Spotlight Features

Director's Spotlight: Portland Book Festival's Amanda Bullock

Director's Spotlight: Portland Book Festival's Amanda Bullock

Introducing the people shaping the literary festival world.

This week we are with Amanda Bullock, Director of Public Programs at Portland Book Festival, which she joined when it was relaunched as a program of Literary Arts in 2015!

GAOLF: What started your journey with the Portland Book Festival?

AB: I came to Portland from New York, where I was most recently doing public programming at a nonprofit social enterprise bookstore, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. We did over 200 events annually. As part of that role, I worked on the Downtown Literary Festival, which happened in 2013 and 2014 in collaboration with McNally Jackson Bookstore. Independently, I also co-organized Moby-Dick Marathon NYC. Prior to Housing Works, I worked as a bookseller, a copy editor, and in book print production.

What do you love about the LitFest world?

I love that our events are similar in so many ways but each one is unique, often defined by where it takes place.

What would you like to see more of at Festivals?

Good question! I think so many of my favourite events do a good job engaging with the communities and partners in their area, so while that’s already there it’s nice to see more of it.

What sets your Festival apart?

We are relatively small for the type of festival we are – no more than 100 featured authors, and average 8,000 attendees — which I think is really a strength and keeps us accessible to a variety of readers. We are also ticketed, which means that our audience is particularly engaged and enthusiastic, I find. We are also, I believe, the only general interest book festival that takes place in an art museum.

What is your favourite festival memory?

Tom Hanks introduced himself to me backstage by saying, “Hello, I’m Tom.”

Aside from Covid-19, what has been your biggest challenge?

Budgets, honestly. We get so much support which we are very grateful for, but I’m sure the other directors can relate that you are not going to be turning a profit with a book festival. It’s always a challenge to want to continue to grow and serve our audiences, and to keep the event accessible to as wide an audience as possible, within reasonable budget expectations.

If you could have a festival panel featuring any authors dead or alive, who would you have and what would the topic be?

Ursula K. Le Guin, because she was an icon and we very much miss her, and anyone Ursula wanted to talk to.

Last book that you read and what are you looking forward to next on your reading list?

I just finished a book coming out in May 2022, The Immortal Life of King Rao, and I absolutely loved it, it was great. Up next is probably Hernan Diaz’s new novel, Trust. I’m mostly focused on reading for the 2022 event right now.

Any authors we need to know about?

From the Pacific Northwest we have:

  • Omar El Akkad – Author of What Strange Paradise and American War (winner of the Oregon Book Award). Omar is such a talented writer, and such a smart and funny speaker, I would have him at every event I do if it were up to me.
  • Kim Fu – I loved her last book, The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, and am looking forward to her newest later this year, Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century.
  • Kimberly King Parsons – Her short story collection Black Light blew me away. Excited to see what she does next!