Julie Mancini, language lover and literary arts champion, dies at 73

Julie Mancini, former executive director of literary arts, was a “force for good in every way,” according to former Portland City Commissioner Mike Lindberg. Photo courtesy: Literary Arts

Julie Mancini, longtime leader of what is now literary arts and fighter revealing the existence and visibility of the Portland literary scene, died Monday at the age of 73 surrounded by her immediate family. The cause of death was lung cancer, his family said.

Mancini joined what was then known as Portland Arts & Lectures in 1985. The organization merged in 1993 with the Oregon Institute of Literary Arts to become Literary Arts, and Mancini served as executive director for 15 years.. In 1997 she founded Writers in the Schools, now Literary Arts Youth Programs. When she left Literary Arts, the organization had a budget of $750,000 and an endowment of $1 million.

“Julie was a force of nature”, Director General of Literary Arts andrew overseer wrote on the band’s website on Wednesday. “She was smart and wry and funny and caring and pretty much unstoppable. She was radically creative. I feel incredibly lucky to have known her and feel the strength of her professional accomplishments every day as I continue her work.

Mancini earned her master’s degree in child development from Tufts University and put it to use as a preschool teacher in South Boston and later as a child development educator at Portland Community College. . In addition to working with Literary Arts, Mancini has served on the board of the Children’s Institute. After leaving the literary arts, she was the first general manager of caldera arts, then founded the Lyceum agency, representing writers for their public appearances. She then became director of Mercy Corps Action Center in Portland before serving as executive director of Possible Oregon University in 2015.

From growing weekly local audiences into the thousands to winning over internationally acclaimed authors – including Maya Angelou, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdieand Jeanne Didion and her husband, John Dunne – to visit Portland, Mancini was known as an avid advocate of books, writers, and the fine art of language.

In a 1989 Oregon article of Mancini’s selection as head of Mercy Corps’ Old Town Action Center, Nancy Bragdon, who worked with her in the literary arts, said of Mancini, “Julie sees possibilities…she is absolutely superb to start things off.”

Megan McMorran, who worked in the literary arts alongside Mancini from 1987 to 2000, said she was exceptionally beloved. She was constantly looking for new ways to support both writers and readers, and her impact on the community extended beyond facilitating visits from renowned authors to ensuring unique programming for school-aged children. and pay decent salaries to local writers.

Portland author Karen Karbo recalled in a Facebook post: “In 1997 she called me and asked if I wanted to be paid ‘real money’ to teach a 3-week crash course in creative writing at a local high school. I parachuted in and commandeered the class, while the regular class teacher sat down (in one instance, a teacher excused himself while I learned to pick up his dry cleaner). For a good three thousand, I would have three weeks to do whatever I wanted. I loved the crazy creative/guerrilla spirit of this whole company. It was pure Julie. It was the start of writers at school.”

Mancini was “one of the most important figures in Oregon’s history in terms of arts and culture,” former city commissioner Mike Lindberg wrote in a Facebook post this week. “She was a force for good in every way. I miss the conversations that always led me to believe anything was possible.

As well as being a talented and driven administrator, Mancini was also a gifted speaker – although she still wrote her name on cue cards due to bouts of event-related anxiety, it said. she joked once. In a speech during Celebrating 30 years of Literary Arts in 2014, she captivated her audience with anecdotes from her long career and demonstrated how her willpower and unyielding drive had yielded positive results.

“What we did for the first few years was literally beg writers to come here,” she said. “It’s hard to remember a time when writers and editors didn’t care about Portland, Oregon… We finally brought in Joan Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, because Calvin Trillin called them and told them, ‘OK, go ahead, I promise you. Stay at the Heathman and eat the salmon hash. So they did.

“Salman Rushdie came during the fatwa and we needed everyone to call the office and give us his name, then we had to check the identities of 3,000 people at the door,” she continued. “Other people came because they saw the list of people who had already come. When we asked Toni Morisson why she finally, finally came, she said, ‘Because you kept asking.'”

Of all of Mancini’s accomplishments, perhaps her greatest is the positivity she has embedded in those around her. Colleagues, friends, family, authors and acquaintances all had a happy word or story to share. Barry Johnson, editor of Oregon ArtsWatch, called her “a dynamo, creator of legendary and sometimes R-rated riffs, wonderful gossip, brilliant and sensitive reader of her audience’s psychology, excellent people-connector and almost irresistible persuader. “She was dazzling in a town that didn’t have a lot of dazzlings. She handed out candy and goodies to miscellaneous, and miscellaneous! She loved the people as a whole… no one in Portland was even remotely like her.”

In his Facebook post, Karbo writes: “This first year [of Writers in the Schools] the kids and I came up with the idea from Xerox and binding an anthology of their essays and short stories… They wanted to call it The Big Book of Naked Women Photos. (There were no photos in the anthology, nude or otherwise.) I thought, sure, why not? These kids are seniors in high school. Julie said I could do whatever I wanted. And she didn’t betray the spirit of the company. I brought it to her and she gave that big smile we all loved. ‘It’s fucking fantastic!’ Of course, it was Julie who was fucking fantastic. There are so many amazing writers, teachers, students, administrators, volunteers, and readers that make Portland the shining literary star that it is, but there was no one like Julie. Perhaps she is already setting up a series of readings in the Summerlands. Farewell, my dear.


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