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A weekend worthy of words

It reminded me a bit of the cow sculptures placed all over the city of Chicago a few years back. There were red vinyl wing chairs dotted about Portland last weekend as the City of Roses rolled out its red carpet for "Wordstock," the event with the red-chair logo.

Dubbed Portland's Literary Festival, the three-day celebration of the printed and spoken word featured more than 185 writers, a children's activity area, table after table of books from a variety of publishing houses, a poetry slam, workshops for writers and teachers and readings by authors on five stages.

The event is only three years old and already it is being billed as the biggest showcase of literary talent in the Pacific Northwest and one of the largest in the United States.

Not that big necessarily equals great, but there was a pleasant vibe that permeated the proceedings, a feeling that a sizeable fuss was being made about the importance of words in people's lives.

Writers who tend more toward being reclusive than gregarious were being feted like celebrities.

The famous rubbed elbows with the rest of us as we wandered through the Portland Convention Center.

The Florida columnist and author Carl Hiaasen was there. So was NPR's Peter Segal, actor/comedian Harry Shearer, author Dave Eggers, Roscoe Orman (who played Gordon Robinson on Sesame Street), Oregon Poet Laureate Lawson Inada and a bunch of other luminaries.

Authors at the festival have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Faulkner and PEN/Hemingway Awards, the George Polk Award for Excellence in Journalism, as well as the Newberry and Caldecott medals.

Winners of last year's Oregon Book Awards also were invited to read from their work. I read some passages from my play "Arthur's Dreams" and commented on how they were improved upon by the process of producing the play with a gifted director, cast and crew.

Writers all through the building were engaged in talking about the process of plying their craft, from writing memoirs, fiction and nonfiction to drawing cartoons for the New Yorker and getting kids interested in writing.

When they weren't attending a workshop or a reading, people strolled up and down the aisles browsing the booths, perusing and buying books, and generally having a great time surrounded by folks who love writing as much as they do.

In celebration of the sung word, I attended the closing night performance of Portland Opera's production of "Cinderella."

From where I sat, it looked like all 2,992 seats in the Keller Auditorium were filled. Imagine.

Rossini's music was gloriously interpreted by the coloratura mezzo-soprano Angela Niederloh in the title role. Equally stunning were bass baritone Derrick Parker making his Portland Opera debut as the Prince's tutor, Alidor and baritone Morgan Smith as the Prince's valet, Dandini.

Unlike the Disney and French fairy-tale versions, there were no mice turned into horses nor pumpkins turned into elegant carriages. In this Italian retelling of the story, there were wicked sisters, but the mean stepmother was replaced by a boorish stepfather. The role of the fairy godmother was replaced by the Prince's wise tutor.

And at the end, the greatest moment of magic was Cinderella forgiving her stepfather and stepsisters whose cruelty the tutor, valet and Prince had all witnessed and were ready to punish.

Following closely on the heels of the reopening of our libraries, a weekend like this renews my hope in the cultural health of our country.

Write on, Wordstock nation.