Portland booksellers at Powell’s City of Books are experts on your favorite genre

By Jenn Chávez (OPB)
March 31, 2024 1 p.m.

Bookseller Katherine Morgan shares literary love with readers in the Pacific Northwest and beyond

Katherine is a Black woman with short hair and glasses, and she's posing with both hands under her chin and smiling. The window out to the street and shelves of books are in the background.

Bookseller Katherine Morgan has been an employee at Powell's City of Books since 2017. She was interviewed for OPB's "At Work With" series about what it's like to work at Powell's.

Mia Estrada / OPB


Visitors come from all over the world to wander the stacks at Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland. For Portlanders, Powell’s is a point of literary pride. For Katherine Morgan — it’s work!

“I’ve always loved books, and I wanted to be a librarian, but I didn’t want to go to college for it, so this felt like a good choice,” she said with a chuckle.

Morgan is one of many booksellers at Powell’s ready to help you find the next addition to your to-be-read pile. Whatever genre you prefer, lots of booksellers means a pretty good chance that there’s an on-site expert on your favorite type of book to read.

“Everyone here is just so passionate and so creative and so intelligent about what we love,” she said.

OPB — and many of you — wanted to know what it’s like to go to work at Powell’s. So for the latest installment of OPB’s “At Work With” series, we talked to Powell’s bookseller Katherine Morgan about tending to the literary passions of book shoppers from Portland and around the world. (Editor’s note: Powell’s Books is a sponsor of OPB.)

What are your formative memories of bookstores?

Morgan has been working at Powell’s since 2017, but like many dedicated readers, her love of bookstores dates back to her childhood.

“My family, we lived in Chicago and we didn’t have a lot of money, so for the most part, I actually went to a lot of libraries first. But on special occasions, my mother would give me $20 and we’d go to Barnes and Noble, and it just felt like an adult experience. Because when you’re younger, usually your adult, your parents, pick your books - you get told what to read. But getting the money to go to Barnes and Noble and having your adult be like, ok, you can pick out whatever you want, was like the holy grail,” she said.

“For me, it always felt like a sense of freedom.”

What do you love about romance literature and sharing it with new readers?

Morgan is a devotee of the romance genre, which she expresses through curating the romance section at Powell’s and sharing her romance lit adventures with followers of Powell’s social media and her own Instagram account, “foreverabookseller.”

“It’s one of those genres where it’s like, you know what’s going to happen and it doesn’t matter … You care more about how the couple gets together. Like, you know they’re going to end up together, so it’s fine. But it’s like, that’s the excitement,” she said.

Morgan firmly believes there is a romance book out there for everyone. This ideal deeply informs her work elevating the genre to new readers. She wants to make sure Powell’s visitors have access to a diversity of experiences in the books they read.

“The genre has definitely made better strides on being more diverse, whether that’s race, or disability, or things like that,” she said.

“It’s important to elevate characters who look like me, like I’m a fat Black woman and I’m proud of that. And I want characters who are diverse, whether or not they are people of color or women of color. I love plus-sized characters, whether they’re women or men.”

These efforts are paying off for readers of the genre, Morgan said.

“If I can help someone find a book that showcases the fact that they, themselves, are worthy of love or worthy of affection in whatever way, that is a really beautiful thing to me,” she said.

What is the most bizarre/unique/strange book request you’ve ever gotten?

Morgan’s answer to this listener question wasn’t a single book, but an entire emerging subgenre.

“It’s not strange meaning like, anything that’s bad,” she said. “But the new thing that’s become popular is monster smut. And so I get a lot of questions about that, where someone’s like, ‘do you have this one book that has aliens in it?’ Or, like, we had one that actually sold out really fast where it was called [something like] Hot Tyrannosaurus Rex. It’s just like, dinosaur smut.”

An interior shot of the romance section at Powell's. Several displays are in view, including "new and recommended romance" and "new and recommended poetry."

Powell's bookseller Katherine Morgan curates the romance section at Powell's City of Books in downtown Portland.

Mia Estrada / OPB

What’s a good page-turner romance you’d recommend?

Morgan led us through the entire romance section from A-Z, excitedly recommending at least a dozen titles. Some highlights:


“Digging Up Love,” Chandra Blumberg: “The grand gesture scene in this book, I think about it at least once a week… He’s a paleontologist and she’s a baker and he finds a dinosaur in her grandmother’s backyard.”

“The Fiancée Farce,” Alexandria Bellefleur: “My favorite of 2023. It’s sapphic, it’s got the marriage of convenience trope, there is a lot of wooing, which I love … There’s a sexy library scene, which I recommend to everyone and everyone did enjoy it.”

