Jon Raymond, who penned the quiet, but powerful, short story collection Livability. Raymond is an editor at Plazm Magazine and a co-writer on screenplay adaptions of his own short stories: Wendy and Lucy and Old Joy.
Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry: Matthew Dickman, All-American Poem.
Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction: Tracy Daugherty, Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme.
Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature: Deborah Hopkinson, Keep On! The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-discoverer of the North Pole.
Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award: Matt Love.
Walt Morey Young Readers Literary Legacy Award: The Dove Lewis Animal Assisted Therapy Program: Read to the Dogs Program of Portland.