Adventures Outside AWP: Exploring Stumptown Beyond the Convention Center, By Sophia Patane

by Mar 22, 2019

The Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP)’s annual Conference & Bookfair is the largest literary conference in North America and one of the biggest events on the calendar for writers, publishers, editors, teachers, and students. It’s a feast of panels, book browsing, networking, readings, offsite events, and catching up with the workings of the literary world, but booking a full schedule each day at AWP can be overwhelming. Feeling slightly engulfed in the hubbub is to be expected, but if enthusiasm is fading to nerves and exhaustion, it’s time to get outside the convention center and out into the city.

After almost five years of attending AWP, I’ve resolved to make time for exploring the city as part of the conference experience next week. Having spent time in Portland over the past two years, I know I’m missing something special if I stay within the halls and walls––so for those who haven’t been to the City of Roses before, here are some easy ideas to get you out and about without needing to create another kind of conference schedule. Most locations are also accessible through the MAX light rail, streetcar, or bus systems.


Portland is known for its coffee, and Stumptown Coffee is one of the classic roasters with multiple shops in Portland. The atmosphere in the Stark Street location is relaxing and chill, with the Ace Hotel’s lobby open for lounge-style seating. It’s also across the street from Living Room Theaters (341 SW Tenth Avenue), which offers coffee, wine, beer, popcorn, candy, and a mouth-watering menu for enjoyment in the café/lounge or from your seat during a movie. (I recommend the ‘Dial M for Mushrooms Melt’ with a side salad.) The food is great, the seats are comfy, and it’s a wonderful haven from the hectic nature of AWP.

If you are looking for donuts, Coco Donuts and Coffee’s Downtown location (814 SW 6th Avenue) offers a feast of sugary treats that woo the taste buds from the first bite. You can’t go wrong with any selection, but the lavender-glazed donut is the kind of treat you’ll remember with a smile for a long time. Be warned, though––donuts sell out quickly, so a morning visit is preferable.


I know, I know, AWP is all about books. Why go outside to see more? Well, Powell’s City of Books’s flagship store (1005 W Burnside St.) is a legend among bookstores and the city block of books is best appreciated from within.Yet it’s not the only one in the area the worth making the trek across the Willamette River to peruse. Floating World Comics (400 NW Couch St.) is both an impressive comic shop, book shop, small publisher, and zine haven. Local artists and writers often contribute their work directly to the store’s shelves, making the relatively small shop space a world apart. For a showcase of the creative and quirky spirit cherished in Portland, this is a must see spot close to the Oregon Convention Center.


For those who enjoy a good wander through museums, Portland does not disappoint. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) (1945 SE Water Ave) has a number of exhibits, and currently features “The Science Behind Pixar.” OMSI is also home to the Kendall Planetarium and offers tours of the USS Blueback. The Oregon Maritime Museum (198 SW Naito Pkwy) is the closest museum to AWP’s venue, offering tours of Portland, the last operating sternwheel steam tug in the United States.

In addition, the Portland Art Museum (1219 SW Park Ave) has two big exhibits on display––Modern American Realism, offering highlights from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s permanent Sara Roby Foundation Collection, and the map is not the territory, an inaugural exhibition featuring regional artists exploring place and boundaries. It is, in the words of the museum, “a generative conversation about our connections to the land, efforts toward decolonization, bringing indigenous values to the forefront, and a celebration of the region’s kinship.”


Portland’s nickname as the City of Roses comes in part from the International Rose Test Garden (400 SW Kingston Ave), the oldest official and continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States. The garden is home to over 10,000 rose bushes with over 650 varieties, but the real treat of the garden is the ability to walk along the bushes (for free) and admire the infinite range of colors and characteristics showcased with each rose. Take time to walk among the roses and admire the views of the city, before heading to the nearby Portland Japanese Garden (611 SW Kingston Ave).

The Japanese Garden is a place to go to with a generous stretch of hours and a spirit of pilgrimage, as the silence and peace of the gardens convey tranquility extending beyond natural beauty. Watching the koi fish in the Strolling Pond Garden, contemplating the swirling patterns in the Flat Garden and Sand and Stone Garden, and observing the twists of time in the bonsai trees on the Ellie M. Hill Bonsai Terrace will leave you feeling rejuvenated. By the time you depart the garden, you’ll be ready to return to the conference and take in the knowledge, ideas, and opportunities that will charge your work and writing long after those three days are done.


For more AWP tips, check out AWP’s official attendee guide and our list of contributor and editor panels at the conference, and be sure to stop by Booths #3062/3064 in the Bookfair to say hello!




SOPHIA PATANE serves as the Assistant Managing Editor for Water~Stone Review and Runestone Literary Journal and is coming to the end of her time as a student in the Hamline MFA program. Her most recent creative accomplishment is finishing and defending her thesis manuscript, a collection of essays about national parks and the natural world. She lives in Woodbury, Minnesota with her husband and their two cats.

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