The Freadom Festival title art.

Portland’s Juneteenth Black Book Festival Was a Major Success!

This year, on Juneteenth, I attended the Freadom Festival: a literary festival dedicated towards elevating BIPOC voices in the literary world, specifically Black voices. It was an incredible event and I’m excited to talk about it with all of you!

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Hosted by the WOC-oriented book club Prose Before Bros, the Freadom Fest is the city of Portland’s first-ever Black Book Festival, and this was its second year in operation. This year’s theme was focused on banned books and how the institutions in power disproportionately ban books written by BIPOC and Queer authors. An entire booth was dedicated towards educating attendees on this subject, as well as highlighting resources and authors to tune into in order to fight back against these book bans.

Other booths were hosted by various literary organizations in the city, such as the writing center Literary Arts and, of course, Powell’s Books. There were zine-crafting stations (led by the very cool Independent Resource Publishing Center) and traveling book carts, a library sign-up station, and of course, multiple delicious food trucks and tents, all Black-owned and operated.

Arguably the most delightful part of the festival was its literal centerpiece: a book-swap, which took place in the gazebo at Peninsula Park. Books were stacked and organized on three tables, and the policy was that you could take home as many books as you brought to donate—or, if you brought no books, you could still take one, just to keep the spirit of reading going! One table in particular was dedicated solely to BIPOC attendees, and featured solely BIPOC authors. I personally picked up a copy of Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, by Cathy Park Hong, after a fellow attendee gave it a very spirited recommendation.

Indeed, something I really loved and appreciated about this event was how it brought people together, specifically BIPOC people living in Portland. As one of the whitest metropolitan cities in the country, it’s easy for people to forget that we do have thriving communities of color. That’s why events like these are so important: They give these communities, especially Portland’s Black community, an opportunity to come out and authentically celebrate themselves and their passions! This is also important when it comes to the arts, because most art worlds (including, and often especially, the literary world) are still pretty exclusionary.

Per their mission statement:

We are an all star team of passionate book lovers and community builders from the best book club in all of Portland, Prose Before Bros! Started in 2018, PBB is a community for WOC who are underrepresented and often ignored (especially in the literary world) and gives them a space to be seen and heard. PBB is now a book club with over 400 members!

Following the success of PBB, a group of us got together to figure out how we could expand this idea of building community but for the larger BIPOC community in Portland. We already knew that Portland is one of the most literate cities in the country and our library system one of the largest in the world. So how could we build something that incorporates the literary community but also centers Black and Brown voices and their stories? Just like PBB, we wanted to create a space where POC can exist without explanation, and so, The Freadom Festival was born.

A core tenet of the Freadom Festival is our belief that reading and books should be inclusive and accessible. Which is why we are hosting this free event in a local Portland park, open to all to come learn the importance of Juneteenth, fellowship with a community of fellow book lovers, support Black businesses, receive educational resources, and celebrate literacy and liberation!

This event was truly a delight and something special, the sort of event that every city should celebrate (but especially one such as Portland). As well as this, it’s also just damn cool to swap and talk books with people, and to see what kinds of books and stories people are bringing to the occasion! I’m so proud that the Freadom Festival once again killed it for their second year, and I’m excited to see what they do in the years to come!

(featured image: Freadom Festival/Prose Before Bros)


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Author
Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).