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Remembering Brian Booth

April 5, 2012

BrianThe OSU Press mourns the loss of attorney, author, and cultural activist Brian Booth, who died of cancer at his home in Portland on March 7.

Brian was an advocate for Oregon writers and a scholar of the state’s literary heritage. He founded the Oregon Institute of Literary Arts (now Literary Arts) in 1986, served as its President and Chair, and created the Oregon Book Awards and the Oregon Literary Fellowships. These programs recognize and financially encourage hundreds of Oregon writers and publishers. Novelist Don Berry called OILA “the only literary organization I know actually founded by a reader.” Among its founding board members were Raymond Carver, Ursula Le Guin, and William Stafford.

Brian later co-founded the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, which celebrates Oregon’s diverse literary and cultural legacy through public events, memorials, and publications.

In 1992, Brian edited Wildmen, Wobblies, and Whistle Punks: Stewart Holbrook’s Lowbrow Northwest, now in its eighth printing. Chosen by Portland Magazine as “One of the 20 Greatest Oregon Books Ever” and by The Oregonian as one of the top ten Northwest history books, Wildmen helped revive interest in Holbrook and his “lowbrow or non-stuffed shirt” view of history. The book also sparked renewed interest in Holbrook’s fictive alter ego, the satirical painter Mr. Otis, founder of the Primitive-Moderne School of Art.

In 1996, Brian received the Stewart H. Holbrook Award from Literary Arts for outstanding contributions to Oregon’s literary life. In presenting the award, historian Terence O’Donnell said, “Booth has probably done more for Oregon writers than anyone in the state’s history. He is Oregon’s preeminent Man of the Book.”

Brian’s publication of Davis Country: H.L. Davis’s Northwest with co-editor Glen Love in 2009 revived another quintessential Oregon author.

Brian had a favorite quote, rendered in calligraphy by Oregon painter Charles Heaney, hanging next to the door of his basement home office. It reads, “Happiness is not the purpose of life. The purpose of life is to matter, to be productive, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.”

Brian at WordstockA Celebration of Life Memorial Service is scheduled for Thursday, April 12, 2012, at 4 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1126 SW Park Avenue, Portland. A reception at the Portland Art Museum will follow.

Read Brian Booth's obituary.

Read Steve Duin's tribute to Brian in the Oregonian.

Read about Brian's work with the Himes & Duniway Society.

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