Oregon is home to a great many prolific authors. The majority of people who live here, especially in Portland and the larger towns, were not born here. Like me, they are transplants from elsewhere in the U.S. and around the globe. There is just something so appealing about Oregon; its diversity, the friendliness of its residents, and the gorgeous scenery nature provide.
Remember Louis and Clark?
They were the ultimate Oregon travel writers. Through their daily diary entries of their harrowing journey out west, they have given us an intimate look of the Wild West. I’ve been trying to find a book that intimately chronicles their detailed writings, but I haven’t found one. If you know of such a book, please let me know!
Below is a very small list of the many writers who were inspired by and made their home in Oregon. Some of them are travel writers; some of them inspire travel to Oregon in the literature they’ve given us. In my lowest moments, when I’m feeling particularly uninspired to travel, I turn to these writers for inspiration. I hope that you will check out at least a couple of them for your own inspiration.
Frederic Homer Balch “The Bridge of the Gods”
A native of Lebanon, Oregon, Mr. Balch was fascinated by Native American lore and the grandeur of Oregon’s wilderness “Yesterday I saw a tree loaded with oranges and would willingly have exchanged it for a sight of the Juniper trees in the canyons of the upper Columbia.” He was first Pacific Northwest fiction writer to cast Native Americans as main characters and the first to celebrate the region’s geography in a novel.
Brian Doyle “Mink River”
The Portland author witty prose can be described as exuberant. He’s so good at his craft that his books don’t need your basic beginning, middle or end. The greatest strength of Doyle’s novel “Mink River,” The Oregonian wrote in 2010, “lies in [his] ability to convey the delicious vibrancy of people and the quirky whorls that make life a complex tapestry.”
Katherine Dunn “Geek Love”
Ms. Dunn did not experience fame until her third novel was published and became a sensation. “Katherine Dunn saw broken and twisted things, wrapped them in her words, and made them beautiful,” said Willamette Week. She was wonderfully eclectic and unpredictable in her approach to writing. ‘Geek Love’ – “So [it] explicates a milieu in Portland and a lot of the intellectual background that went into the writing of the novel, and then considers the novel’s place in 1980s Portland.”
Ken Kesey “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”
NOT the movie…the book! Kesey reportedly hated the movie’s script and refused to watch the film. His 1962 novel, set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, has depths and humor and power beyond cinema’s reach. Paste magazine insists it “ranks by any standard among the great novels written in the 20th century.” Wrote novelist and critic Nathanial Rich in 2012: “ And get this. To avoid a drug charge, Kesey faked suicide and disappeared into Mexico. He eventually resurfaced, of course, and resumed writing. By the 1980s he was teaching at UO, where he collaborated with students on a novel called “Caverns.”
Ursula Le Guin “The Lathe of Heaven”
Novelist Michael Chabon says her work “feels somehow beyond human, and yet fully human and recognizable. She gives us a view from the other side.” “The Lathe of Heaven”: The award-winning novel is set in a dystopic future Portland and has a protagonist whose dreams take flight in the real world — and change reality. Wrote the New York Times in a 1972 review: “The author has produced a rare and powerful synthesis of poetry and science, reason and emotion. She has written a very good book.”
Chuck Palahniuk “Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon”
No list of epic Oregon writers would be complete without this guy. Yes, he’s the guy who wrote “Fight Club”, but forget about that. Instead, read “Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon.” It’s is the book that shows you how deep the Rose City has gotten into Chuck Palahniuk’s soul. Portland, he points out, “makes up for its small size with its loud and obnoxious behavior.” Also, of course, with its weird behavior, of which the author shares plenty of examples from his own life. You won’t soon forget, for example, his telling of the time, at age 19, he tried LSD during a Pink Floyd laser light show at OMSI and ended up eating the arm off a woman’s fur coat.
Alfred Powers “Marooned in Crater Lake”
“Whether it’s a mixture of sunshine and gloom, whether it’s the gorgeousness of our herbage — the riotous show of nature which really is a product of the rain — some kind of germ exists here in Oregon that leads to the creative kind of thing.” “Marooned in Crater Lake.” The subtitle of Alfred Powers’ 1930 book promises “Stories, with Original Situations and Ingenious Plots, of the Skyline Trail, and the Old Oregon Trail,” and the pages that follow do not disappoint. “The boy, Jim, is stranded in the caldera of Crater Lake. How will he escape? The boy had 24 1-cent stamps with Benjamin Franklin’s face on them. They’d save his life.”
Samuel L. Simpson “The Gold-Gated West”
The Oregonian called him, simply and accurately, the “Sweet Singer of Oregon’s Beauty.” “The Gold-Gated West.” Simpson perfectly captures Oregon in its unsullied 19th-century state, “Where the lords of the mountains are lifted/In a luster of silver and pearl,/And the shadows of ages are drifted/In the banners the forests unfurl.” In many of his poems, he portrays that keen appreciation of the grandeur and beauty of nature and that matchless rhythmic style which certainly render the comparison not uncomplimentary to those immortal bards.”
Cheryl Strayed “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”
The reason Strayed is arguably Portland’s most famous writer these days is her mega-bestselling 2012 memoir-turn-blockbuster-movie, “Wild.” One of her secrets to writing a memorable memoir: her ability to dredge up distant details from her life. “I’ve always been able to remember tiny facts — the name of someone’s mother mentioned in passing, birthdays, the thing we were eating when we had that conversation,” she told Vanity Fair. “It’s unsettling to some.” “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”: Strayed’s book about her therapeutic hike along the 1,100-mile trail captures, like many Oregon authors have before her, the glory of nature. But it also offers so much more than that. “This book is as loose and sexy and dark as an early Lucinda Williams song,” the New York Times wrote. “It’s got a punk spirit and makes an earthy and American sound.”
Needless to say, there are plenty more Beaver State authors we recommend. Here are a few of them: Larry Colton, Tracy Daugherty, H.L. Davis, Rene Denfeld, Eva Emery Dye, Barry Lopez, Tracy Manaster, Kevin Sampsell, Gary Snyder and William Stafford.