Kevin Sampsell: Portland’s One Man Book Band
If you hang out in the Portland literary scene for any time at all, eventually one name starts popping up over and over again. Kevin Sampsell, Kevin Sampsell, Kevin Sampsell. I first met Kevin at Powell’s City of Books – I go to a lot of author readings and he often introduces them. It’s a dream job (my words, but I think he’d agree) that he’s had since 1997. Eventually, I learned that in addition to coordinating author events for Powell’s, he also writes and publishes books. We became Twitter and Facebook friends and it became apparent, as I read his streams, that he was an integral part all things book-related in Portland. If he isn’t writing a book, publishing a book, or planning a reading series, he’s talking about it. Sometimes, I see him doing all those things at once.
When I saw that the Northwest Author Series was hosting an afternoon lecture by Kevin called “The Book World: From Reader to Published Author”, I decided that this was a perfect opportunity to find out what he was all about – in his own words, and not just what I’d heard through the grapevine.
A lot of my assumptions about Kevin were thrown out the window in the first 10 minutes. For instance, I had him pictured as growing up with his nose in a book, but it turns out he wasn’t much of a reader as a kid. Pop stardom was his aspiration and to that end he began writing song lyrics. He didn’t go to college, although he did attend broadcasting school for a year. Growing up in a lower-middle class home in Washington, he said, “I never dreamed of going to college or being a serious writer.”
He only began reading seriously when he was around 21 after dating a girl who mocked him for lacking serious book mojo. After they broke up, he started reading the accessible stuff like True Crime. Interestingly, even before he was a reader, he wrote poetry. A lot of the friends he has now are writers he met 20 years ago just hanging out at places like Cafe Lena during open mic nights.
In the early nineties, he started Future Tense Books, a small independent press, which was originally a vanity press but led to him publish dozens of other people’s books. His own books include his memoir, A Common Pornography, which is a collection of vignettes about growing up that he published in 2003. A longer version of it was bought by HarperCollins in 2010 and released to much critical acclaim.
He is also a talent scout, it seems. In 2000, he taught a class in creative writing and met Zoe Trope who was just 14. He published her Please Don’t Kill the Freshman and one thing led to another. Eventually he helped her land a $100,000 book deal with HarperCollins. He then published Grosse Pointe Girl by Sarah Grace McCandless and she was subsequently picked up by Simon & Schuster.
Along the way, he penned essays for the Associated Press. One of my favorites is What Not to Do at a Bookstore Reading. Oh, and he’s written book reviews for The Oregonian and sold short stories. He does it all, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. Thanks, Kevin, for all you do!
Kevin is now working on a novel that is “kind of a fictional sequel to A Common Pornography.” To find out more about Kevin, go to KevinSampsell.com. For information about Future Press Books, go to FuturePressBooks.com.