Books by Olivia Dade: “If you like plus-size romances, Olivia Dade is really popular. She’s very good at making sure that the main point of a plus-size romance isn’t the fact that the character is plus-size, like you’re not talking about that constantly, which I really like about her.”

“Vanessa Jared’s Got a Man,” LaQuette: “I feel like more people should talk about “Vanessa Jared’s Got a Man,” because it’s such a fun, flirty book where both characters are people of color. I feel like usually one person is a person of color and one person is white.”

Books by Jasmine Guillory: “Jasmine Guillory is the person who got me into romance. I would probably die for her… I always recommend [her books as] beginner romances.”

“The Kiss Quotient,” Helen Hoang: “The author realized that she had autism while writing the book about a character who has autism, and it’s just a good, fun, sexy read.”

And no list of Powell’s romance recommendations would be complete without “Kiss Her Once for Me,” which is partially set in Portland and features a meet-cute between two of the book’s characters at none other than…. Powell’s Books!

How many books do you read in a month, or a year?

“I try to read about 50 a year, that’s always my goal. I usually, depending on the month, try to read about four. That’s usually my sweet spot. January was a rough month, I only read two,” she said.

“The most I’ve ever read I think was 70, which is a great year. This year, my goal is 12 because I want to put less pressure on the goal, but I’m hoping for another 50.”

Can you show us a display you created at Powell’s?

While romance is Morgan’s passion, it’s not her sole literary focus at Powell’s. For example, she’s on the team that puts on the store’s many author events, and she hosts the Portland chapter of the Well-Read Black Girl book club. She also curated the store’s 2024 Black History Month display, which she called “Mirror, Mirror: Reflections of the Black Experience.”

“I think especially when coming into reading diversely, if you’re just starting or whatever … I think people will not read books by Black authors because they were like, ‘oh, I don’t see myself in it.’ But you know, Black people have been reading books by white authors and not seeing themselves in it forever, but you reflect on the aspects that you do see. And so what I wanted was, instead of focusing on the fact that the author was Black, was to focus on the experiences in the book,” she said.

An exterior shot of the entrance to Powell's City of Books on a sunny day. The store's marquee advertises several upcoming author events, and an employee is down below with a pole used to switch out the letters.

Powell's City of Books in downtown Portland is one of the largest independent bookstores in the world.

Jenn Chávez / OPB

How do you feel about the Powell’s marquee?

One of our listeners wanted to know more about the iconic marquee in front of Powell’s, which announces upcoming author events to the city. They said they’re an Uber driver who loves to show visitors the marquee and point out that, in this city, we treat our literary artists like rock stars.

Morgan agrees that’s true!

“Their biggest moment is always seeing the marquee. I have walked across the street as I’m coming into work and seen authors who are just so excited about being on it … it’s just something about seeing that name and seeing those lights, and driving by and knowing when your favorite author is coming in, it’s wonderful,” she said.

“As a writer myself, I can’t wait for the day when I’m on the marquee. I will definitely be that author who’s just pointing, like ‘yeah, that’s me!’”

Powell’s former cat-in-residence, Fup

Another listener was curious about the origin story of Fup, the resident feline on staff at another Powell’s location, the now-closed Powell’s Technical Books.

Since Fup was a bit before Morgan’s time at Powell’s, store manager Bry Hoeg helped answer this question, at least, she said, according to Powell’s lore.

“Fup was an alley cat who lived near the store … The staff wanted to adopt her and bring her into the store, and the manager said, ‘absolutely not,’ went on vacation, came back, and the cat was in the store living there,” Hoeg said.

Fup even had a blog on the website for years, written by an employee. She could be cranky with humans, but she was beloved nonetheless by customers and her coworkers until she died at the age of 19.

Fup lives on at the Burnside store: her ashes are kept in the rare books room on the third floor, along with a photo of her, her business card, and the book she was named after, “Fup” by Jim Dodge.

As it turns out, Fup the cat’s ashes are not the only ones kept at Powell’s. Hoeg said there are the ashes of three people at the store too — including a young woman who loved Powell’s dearly, whose ashes are now kept in the young adult literature section.

It’s not so hard to understand why someone who loves reading and loves their favorite bookstore would want to be remembered there in that way. Katherine Morgan gets it too.

“If I die — or when I die — I wanna be an urn in the romance section. It’ll be like, ‘Katherine Morgan’s romance section, right here!’ And I could just watch people fall in love and I’m like, ‘yayyyy!’”