Novelist Sam Ligon pauses during his reading at the 2018 Port Townsend Writers’ Conference. He’ll be among those giving free readings at Fort Worden. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Novelist Sam Ligon pauses during his reading at the 2018 Port Townsend Writers’ Conference. He’ll be among those giving free readings at Fort Worden. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

Funny, weird, elegant: Writers bring it

Free series in Port Townsend

PORT TOWNSEND — These women and men embrace and provoke the world, in its beauty and injustice. They’re writers: novelists, poets and memoirists from Port Townsend, Utah, North Carolina and El Salvador. Twenty-one of them will give free, public readings starting today.

The 46th annual Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, hosted by Centrum, happens all week at Fort Worden State Park with workshops, residencies, lectures and guided free-writing sessions. Artistic director and novelist Sam Ligon has assembled a team of writers and teachers who, pages in hands, will step up to read from their work, in a podium shaped like wings, in the fort’s Wheeler Theater.

Admission is free to the public and seating is festival-style at the venue just inside Fort Worden, 200 Battery Way. All readings start at 7 p.m. except the opener today, which begins at 7:15 p.m.

Today’s session brings Seattle journalist and author Kristen Millares Young, Navy veteran and longtime Port Townsend poet Gary Copeland Lilley, and Paisley Rekdal, the poet laureate of Utah.

Lilley and Rekdal “write clear, beautiful, knock-you-on-the-floor poems,” said Ligon, who’s just getting warmed up.

Monday’s reading combines Daniel Orozco, “a very funny, weird fiction writer,” and Elissa Washuta, a member of the Cowlitz tribe who writes powerful nonfiction about the Native American experience.

Tuesday has three “fantastic female nonfiction writers and readers,” he said: Spokane’s Kate Lebo of “Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour & Butter,” Melissa Febos, author of the memoir “Whip Smart,” and Kim Barnes, whose books include the novel “A Country Called Home” and the memoir “Hungry for the World.”

Wednesday is all-genres night with Phong Nguyen, author of “Pages from the Textbook of Alternative History,” and Jourdan Keith, a naturalist and storyteller who founded the Urban Wilderness Project. Joining them is Erin Belieu, whose poetry is published by Copper Canyon Press in Port Townsend. Her words are “funny, angry, tender,” Ligon said, “and beautiful.”

Washington state poet laureate and El Salvador native Claudia Castro Luna arrives in the Wheeler Theater on Thursday along with novelist Jonathan Evison and memoirist Debra Gwartney.

“Claudia will make you cry,” Ligon promised, “Johnny will make you laugh; Debra will make you cry again.”

Friday features Rebecca Brown, whose books include “The Terrible Girls” on the City Lights press, Seattle poet Priscilla Long and Ligon himself, who will read a Port Townsend-set excerpt from his serial novel “Miller Cane, a True & Exact History.” The book is serialized in Spokane’s weekly newspaper The Inlander (

To bring it all to a close, Saturday has “beautiful, elegant poetry,” Ligon said, from Carl Phillips, prize-winning author of “The Rest of Love,” Robert Wrigley, Idaho poet and husband of Kim Barnes, and Susan Landgraf, the city of Auburn’s poet laureate.

This summer marks the arrival of a new manager for Centrum’s writing programs. George Marie of Port Townsend succeeds Jordan Hartt, who is moving to Olympia after 14 years as program manager. Marie, a development associate at Centrum since 2017, moved here five years ago from Oregon after working with Portland’s Bedouin Books and the Write Now Poetry Society. She’ll run not only the main Port Townsend Writers’ Conference but also two youth writing gatherings in spring and summer.

“Centrum is a place where writers explore their craft with bravery and daring, a place where the spirit of each writer can be nurtured and thrive,” Marie said in a news release this week. A graduate of Oregon’s Marylhurst University, she holds bachelor’s degrees in cultural studies, social philosophy, and English literature.

Novelist Bill Ransom founded the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference in 1974, envisioning “an egalitarian, non-hierarchical writing conference,” Hartt has noted. The emphasis is on the craft of literary writing and on inspiration toward the writing life.

For information about the conference and the rest of the art and music activities at Fort Worden through the year, visit or phone 360-385-3102.

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