Steamboat’s Literary Sojourn brings readers into author’s minds | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat’s Literary Sojourn brings readers into author’s minds

Nicole Inglis

Steamboat Springs — Over coffee cake and tea, the conversations turned to life, children, and politics. Personal issues and moral observations drifted to the ceiling tiles of the Mount Werner room in the Shera­­ton Steam­­boat Resort. — Over coffee cake and tea, the conversations turned to life, children, and politics. Personal issues and moral observations drifted to the ceiling tiles of the Mount Werner room in the Shera­­ton Steam­­boat Resort.

— Over coffee cake and tea, the conversations turned to life, children, and politics. Personal issues and moral observations drifted to the ceiling tiles of the Mount Werner room in the Shera­­ton Steam­­boat Resort.

It was the first coffee break during the 18th annual Literary Sojourn conference, and the words of world-renowned authors had shaken loose deep-seated stories among the 500 guests.

Stories begot stories Saturday afternoon, and Chris Painter, the event's informal committee chairwoman, said the lively discussions stemmed from the tales of those on the podium.

"It's the spirit and the energy with which the authors show us so much of themselves," Painter said. "They make us laugh, they make us cry. They say things that make us move just a little bit in the way we look at the world."

Authors Chris Cleave, Dan Chaon, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Wally Lamb and Frank Delaney converged in Steamboat Springs for the annual conference in which they tell stories of their inspirations, values and personal lives.

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The event sold out three weeks after tickets went on sale in spring.

"It just shows what people feel about the power of books," Painter said.

Behind the books

The afternoon began with a brunch buffet and opening remarks by Irish-born broadcaster and author Delaney, who, at his second Literary Sojourn, served as the master of ceremonies.

He also filled in one of the speaking slots for author Lori Lansens, who fell ill and could not make the event.

In introducing the featured authors and discussing his own work, Delaney turned to what seems like his only form of communication: vibrant story-telling sprinkled with equal doses of humor and humanity.

"What I'm doing is trying to show you the genesis of how a writer's mind, or this writer's mind, works," he told the crowd.

A theme of the afternoon became the inability of the authors to tell the stories behind their books without sharing stories of their personal history.

Delaney has been unable to shake the memory of meeting a tall man with fabulous boots and a booming voice, and that character became the lead in his novel "Ireland."

Lamb delivered a spirited autobiography about his upbringing and his personal connection to the events that inspired his novels and told the story of the first call he got from Oprah Winfrey about being included in her book club.

Divakaruni paced the stage, allowing the audience to see her traditional Indian dress and talking about how her immigration to the United States morphed her into a writer. She found herself afraid of forgetting her heritage, and took to the page.

"Writing is an action against forgetting, but it's also an action toward remembering things we think we had forgotten," she said.

She told the story of an Indian immigrant woman she met in America, who told her no one in this country cared about her or her story.

"If we don't know the stories of people, we really can't care about them," she said. "In some ways, that (experience) made me into a writer. We all have stories, and they're very precious. That is the power of telling stories, of hearing them spoken. Strangers become friends, and we become a community."

Chris Cleave, who traveled from London for the event, explained how the Nigerian beach he describes in "Little Bee" is the wild and raw expanse where he learned to swim when he was growing up in West Africa.

Cleave said at the beginning of his speech that the sojourn had been, so far, one of the greatest literary events he's been invited to. The event, which is nonprofit and run by a committee of volunteers, takes the full year to prepare.

"What I love most of all about it is that it's done for love," Cleave said. "It's not for profit; it's for fun. It's for the fun and love of reading, and I think that's so beautiful."

Floating away with fiction

Vicki Barron is a Steamboat resident who attended her first Sojourn on Saturday. She didn't have a ticket until a friend called her Friday to invite her.

Everybody here is really lucky to get to do this," she said. "Even if you're not a reader. This isn't a bunch of media stuff. It's just great to hear a story."

She particularly looked forward to listening to Lamb, many of whose works she has read.

As the kind of reader who slows her pace as a book comes to a close, just to put off the ending, Barron savored the afternoon.

"I love to see an author come to life," she said. "Now, I'm dying to go home and read."

Later in the afternoon, Dela­ney told about something that happened to him Saturday morning in Steamboat. He had witnessed the serene image many locals have seen: a large hot-air balloon drifting over the valley in the early morning light.

Delaney found that moment perfectly described the act of reading a work of fiction.

"Both the writer and you are in that basket, the ropes have been cut, and you're both floating away into the wild blue yonder," Delaney said. "Thanks to the book as the vehicle for the art we call authorship … we can become participators in the unexplainable, the spiritual, the marvelous."

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