Anyone who’s visited Oregon has witnessed its wonder in some form or another — from vistas overlooking valleys, sparkling alpine lakes, salty breezes speeding east, or even a dusty Main Street at dawn. With so much embedded inspiration, it’s no wonder that this state has produced many revered authors.
As we stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19, we’re able to escape our regular routine and spend more time reading and reflecting. Getting your hands on stories is easy enough, with local libraries like Multnomah County and Eugene offering digital books and independent bookshops selling books online for delivery.
Might we suggest some of our favorite wordsmiths? Time spent with these Oregon authors is time well spent.
Conjurer of the Quimbys and Ralph S. Mouse, Beverly Cleary is considered one of America’s most successful authors with 91 million books sold worldwide. Her children’s and young adult books are practically rites of passage for American youth. Cleary often paid homage to her hometown of Portland; most of her books were set in the Grant Park neighborhood. Today the park features bronze statues of Cleary’s characters.
“She was not a slowpoke grownup. She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next.” ― Beverly Cleary, Ramona the Pest
Ursula K. Le Guin
Longtime Portlander and acclaimed author Ursula K. Le Guin changed the science fiction genre during her 60-plus-year career. Her high-fantasy “Earthsea” series made BBC’s list of 100 most inspiring novels — adding to her numerous literary awards and accolades. Though widely considered young-adult literature, her novels explore profound themes of gender, politics and morality. When Le Guin passed away in 2018, the literary world mourned her with impassioned tributes and her books once again topped best-sellers lists.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
The impact of Springfield native Ken Kesey can hardly be mastered in one breath. His writings are recognized as archetypes of Pacific Northwest literature; they have changed perceptions of institutionalization, counterculture activism and consciousness. From star wrestler to Stanford scholar to Merry Prankster, Kesey wrote a dozen books and countless essays in his 66 years on earth. He is memorialized with a mural in downtown Springfield, a bronze statue in downtown Eugene and numerous signs at the Oregon Country Fair.
“Time overlaps itself. A breath breathed from a passing breeze is not the whole wind, neither is it just the last of what has passed and the first of what will come, but is more — let me see — more like a single point plucked on a single strand of a vast spider web of winds, setting the whole scene atingle.” ― Ken Kesey, Sometimes a Great Notion
Author Cheryl Strayed famously became an Oregonian after hiking more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, a life-changing experience that she later captured in her bestselling memoir “Wild.” That novel set a chain-reaction of Strayed’s literary influence, sparking a movie adaptation, a book of her once-anonymously written advice column, and another of her most luminous quotes. A true fan will dive deep into her essay collection, while local Portlanders will casually note seeing her around town.
Top picks: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012); Brave Enough (2015); Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (2012)
“Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will.” ― Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
Wickedly clever and often outrageous, the writings of Chuck Palahniuk have roused a strong cult following. His narratives regularly feature disoriented timelines and shameless protagonists ― and the books are true page-turners if you can stomach salacious topics. The Pacific Northwest native might be best known for his books-turned-movies but locals particularly love him for the Fight Club comic series published with Milwaukie’s Dark Horse Comics.
Top picks: Fight Club (1996); Invisible Monsters (1999); Fugitives and Refugees: A Walk in Portland, Oregon (2003)
“You realize that our mistrust of the future makes it hard to give up the past.” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Survivor
Oregon-bred authors offer an abundance of great reads. Here are a few more favorite novels to add to your bookshelf — and we’re sure this list will grow.
- Colin Meloy – Wildwood
- Willy Vlautin – Lean on Pete
- Barry Lopez – Of Wolves and Men
- Molly Gloss – The Jump-Off Creek
- Katherine Dunn – Geek Love
- Peter Rock – My Abandonment
- William L. Sullivan – Listening for Coyote
- Peter Stark – Astoria: Astor and Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire
- Brian Doyle – The Grail: A Year Ambling and Shambling Through an Oregon Vineyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wild World