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Bend's 'Nature Of Words' Festival Faces Challenges

The American South is sometimes regarded as the country’s literary heartland.

Authors like Mark Twain and William Faulkner come to mind. But many Northwest writers say this region is just as rich with writing talent.

Next week, the nationally-known annual Wordstock book festival starts in Portland. And this weekend, readers and writers are in Bend, for that city’s premier book fest. Ethan Lindsey reports.

Ellen Waterston is perhaps Bend’s most famous writer.

Her book, ‘Then There Was No Mountain’ was nominated for several major awards when it came out in 2003. So she’s a natural as the director of the city’s ‘Nature of Words’ book festival.

But Waterston’s literary throne may soon be usurped.

Another author from Central Oregon is currently enjoying the adulation of the literary world.

Benjamin Percy grew up in Bend and just published his second book ‘Refresh, Refresh’.

And he’s won the ‘Plimpton Award’ for best new fiction.

Here’s Percy on ‘All Things Considered’ in September, describing one of his favorite books, ‘The Virginian.’

Benjamin Percy: “And once I began the pages fluttered by so quickly, they made a breeze on my face. Then, more than anything, I wanted to tug on my metaphorical chaps and spur my horse forward at such a speed his hoofs would rise of the pasture and we would be flying.”

Waterston says there’s no unhealthy competition between the local writers. But she says there is some tension in the Oregon literary scene.

Wordstock, the state’s biggest book festival, this year shifted its schedule just days from Bend’s event.

Ellen Waterston: “I emailed Larry Colton, the founder of Wordstock, recently, about Ben Percy saying, ‘Ha ha, we got him!’ And I try to make Larry feel as bad as possible that they moved to a November date.”

Waterston’s festival isn’t just fighting with other book events - its also battling the economy.

The housing slowdown has taken more cash from Bend than other cities. And that’s left fewer  dollars to go around.

For instance, the Bend Film Festival just suffered through a year with its budget cut in half.

Ellen Waterston: “We feel, knock on wood, that we’re in good position this year. Next year, I think, will be a different story. It will be a difficult time given that everyone’s after the same contributed dollar.”

Waterston says she’s hopeful next year she’ll still be able to attract the names to compete with the bigger festivals.

Though, Wordstock does outshine in terms of star power - consider, Dave Eggers is in Portland next week, not Bend this week.

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