Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for Northwest authors

It seems that 50% of all books written in English are set in New York City or London.  California, the midwest and the south are also well represented, and classic American novels cluster in the New England states, where the 19th and early 20th century intelligentsia flourished.

Still, there are a number of amazing authors living and writing in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.  Some are famed far and wide--Oregon born and raised Beverly Cleary just celebrated her 100th birthday, and Eugene's Ken Kesey is one of the 1960s writers that walked in the psychedelic footsteps of the beat poets. My favorite, Ursula Le Guin, one of the most literate and literary humans on our planet, has lived on NW Thurman St. in Portland for decades.

Not all northwest authors are as famous outside of their home territory.  Others are well known, but since they write about other times and/or places, their northwest connection isn't as obvious.  In no particular order, these include:

  • Chris Crutcher, whose gritty YA novels tend to take place along the Washington/Idaho border where he grew up.
  • Suzanne Young may live in Arizona, but her series The Program shows her Portland area roots, as characters move between Lake Oswego and Corvallis as well as Portland itself.  
  • Marissa Meyer of Lunar Chronicles fame lives in Tacoma, WA., a city just south of Seattle with a great zoo and waterfront.
  • Molly Gloss has written several novels, but I've only read The Jump-Off Creek, an amazing piece of historical fiction about a solo woman pioneer in Eastern Oregon.  
  • I assumed Patrick Ness was British after reading the Chaos Walking series (set in outer space), More Than This (set in California, England, and purgatory), and A Monster Calls (set in England).  When I met him at NCTE and fangirled at him, he asked where I was from, then told me he's from Puyallup, WA.  This became more obvious when I read The Rest of Us Just Live Here, but in my defense, he does live in the UK now.  
  • Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson takes place at Portland landmark Oaks Park.  Billed as the oldest amusement park west of the Mississippi, it's also the site of a roller rink that generations of Portlanders have learned to skate at--while a smaller number have learned the sport of roller derby there.  
  • Raymond Carver's short stories and poetry were famous in the 1980s, but I'm afraid he's being forgotten in the constant influx of new works to read.  That would be very bad.  His work is heartbreaking and real, and reflects his life growing up and living amongst the working class of 20th century Oregon and Washington--loggers, longshoremen and steelworkers, people like my grandparents and neighbors growing up.  
  • I read a lot of Tom Robbins' work in my early 20s.  Bawdy or sexist, funny or smart-assed, wise or pseudo-philosophical, you get what you look for in his work.  You also get a very specific NW vibe.  I had to dig a little to remember why that is, as he is from North Carolina and his books wander geographically, but then I saw that he spent his working life in Seattle and now lives in Skagit County.   
  • Martha Brockenbrough, April Henry, Sherman Alexie, and Craig Lesley are other NW writers of note.  


  1. Yeah. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

  2. Hmmm. I've never really thought about that before. I know I'm really excited when I read a book that is set in my state of SC. I also like Louisiana fiction for some reason ... I think because of the bayou which does well in mystery and suspense. :)
    @dino0726 from 
    FictionZeal - Impartial, Straightforward Fiction Book Reviews

  3. I used to live in Alaska and Washington State, and set my novels there. Although a selection of short stories are set in Pennsylvania, my home state. Maybe one day I'll be famous enough that folks will remember my location too. :)

  4. We visited Portland a few years ago, and, of course, I had to read a book by an author from the area. I knew about Beverly Cleary (we visited Klickitat Street) but I didn't know about Ursula LeGuin. Thanks for sharing these other authors.

  5. Love this list. I'm bookmarking it for later reference. I think Raymond Carver will have staying power. He might have a lull in popularity, but he's important. Chris Crutcher is a hoot. I love being FB friends w/ him. I read his posts to my husband; they are close to the same age. Glenda from
    Evolving English Teacher

  6. Don't forget Elizabeth George, who lives on Whidbey Island (although her detective series os set in England)- just north of Seattle. There are SO MANY excellent PNW authors out there! :D


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