July 31, 2009

Processing Portland

I had the most amazing time in Portland a few weeks ago. So amazing, in fact, that's it's taken me awhile to process it. My original purpose in going to Oregon was to attend the Pacific Northwest Children's Book Conference. The conference is sponsored by Portland State University but held at Reed College. Once I committed to attending the conference (and encouraged my friend Patty to join me) I decided to squeeze in a pre-conference "sisters" weekend with Barb and Trish.

The "sisters" part of the weekend involved lots of laughter, good food (including hamburgers served on glazed Voo-Doo donuts at The Original) and exploration of Portland, which proved to be a very walkable city. We started the weekend with a tour of Beverly Cleary's NE Portland neighborhood where Ramona and Henry Huggins grew up. We saw schools named after Cleary, fountain sculptures of her most famous characters, as well as the streets she wrote about and traveled on in her own childhood.

The Cleary tour and a few visits to the wonderful Powell's bookstore in downtown Portland made the perfect introduction to my week at the Children's Book Conference.

The conference itself was wonderful. A small ratio of faculty to students, shared meals and dorm life gave us lots of opportunities to get to know each other. It was a very intimate and unique experience. I've attended other writing conferences but this was the most beneficial one, yet. There was a great balance of instruction and group critiques. There was a lot of discussion and laughter about our shared passion of writing for children. It was a very witty and generous group, and I feel lucky to have been a part of it. The post-conference dinner at Fratelli in Portland with Suz and Ali was an unexpected and highly enjoyable treat--perfect combination of good friends and good food.

I was fortunate to receive an individual critique from Linda Urban, author of A Crooked Kind of Perfect--one of my favorite middle grade novels. What a thrill. Linda was thoughtful and constructive in her comments and also a very supportive taskmistress/cheerleader. I left Portland with a specific plan and a much deeper commitment to my writing, and that's a terrific outcome as far as I'm concerned. As an added bonus I won the "Grand Prize" of the faculty donated door prizes. I received an inspiring bag of "writerly" goodies including leopard-printed book clips and a new selection of writing implements.

And as if all that wasn't enough, and it certainly was, on my very first evening at Reed after walking over the beautiful bridge pictured below I spotted a woman who looked very familiar. Before the trip I had tried to locate a former Maryland neighbor, but was unsuccessful. Her Internet profile was so low that I was beginning to wonder if she had joined the Witness Protection Program. But that night when I saw a beautiful silver-haired woman, who I hadn't seen in 21 years, I just took a chance, and asked her if she was Susie. What an incredible coincidence that she would be coming across the campus at the very moment I was walking to dinner. There was screaming and hugging involved, and I learned that she now lives about 2 minutes away from Reed. Later in the week, I had a chance to share dinner and catch up with her and her husband. I know that after this miraculous encounter we won't lose touch again . (Just in case she really is in the WPP, I'm not posting any of the adorable pictures I took of her and Mr. Susie at dinner.)

It was a perfect week.


Solvang Sherrie said...

It sounds wonderful, Maggie! Good luck on getting your first draft done. I hope I get to read it when it's ready =)

Laura said...

Inspiration + good friends? What more could you want? Sounds fabulous, Maggie:) thanks for sharing!