02-19-2017  1:20 pm      •     

Wordstock, Portland's premier literary event, has a bit of a diversity problem. Out of almost 200 authors scheduled to speak or appear at the annual book fair, only two are African American – Roscoe Orman, Sesame's Street's Gordon and children's book author; and Anjuelle Floyd, author of a collection of interconnected stories set in the Bay area, "Keeper of Secrets."
Add Oregon's Japanese American poet laureate Lawson Inada, Chinese American poet Tung Hui Hu, Seattle writer Kathleen Alcala and a couple of others, and there you have it. The number of writers of color represented at Wordstock can be tallied on your fingers.
But according to festival director Greg Netzer, Wordstock organizers were aware of the monotone image of their event and, ironically enough, they set out this year to attract more authors of color.
"I'm concerned about (the lack of diversity) too," Netzer said. "It makes me sad to say it."
One key reason they failed to attract more African American authors is bad timing,  Netzer said. The Miami Book Fair, one of the largest and also one of the most diverse fairs in the country, had scheduled its event the same weekend. Nearly all of authors of color the Portland group had invited – including Walter Mosley, Ha Jin, Edwidge Danticat and others – had made their schedules for Miami.
"We wanted to go after the big names," he said. "As you can tell we were not very successful, but at least we tried."
Netzer said Wordstock has a limited amount of money to pay for author appearances, and relies on the marketing money of publishers to pay the way of authors. For example, to pay for Toni Morrison to appear in Portland would have cost Wordstock about $80,000. But much more also goes into choosing authors. Netzer says Wordstock looks for writers who are producing interesting work. And more than half of their authors are recruited from publisher or author inquiries.
Wordstock's inability to lay on a festival that looks like writing America, comes at a time when Black publishing is flourishing like never before.
Talk show host and author Tavis Smiley, whose book "The Covenant with Black America" made #1 on the New York Times bestseller list, has recently expanded his publishing company, SmileyBooks.
"There has never been a wider representation of African American authors, both in the mainstream and self-publishing (than there are today)," said Cheryl Woodruff, president of SmileyBooks.
Woodruff, a graduate of Reed College, said she received a call this last week from the Miami Book Fair to try and reserve authors for next year's event. In the last 10 days, she said, she's had at least six calls from book fairs across the country to reserve authors for 2008 events. It's this simple human interaction that connects publishers, authors and book fairs, she says.
"When a fair or organization has a clear and ongoing commitment to diversity, who wouldn't want to be there," Woodruff said, adding that everyone involved is in the business for the love of books and the power it gives to people.
But despite the growth, many Black publishers and authors are having a difficult time marketing their products to a wider audience. According to an article from Black Issues Book Review from November 2006, most African American authors must rely on "radio, word of mouth, church group appearances, book signings and the occasional 'Oprah effect.'"
The magazine's publisher, Ken Smikle, launched a small advertising insert titled "Blacks & Books" that focuses on books by or of interest to readers of African descent, to help authors reach more readers.
As for next year's event, Netzer says Wordstock organizers are committed to boosting the number of authors of color. "I hope we will do much better next year," Netzer said.
The Wordstock book fair runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Oregon Convention Center, Exhibit Hall A, A1 & B. Tickets are $5, available at the door. A full schedule of authors and events can be found at www.wordstockfestival.com.

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All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. 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Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. 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