Oregon attracts a wide range of personalities. It’s no surprise that the literary scene is just as diverse. From a detailed account of geographic name origination to fantastical worlds infused with sociopolitical themes, the local reading list is an eclectic bibliography written by authors that claim local residence.
Over the last century, here are The Top 8 Writers With Oregon Ties:
1. Ursula K. Le Guin — Portland
Publishing her work since the 1960s, Ursula K. Le Guin would see novels as best sellers for nearly 60 years. After marrying historian Charles Le Guin in France, the couple moved to Portland, and lived there for the rest of their respective lives.
Three of her books have been finalists for both the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; her illustrious awards cabinet includes a National Book Award, five Hugo Awards, and five Nebula Awards.
Arguably the state’s greatest writer, Le Guin seamlessly incorporated social themes into her fantasy prose. Last year, the author was honored by the U.S. Postal Service with the 33rd stamp in the Literary Arts series, bearing her likeness.
Best Book: The Left Hand of Darkness
2. Ken Kesey — Springfield
The countercultural author is so Oregon, that he based his masterpiece entirely in the state.
Kesey grew up in Springfield and graduated from the University of Oregon in 1957. Three years post-graduate, Kesey began penning the novel he would best be known for. Published two years later, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was an immediate success. Directly inspired by Kesey’s participation in the government’s MK Ultra experiment, the novel followed a draft dodger seeking refuge in an Oregon-based mental institution. The movie adaptation won the Oscar for Best Picture.
Kesey’s next several novels were set in Willamette Valley and Pleasant Hill. In addition to his fiction, Kesey was a professor at his alma mater. He later passed away in 2001 in Eugene.
Best Book: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
3. Lewis A. McArthur — The Dalles
Born in The Dalles, Lewis A. McArthur had several odd jobs locally, including executive work for the Pacific Power and Light Company, a reporter for The Oregonian, and as secretary for the Oregon Geographic Board. While employed with the latter, McArthur was given ample time to research Oregonian place names, and granted access to a wide variety of sources.
In 1928, the first edition of Oregon Geographic Names was published. Now in its seventh edition, the textbook remains the authoritative source on the origins and history of the state’s names, including early settlements that no longer exist.
Best Book: Oregon Geographic Names
4. Chuck Palahniuk — Portland
Palahniuk is the modern embodiment of the Portland author. A graduate of the University of Oregon, the author began writing his minimalistic and bizarre fiction in his mid-30s. His first effort Fight Club is considered one of the best debut novels ever, inspiring the classic film of the same name.
A few years following his initial offering, Palahniuk’s father was murdered and the culprit received the death penalty. All future writing dealt with the grief he experienced, in both fictional and non-fictional categories.
In total, he has published nearly 30 books.
Best Book: Survivor
5. Beverly Cleary — McMinnville
Originating in McMinnville, Beverly Cleary is the most successful writer on this list, selling 91 copies of her work worldwide. A majority of her books are set in the Grant Park neighborhood of northeast Portland.
Her children’s literature has been credited as the first in the genre to convey narrative emotional realism.
Her notable accomplishments include a National Book Award, Newberry Medal, National Medal of Arts, and recognition as a Library of Congress Living Legend. Because of her service to youths, a public school in Portland was named after her and several statues of her famous characters can be seen around Grant Park.
Last year, Cleary passed away at the age of 104.
Best Book: Beezus and Ramona
6. Cheryl Strayed — Portland
Strayed started her writing career after moving to the Pacific Northwest. Her memoir Wild was based on her 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from the Mojave Desert to the Oregon-Washington state line. The book was #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list for seven consecutive weeks, and spent a total of 126 weeks on the list.
As well as her writing career, Strayed is a successful public speaker, often giving lectures about her life and books. She has a statue in New York as part of the Statues for Equality project.
Best Book: Wild
7. H.L. Davis
Davis hails from Nonpareil and was one of the most influential scribes in the post-frontier Pacific Northwest. A graduate of a high school in The Dalles, Davis became acquainted with rural work, finding employment as a cowpuncher, sheepherder, surveyor, and deputy sheriff for Wasco County.
In 1935, the author won the Pulitzer Prize for his first novel Honey in the Horn — the only award given to a native of the state. He published four more novels, but none received the acclaim of his debut.
Best Book: Honey in the Horn
8. Lidia Yuknavitch — Eugene
The most contemporary writer on this list, Yuknavitch migrated to Eugene in the 1980s and received her Ph.D. in English Literature at the University of Oregon. In the area, she was a member of the same writers group as fellow author Chuck Palahniuk. After five books, Yuknavitch’s debut memoir The Chronology of Water developed a cult following after two years in publication.
She currently teaches writing, literature, and film at Eastern Oregon University.
Best Book: Dora: A Headcase
Do you want to learn about more Oregonians excelling in the arts? Read “Best Oscar Winners From the Portland Area,“