on life, ambitions, and dreams

Wordstock: Where it began

The first Wordstock team with Norman Mailer, April 2005
Before I can tell the story of what happened at this year’s Wordstock, I need to tell the story of what happened at last year’s festival.

If you know me, you know the story of Wordstock and how I wrangled way-too-many authors during the first two years of the festival (2005 & 2006). If you mention my name to the founder, he’ll tell you how Norman Mailer was impressed by how well I dealt with authors, even though I was 18. If you talk to any of the four author coordinators now, they may tell you the story of how their job was once performed by one single person (oh, hi there!). I was the first intern and as such I was given an enormous opportunity to shape author-relations and process as it stands today and also set the foundation for the type of work that drives and fulfills me in everything that I do.

Wordstock V, October 2009

Last year, 2009, I was asked by my dear friend to come back to Wordstock and help her run event management for the festival. This was my first time working the book fair and so many things were different since 2006: there’s a new executive director, new core volunteer staff, book fair structure, etc. I was nervous, as anyone would be, walking into something familiar yet still unknown. Plus since I lived in Seattle and would only be in Portland for the week of festival, I was essentially “arriving and driving” instead of being a part of the months and months of planning leading up to the event.

The week before Wordstock V an interesting event happened, I was laid off from my full-time gig working at a publishing company. Given the economy it wasn’t too much of a shock, and as it was, I was putting things in motion for a career change. When I received my notice, going back to Wordstock was more than just a week in Portland—it was the bookend to my career in publishing; Wordstock was where it began, and where it was to end.

At Wordstock V, I met an incredible group of people, the Black Shirt Team, who surprised and impressed me that entire week. The Black Shirts are the savvy, smart, core group of volunteers who spend months planning and coordinating the details of the intricacies of the book fair. They are professionals who are part of Wordstock because they are passionate about its mission and want to stay involved in their community. They are a lot like me. When I started at Wordstock, there were only four “Black Shirts,” now there’s close to twenty, and many of which were volunteers when I was on staff. They are some of the hardest working, passionate individuals I’ve had the opportunity to work with. When people believe in a cause, they’ll work hard to make sure it’s successful.

I discovered a few things:

  • Although the staff and the structure have changed, Wordstock is still the same festival I helped launch in 2005.
  • While my name changed, the name I defined for myself through my work has not. There, people know who I am based on the results I achieved, and it was fun to walk in and exceed those expectations all over again. When you throw yourself into your work to create something amazing, it’s hard not to exit from that and leave an imprint of yourself behind.

I was wrong about the bookend. It’s hard to put an end to something that you’re good at. You can change the industry and the details, but the person that Wordstock helped create is the same person I am today.

This is how I kick-start book festivals, October 2010
Next up I’ll tell you what happened at Wordstock VI.


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