On Thursday, October 6, this year’s Visiting Writers Series launched with a winning author, Dao Strom. Born in Vietnam, Strom is currently a Portland-based writer whose newest work, We Were Meant To Be a Gentle People (published in 2015), is a crossroads of music, poetry, and visual art. I attended all but one of the Visiting Writers Series events last year and none of them stood out the way Strom’s set did. There was a microphone and DJ equipment set up stage left with two chairs. Center stage stood a taller microphone. Behind that, against the wall, the screen had been pulled down and images of Strom wearing wings and walking on the beach were projected onto the wall in time with instrumental music playing in the background. Her reading was a beautiful mixture of her own voice singing original work, a collection of instruments, and readings she gave, with key words or definitions or phrases projected onto the screen behind her.
Trevor Noah isn’t American, and it’s a fact he doesn’t let you forget. Born and raised in South Africa, Noah’s identity seems to be inexorably defined by his relationship with his home country. Because of this, race is a recurring theme in his comedy, and he often tiptoes on the line between acceptable and not, in a way that is almost universally amusing. Noah also has a way of guiding his audience down a line of thought, has us hanging on his every word, and then hilariously undermines our expectations.