This week on “State of Wonder,” some of the Northwest’s most prominent writers come together to share stories and memories of the man the “New Yorker” called “the Portland sage.”
It’s hard to imagine a more quintessentially Northwest writer than Brian Doyle. He was not from Oregon, but he was of Oregon.
His tales of off-kilter small towns played out in an Oregon where the land and the animals speak, sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally. He was famously nominated for eight Oregon Book Awards in four categories, before finally winning one.
No less than the writer Ian Frazier immortalized Doyle’s place in the literary landscape in a 2016 poem for the “New Yorker,” writing: “The Brian Doyle, the Portland sage;/His writing’s really all the rage.”
Brian Doyle died in May after developing a brain tumor.
Several hundred people attended a memorial for him Sept. 21, including some of the region’s most prominent authors. Listening to them talk, we fell in love with Doyle anew, and wanted to share the event with you. So today, in partnership with Literary Arts, OPB presents memories and readings from that memorial from the following friends and writers.
- The poet Kim Stafford, one of Doyle’s longtime friends and master of ceremonies for the evening (4:00)
- Robin Cody, author of Richochet River (5:58)
- The writer and environmental philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore. (Love her writing as much as we do? Listen to our interview with her around her Oregon Book Award–nominated “Great Tide Rising.”) (9:57)
- Chip Blake, the editor-in-chief of “Orion Magazine” (17:45)
- The Oregon Coast writer Melissa Madenski (22:45)
- The award-winning nature writer and lepidopterist Robert Michael Pyle (24:56)
- Ana Maria Spagna, an author living in the North Cascades in a remote town you can only reach by foot, boat or float plane (34:58)
- David James Duncan, the author of the bestselling novels “The River Why” and “The Brothers K” (37:51)
Freewheeling prose? Doyle had it in spades. Shimmering, multifaceted characters. You bet. Speaking with “Oregon Art Beat” in 2016, Doyle was pretty open about why he wrote that way:
“One of the criticisms I get is that my books are plotless, and I think, so what?” he said. “I’m really absorbed by characters. I want the people to be completely, roaringly alive. And I want you, when you get to the end of one of my novels, to be sad that you’re not going to see these people anymore for a while.”
Watch The “Oregon Art Beat” Profile
Author Brian Doyle
Those characters and the places he wrote about captured something essential about Oregon for many, many readers, including his friend Kathleen Dean Moore, an essayist and environmental writer.
“He writes about Oregon as well or better than anyone else,” said the nature writer and philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore. “Often times place becomes a character. A character is something or someone who drives the plot forward, and certainly the place — Western Oregon, drippy old Oregon — is what drives [his] plots.”
Brian Doyle was loved as much for his friendship as his writing. As the longtime editor of the University of Portland’s alumni magazine, he raised the profile of his corner of Oregon. He also edited, taught and inspired countless writers and readers, and his circle of literary friends was wide and deep.