2015 Literary Sojourn rousing success
Steamboat Springs — Primarily working and reading in isolation, the six authors featured at the 23rd annual Literary Sojourn event stepped out of those routine confines Saturday to share their aspirations and inspirations with a crowd of avid literary enthusiasts.
“Events like this allow us to break out of those solitary experiences and have these conversations about what books do for us, whether you love a book or hate it,” said Dinaw Mengestu, one of featured authors. Mengestu is an Ethiopian-American novelist and writer who has also published journalism and fiction pieces that have appeared in Harper’s Magazine, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal.
Traveling from all over the country, attendees arrived brimming with anticipation and fascination at the prospect of learning from a group of renowned authors.
“Everybody here is someone who likes to read, and I think it’s interesting as a reader to hear about each of their writing processes; it’s just fascinating,” said Gayle Lehman, a Steamboat resident who has volunteered and attended the event for many years. “Whether you read the books or not prior to the event, sometimes, you get something out of the book you may have missed and you get a different kind of connection with the authors by attending the event.”
Literary Sojourn is a nonprofit event supported and conducted by a guild along with community members, and this year’s gathering incorporated a reading list of widely recognized titles from authors recommended by those featured at previous Literary Sojourns.
Saturday afternoon, the master of ceremonies, Jim Shepard, who was a featured author in 2011, kept the mood surprisingly light and upbeat with his witty quips and captivating introductions for each of the featured authors.
Inspiring readers for some 23 years now, the Literary Sojourn has seen more than 150 renowned authors over the years, discussing their views on writing and new perspectives.
“Something just sparks and takes hold,” said author Lily King about how she decided to pursue the novel “Euphoria” after discovering anthropologist Margaret Mead’s biography. “There’s something like this strong magnet that keeps drawing you back to that idea. I was so curious about this idea and her story that it just triggered my imagination.”
Other authors included Mary Doria Russell, who has written nine novels including “Doc,” “The Sparrow,” “Children of God,” “A Thread of Grace,” “Dreamers of the Day,” and the new historical novel “Epitaph,” the last of which won national and international literary awards. Russell spoke about seeing legendary figures with an entirely different perspective.
Richard (Rick) Russo, author of seven novels, a collection of short stories and screenplays, won of a 2002 Pulitzer Prize for his novel “Empire Falls” and is known for his pragmatic depictions of working-class life. He spoke about how he became a writer by drawing from his own personal experiences.
Another featured author was Diane Ackerman, known as a poet, essayist and naturalist, who has two dozen highly acclaimed works of nonfiction and poetry in her repertoire, including “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” “A Natural History of the Senses,” and her latest nonfiction book, “The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us.”
Mengestu, recipient of a 5 Under 35 award from the National Book Foundation and a 20 Under 40 award from The New York, has written three novels, including, “The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears,” “How to Read the Air” and his new novel “All Our Names,” a story that explores the puzzles of identity, place and relationships.
“Political fiction, for me, is just fiction,” he said. “The fiction I care about isn’t obsessively political but is one that is engaged fiction. It’s those stories that push our narratives out into difficult places, where gender, class and immigration, economics and violence are more than just inconvenient realities that only some people have to face.”
Throughout the afternoon authors revealed the inspirations and revelations that occur during the writing process.
“A fact that I’ve come to accept through writing is that I don’t stand benignly before you — I stand here, almost always acutely aware of the oddity of my name, the differences in our history, our culture and the colors of our skin,” Mengestu said. “When I tried to write that first flood novel, I thought I was absolving myself in the world of all of those differences. But that novel failed, not because I lacked the talent and the maturity — which I definitely did at the time — but I lacked, above all, the courage and the conviction that the stories I knew, the ones that meant something to me, had any meaning to the world outside of myself.”
As the event drew to a close, attendees were full of adoration and a new appreciation for the craft and the stories they read over the past several months.
“You really have a chance to get to know the authors and their motivations,” said Mimi Miller, of Denver, who was attending the event for the third time and is a frequent visitor to Steamboat. “You get to know all the things that they have in common by hearing about their backgrounds. This event is so well done.”
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