Steamboat welcomes literary rock stars
Bud Werner Memorial Library presents its annual readers festival
Steamboat Springs — Literary Sojourn welcomed six critically acclaimed authors to Steamboat Springs who offered inspirational insights into their creative process to a sold-out crowd of readers.
Lauren Groff, author of the New York Times bestselling novel “Fates and Furies,” encouraged the audience to feed their “art monsters” in response to a question from Steamboat Springs native Emily Stout, who is now an aspiring actress in New York City.
Stout, who received a Literary Sojourn ticket as a Christmas present from her mom, Laura, said she related to Groff when she talked about working several “crummy” jobs to support her writing in the early years.
“How do you keep your artistic pillars erect?” Stout asked.
“If you wake up every day with a commitment to your art and practice that art on a daily basis, it will get you through the hard times,” Groff advised. “Have an art monster inside of you, and feed it and let it live.
“Let that art monster stomp around the house,” Groff added. “It’s about knowing how good you are on the inside and having that faith.”
“Fates and Furies,” which was a 2015 finalist for the National Book Award, came about as Groff was writing “Arcadia,” a novel that focused on the life of a boy named Bit growing up on a commune in upstate New York. To write “Arcadia,” Groff researched The Farm, a hippie commune in Tennessee, and Oneida, a utopian community in upstate New York that existed in the 19th century, and she said she became transfixed by the idea of community.
“I began thinking what’s the smallest utopia you can have? And I thought, it’s a marriage,” Groff said.
From there, the premise of “Fates and Furies” emerged, and Groff started writing scenes from two points of view — the husband’s and the wife’s. Five years later, she presented the book to her agent.
“She said ‘you’ve made a marriage,’” said Groff, of the book that offers readers a visceral portrait of one coupling through the span of 24 years. “There are two individuals under one cover.”
Other members of Saturday’s line-up of literary all stars included: Jessie Burton, author of two international bestsellers “The Miniaturist” and “The Muse”; Patrick deWitt, author of “The Sisters Brothers,” which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize; Ethan Canin, New York Times bestselling author of five novels, including his latest “A Doubter’s Almanac”; Anthony Marra, author of the indie bestseller, “The Tsar of Love and Techno”; and master of ceremonies Jess Walter, author of “Beautiful Ruins” and a featured author at the 2014 event.
Author deWitt described his writing process as haphazard. With dead-pan humor, he said he is not one of those authors who commits 10 to 12 hours a day to writing.
“I have coffee-fueled, three-hour sessions in the morning, followed by second sessions at night,” deWitt said. “It’s a strange relationship. My night man is frustrated by my morning man’s prudishness.
“It’s the unpredictable nature of writing that makes writing so endlessly interesting to me,” he added.
He also explained that he writes his novels sequentially.
“I make things up, and if it pleases me, I keep it. If it doesn’t, I cut it,” deWitt said.
Burton said she never thought she’d be a novelist; instead, she pursued acting from the age of 11. She went to Oxford to study her craft and worked at the National Theatre, but by the age of 27, she was out of work more than in it.
“I enjoyed it, but I realized the desire for something doesn’t mean you’ll actually get it,” Burton said. “I still had this desire to do something creative to define myself in the world, so I took up writing again. I essentially replace one dream — one delusion — with another.”
After a visit to Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum, where Burton said she discovered an amazing doll house and then learned more about the woman who owned it, Burton said she found something that fascinated her and became the premise for “The Miniaturist.”
When she finished the novel three years later, she and her agent took the book to the London Book Fair, and Burton said the novel sold overnight, utterly transforming her life.
“I wrote ‘The Miniaturist’ giddily, passionately, like I’ll never write again,” Burton said. “Writing is an enigma to me. I have a skeletal frame for my story, and I do my best to keep to it.”
At the end of Saturday’s event, the audience gave the authors a standing ovation, and Walter, whose quick wit was on display throughout the afternoon, said, “Don’t give a standing ovation to authors; it’s like feeding dogs from the table.”
In its 23rd year, Literary Sojourn has welcomed 132 outstanding authors to Northwest Colorado.
Next year’s Literary Sojourn will be held Saturday, Sept. 16 at The Steamboat Grand.
Tickets for this year’s event sold out online in less than 15 minutes.
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