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Oregon Book Awards: Laini Taylor | Omar El Akkad | Samiya Bashir | Nicole Georges | Anis Mojgani


If Oregon had a state book, what would it be? “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest”? One of the Ramona books? “The River Why”? “50 Shades of Grey”?

It’s nearly impossible to choose, but it’s a game played every year at the Oregon Book Awards, which takes place Monday, April 30 at the Gerding Theater at the Armory.

This week on “State of Wonder,” we’re going to bring you conversations with several of the finalists for top honors in fiction, poetry, graphic novels and more.


With a personal library like this, it's not hard to imagine author Laini Taylor would write a book about a young, book-loving librarian. The foreign-language translations of Taylor's books alone take up a full corner.

With a personal library like this, it’s not hard to imagine author Laini Taylor would write a book about a young, book-loving librarian. The foreign-language translations of Taylor’s books alone take up a full corner.

Aaron Scott/OPB

“Strange the Dreamer” with Laini Taylor — 1:42

Laini Taylor possesses an epic imagination. In her best-selling “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” series, she dreamed up a world where a girl who has a monster as a foster parent gets caught up in an epic war with not-so-benevolent angels. And now she is starting a new series with “Strange the Dreamer,” the story of a day-dreaming librarian who journeys to a fabled land living in the shadow of a war it has yet to recover from. The book received Michael L. Printz Honors for Young Adult Lit and is a finalist for the YA Oregon Book Award.

“That whole write what you know, you don’t have to do that. I find it much more fun to imagine what I don’t know and want to figure out.” — Laini Taylor

Listen to our extended interview with Taylor.


Courtesy of Penguin Random House

“American War” with Omar El Akkad — 11:46

Journalist Omar El Akkad has spent his career covering the Arab Spring in Egypt, military trials at Guantanamo Bay, refugee camps in Afghanistan and the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson, Missouri. Now he’s poured all of his experiences into his new novel “American War,” a story about a second American civil war over fought over fossil fuels and set in a Louisiana that is underwater from rising sea levels.

“War makes us ugly the same way; it makes us vengeful the same way, and that was the sort of central thesis of the novel.”  — Omar Al Akkad 

Listen to El Akkad’s full conversation on “Think Out Loud.”


"I’ve worked on this book for six years at least," says Samiya Bashir, "and what I did was walked around with glasses on that were glassed by quantum physics questions."

“I’ve worked on this book for six years at least,” says Samiya Bashir, “and what I did was walked around with glasses on that were glassed by quantum physics questions.”

Photo by Kenan Banks

“Field Theories” with Samiya Bashir — 19:36

In her newest book, Samiya Bashir has named her poems after scientific principles like “Planck’s Constant” and “Synchronous Rotation.” Their verse plumbs the space where theory collides with real life: from the back seat of a taxi cab to jazz clubs, early morning cigarettes, gun violence and tall tales. Bashir is a creative writing professor at Reed College and a consummate artist who can’t be contained by the page. She collaborates with dancers, filmmakers and actors to bring words alive in every way imaginable. And now her collection, “Field Theories,” is a finalist for the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry.

“[The universe] is so beyond the squabbles that we fill our time with, that are devastating. And yet, also devastating is the grand, grand beauty of us, if we step back and adjust our vision.” — Samiya Bashir 

You can listen to our extended conversation with Bashir (and check out the amazing videos we talked about) and hear her read in person at the Portland Art Museum May 18 as part of the De-Canon Project.


Nicole Georges is the author of the graphic memoir "Fetch."

Nicole Georges is the author of the graphic memoir “Fetch.”

Amos Mac

“Fetch” With Nicole Georges — 30:45

What do we owe the pets in our lives when they don’t make our lives easy? And what can we gain from taking care of these animal companions despite their foibles? These are some of the questions illustrator and comic book artist Nicole Georges asked when writing her graphic memoir “Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home.” The book focuses on Georges’ symbiotic relationship with a spirited, neurotic and sometimes fearfully aggressive dog named Beija, and it’s a contender for the Oregon Book Award for Graphic Literature. 

“I wrote this thing called the ‘Beija Manifesto’ … and the gist of it was: Do you see [pets] as property and as an object which you are entitled to receive pleasure from, or are they their own separate beings with likes and dislikes, who maybe don’t exist for humans to touch?” — Nicole Georges

Listen to Georges full conversation from “Think Out Loud.”


Courtesy Anis Mojgani, Image by Ryan Longnecker

“In the Pocket of Small Gods” with Anis Mojgani — 38:34

The poet Anis Mojgani isn’t up for one of Literary Arts’ Oregon Book Awards — at least not this year — but he is a Literary Arts favorite. He regularly emcees Verselandia, the annual high school poetry slam organized by Literary Arts, and he is a two-time National Poetry Slam Champion who tours the country reading and performing.

Mojgani’s work is known for its optimism and joy, but his newest book,“In the Pockets of Small Gods,” is all about vulnerability, particularly as it relates to grief.

“One of the things that I very much learned about grief is that it sort of has a tendency to throw you backwards through other chapters of grief that you may or may not have actually dealt with.” — Anis Mojgani

Mojgani will read with several of his poetry bests Sunday, April 29 at Powell’s and on May 3 at Literary Arts. More details on his site.

Want to know more about slam poetry and hear Mojgani’s full poem “Shake the Dust”? Check out the recent Verselandia episode of Literary Arts’ “The Archive Project.” Mojgani emceed, and the episode interlaces him talking about the history of slam with some of the city’s best high school poets performing at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in 2017.

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