Potlatch

Next year is rapidly shaping up to be another good one for the local convention calendar. Aside from the nearly monthly roster of regular conventions, we’re also getting a big one near the end of the year, when World Fantasy Convention arrives in November. But first, in February we can look forward to the return to the city of a smaller but equally delightful treat, Potlatch 18, a literary convention which was last held here back in 2003.

I was fortunate enough to attend that year, when the book of honor was The Rediscovery of Man by Cordwainer Smith. Instead of having GOHs, Potlatch generally focuses instead on one book. The membership is not large, generally under 200, which might be an actual pre-set limit, although I can’t find confirmation of that. While that may seem a pretty small con, it really allows for a more intimate experience since it is possible to actually meet everyone there if you’re so inclined. There is one single track of programming as well as discussions and readings, a lively con suite, Clarion-style workshops, auctions, and a small but well-stocked dealers’ room.

Potlatch started in Seattle back in 1992 but soon made its first appearance in the Bay Area for its second year, when it was held in Berkeley. That year was also the first in which the con had a book of honor around which it centered its programming. Since then the location has hopped around, mostly between Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area, with no regular pattern. One of the main purposes of the convention is raising funds for Clarion West and its auction is one of the main sources of income for the writers’ workshop.

At Potlatch 12 I spent most of my time either in the panels with most of the other members, or in the con suite which was always packed and very lively and full of good conversations. I do love the free-wheeling nature of larger cons, which are often like carnivals with all sorts of glimpsed temptations distracting you as you go from activity to activity and the feeling that there’s always something new to see. But I have very vivid memories from the intense conversations and intimate atmosphere at Potlatch. Perhaps because it was specifically a literary convention, there was much more actual sftnal discussion than there sometimes is at a regular con — although all sorts of conversations took place as well, and during one of those I heard some terrible horror stories about Chicago’s winters that made me vow never to visit that city during the colder season. Honestly; ice in the bathroom? Not civilized.

Regardless, it was interesting to have one single track of programming so that everyone was enjoying more or less the same convention and throughout the weekend the discussions reflected this to some degree.

Potlatch’s return to the Bay Area next year also marks several firsts. For starters, the convention has chosen to honor two separate books. One is Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin, a far future Utopian/fictional anthropology story appropriately set in Northern California. It also marks the first time the convention has chosen a book by a living author (Le Guin has attended Potlatch in the past, however there is no indication that she herself will be at Potlatch 18).

Always Coming Home’s co-BOH is Growing Up Weightless by John M. Ford, a coming-of- age story set on a lunar colony in the late 21st Century, which in turn is the first YA book to be featured.

The convention will be held at the Domain Hotel, which I will be breaking in soon in October, since it will also be hosting the California Steampunk Convention and looks to be a good location for a smaller gathering of this type.

~España Sheriff

SF/SF Issue #71, August 2008