By Marcy Stamper
Readers and writers, literary types, and those just curious about where books come from will have the opportunity to discover new reading material by 17 authors at the Mazama Festival of Books this weekend.
The festival follows a “salon” format, where writers engage in wide-ranging, informal conversations with one other and an interviewer to explore their work – what motivates them, what they read and how they write, and more. Conversations will be moderated by journalist Katherine Lanpher and literary publicist Lauren Cerand.
In her conversations with writers and artists, Lanpher has a knack for bringing out ideas and uncovering the roots of creativity, said Amanda Jackson Mott, executive director of Methow Arts, one of the festival organizers.
Cerand said they chose the salon format because it gives all authors a chance to talk about – and read from – their work, and because it will introduce audiences to writers whose names may be less familiar.
“One of the real pleasures of putting together literary events is meeting lots and lots of passionate, engaged readers who would like to do more creative writing themselves, and watching them become inspired by a story,” said Cerand by email.
Writers will have a chance to talk about their own writing – and one other’s – and to discuss their creative process and delve into unexpected topics. Some conversations pair authors from similar genres, while others will be more unorthodox, said Mott.
On Sunday, attendees can hear Dia Calhoun and Nikki McClure, two participants whose books are geared toward younger readers. Calhoun spends at least a month writing at her family’s orchard near the town of Methow each summer. Her two most recent works of young-adult fiction are set in the Methow and at local haunts including the Twisp Farmers Market.
While Calhoun’s books are for young readers, they deal with serious subjects. Eva of the Farm looks at the effect of the recent financial crisis on a young girl who despairs about the prospect of losing the family farm to foreclosure. Eva is a poet and dreamer who uses the power of her imagery to work as she tries to save the farm, said Calhoun.
Calhoun’s latest book follows a boy who moves in with an uncle in the Methow after his parents die in an accident. The story explores his efforts to come to terms with his grief and to adapt to rural life, meandering into the fantasy realm of a video game based on King Arthur.
McClure, a visual artist and author of children’s books, will chat with Calhoun. McClure’s book Mama, Is It Summer Yet? is an imaginative response to that basic question from her son. The story, lushly illustrated with McClure’s cut-paper art, follows the boy and his mother through the seasons as they look for signs of change.
All the authors featured in the festival have Northwest roots, but one whose experiences are closer to the Methow is Ana Maria Spagna, who writes essays and nonfiction from her home in Stehekin. Despite the remoteness of that tiny community, Spagna says it is in many ways a microcosm of modern-day America.
“There’s stunning natural beauty… and sometimes there’s serious natural discomfort,” she said by email. “There is a close community, but we have serious differences, too. The ways you learn to deal with the ups and downs, the good and bad, and make it work… that’s universal.” Spagna will discuss writing about wilderness with Shannon Huffman Polson, author of North of Hope: A Daughter’s Arctic Journey.
Other festival authors include Peter Nathaniel Malae, an award-winning novelist and poet whose Our Frail Blood explores a family in crisis, and Peter Mountford, whose novel A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism won the 2012 Washington State Book Award.
Shorter fiction will be highlighted in the work of Spokane-based writer Sharma Shields, who has been described as by reviewers as weird, funny and profound. Her short-story collection, Favorite Monster, won the 2011 Autumn House Fiction Prize. Shawn Vestal’s short-story collection Godforsaken Idaho touches on the afterlife and Mormonism, among other topics.
Personal nonfiction and memoir will be represented by Leslie Helm, who wrote Yokohama Yankee about his family’s five generations in Japan, where Helm was born and raised.
Perhaps somewhat out of the literary-festival mold is the conversation between two authors of a book about pie, said Mott. Kate Lebo and Jessica Lynn Bonin have written about the philosophy of pie and the culture that surrounds it – as well as about making it. While their book A Commonplace Book of Pie, due out next month, will include some recipes, it is not a cookbook.
With a line-up that spans pie, nature and the travails of contemporary America, the festival should offer something for all readers. “I love a good story, one that makes me laugh, and I love the kind of writing that lets me see the world or myself in a new way,” said Spagna. The festival should help
readers discover material that satisfies these interests in themselves.
The Mazama Festival of Books is founded by part-time Mazama resident Art Gresh, in partnership with Methow Arts, the Mazama Country Inn and Trail’s End Bookstore. The bookstore is featuring books by festival participants all week.
The festival is on the lawn – under tents – at the Mazama Country Inn on Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 7 and 8). There are also related events, including a reception and book signing outside the Mazama Community Club on Saturday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. An opening reception for an exhibit of Nikki McClure’s cut-paper art at Door No. 3 Print & Book Art Studio in Twisp is Friday (Sept. 6) from 6 to 8 p.m. Tickets for adults are $15 for the entire festival; children and students up to 18 are free.
Book Festival schedule
FRIDAY, SEPT. 6
6–8 p.m. Opening artist’s reception for exhibit of Nikki McClure’s cut-paper art at Door No. 3 Print & Book Art Studio, Twisp; free
SATURDAY, SEPT. 7
9:30 a.m. Coffee; informal meet-and-greet with booksellers and authors
9:45 a.m. Introduction and welcome by festival founder Art Gresh
10 a.m. “Writing Wilderness” with Shannon Huffman Polson and Ana Maria Spagna
11 a.m. “Before the Hereafter” with Leni Zumas and Shawn Vestal
Noon “The Map of Memory” with Leslie Helm
1 p.m. Lunch – picnic or buy food on-site; book sales and signing
2:30 p.m. “Under Pressure” with Peter Nathaniel Malae and Vanessa Veselka
3:30 p.m. “Transform Me, Transport Me” with Sharma Shields and Ellen Welcker
4:30 p.m. “A Matter of Principle” with Scott Elliott and Peter Mountford
5:30–7 p.m. Literary cocktails in the Mazama Community Club; book sales and
SUNDAY, SEPT. 8
9:30 a.m. Coffee; informal meet-and-greet with booksellers and authors
10 a.m. “Nurturing Nature” with Dia Calhoun and Nikki McClure
11 a.m. “Someone Was Here” with Alexis Smith and Gregory Spatz
Noon “The Poetry (and Philosophy) of Pie” with Kate Lebo and Jessica Lynn Bonin; complimentary pie follows
1 p.m. Closing remarks by festival founder Art Gresh
All events on the grounds of the Mazama Country Inn unless otherwise noted.
Tickets: Adults, $15 for the entire festival; children and students up to 18, free. For registration and other information, see www.MethowValleyArts.org or call 997-4004.