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Survival Skills: Kathleen Alcott & Vauhini Vara

PBF Pass

November 4, 2023 @ 3:45 pm - 4:45 pm

Portland Art Museum Miller Gallery

Two thrilling new story collections: Emergency from Kathleen Alcott, and This Is Salvaged from Vauhini Vara. Moderated by Kimberly King Parsons (Black Light).

From an “exquisite” (The New Yorker) writer, a searing volume of prizewinning stories starring women facing points of no return: A professor finds a photograph of her deceased mother in a compromising position on the wall of a museum. A twenty-something’s lucrative remote work sparks paranoia and bigotry. A transplant to a new city must make a choice about who she trusts when her partner reveals a violent history. The summer after her divorce from an older man, an exiled painter’s former friends grapple with rumors that she attempted to pass as a teenager.

In this long-awaited debut collection, Kathleen Alcott turns her skills as a stylist on the unfreedoms of American life—as well as the guilt that stalks those who survive them. Emergency roams from European cities to scorched California towns, drug-smeared motel rooms to polished dinner parties, taking taut, surprising portraits of addiction, love, misogyny, and sexual power. Confronting the hidden perils of class ascension, the women in these stories try to pay down the psychic debts of their old lives as they search for a new happiness they can afford.

“Skillfully wrought and possessed of an exquisite eye for detail, this marvel of a collection contains enough insight and wisdom to fill several books. Kathleen Alcott proves again that she is one of her generation’s sharpest and most gifted writers, with her hand over the beating heart of our complicated, crisis-ridden nation.”
—Alexandra Kleeman, author of Something New Under the Sun

Pushing intimacy to its limits in prose of unearthly beauty, Vauhini Vara explores the nature of being a child, parent, friend, sibling, neighbor, or lover, and the relationships between self and others. A young girl reads the encyclopedia to her elderly neighbor, who is descending into dementia. A pair of teenagers seek intimacy as phone-sex operators. A competitive sibling tries to rise above the drunken mess of her own life to become a loving aunt. One sister consumes the ashes of another. And, in the title story, an experimental artist takes on his most ambitious project yet: constructing a life-size ark according to the Bible’s specifications. In a world defined by estrangement, where is communion to be found? The characters in This Is Salvaged, unmoored in turbulence, are searching fervently for meaning, through one another.

“It takes tremendous courage and wit to look with wonder at the darkest, most shameful places in the human heart and make them hilarious, tender, and deeply moving; Vauhini Vara, with her grand-scale compassion and moral complexity in This is Salvaged, can do this magic with astonishing ease.”
—Lauren Groff, author of Matrix


Portland Book Festival General Admission Passes are required for entry into all events. Passes are $15 in advance and $25 day of Festival. Youth 17 & under get in FREE. All full-priced General Admission Passes include a $5 book fair voucher and entry into Portland Art Museum. Passes admit attendees to the Festival; individual events are first-come, first-served. More info here.


Kathleen Alcott

Born in 1988 in Northern California, Kathleen Alcott is the author of the novels America Was Hard to Find, Infinite Home and The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets. Her short fiction, criticism, memoir, and food writing have appeared in outlets including Harper’s, Zoetrope: All Story, The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Review of Books, ZYZZYVA, Tin House, and ELLE. In 2019, her short fiction was anthologized in the Best American Short Stories. In 2017, her short story "Reputation Management" was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Short Story Award; in 2019 “Natural Light” was longlisted. A fellow of the MacDowell Colony, she has taught at Columbia University and Bennington College. She lives between New York and California. Her new book is the story collection Emergency.
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Vauhini Vara

Vauhini Vara is the author of This is Salvaged and The Immortal King Rao, a Pulitzer Prize finalist. She is also a journalist, writing for Wired, The New York Times Magazine, and others. She teaches at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop's Book Project and is the secretary of the mentorship collective Periplus.
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Kimberly King Parsons

Kimberly King Parsons won a 2020 National Magazine Award for fiction, and her debut collection, Black Light, was longlisted for the National Book Award and the Story Prize. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her partner and children; her novel We Were the Universe is forthcoming from Knopf in May of 2024.
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November 4, 2023
3:45 pm - 4:45 pm
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Portland Art Museum Miller Gallery
1119 SW Park Ave
Portland, 97205 United States
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