Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I’M O.K., YOU’RE O.K., ALL GOD’S CHILDREN ARE O.K.: Just when you thought reading new books had become too grim for words, here’s some good news from Bowker, Inc., North America’s leading provider of bibliographic info: "2004 marked a return to pre-9/11 patterns of publishing," said Andrew Grabois, senior director of publisher relations and content development for Bowker. "The historic increase in fiction, and the high double-digit growth of the religion, personal development, domestic arts, and travel categories, point to a seismic shift in the marketplace from the political to the personal. Publishers are betting that the reading public, exhausted by four years of terrorism, war, and polarizing presidential elections, will be more than ready for the kind of escapist and self-help fare that seemed trivial and inappropriate in the wake of a national tragedy." Bowker released its 2004 book production stats this week, just in time for the annual BookExpo America June 2-5 in NYC.

Sunday, May 29, 2005
REGISTER GETS COLORFUL: The 2005 High Plains Register, the literary
magazine of Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, debuted
its new format this week. Formerly a bound, traditional-sized litmag,
the register now is printed as a magazine. It's pretty, with
full-color cover and inside art by WAC visual arts fellowship winner
Pravina Gondalia. Contents include poems by WAC creative writing
fellowship winners W. Dale Nelson and Heather Jensen, and Doubleday
awardee Myra L. Peak. WAC fellowship winners Bo Moore and John D.
Nesbitt contributed prose. I'm in there with a short-short story.
Essays by LCCC students Joanna Kelley, Lacy Kriha, and Ashleigh Otis
open the issue. Get your free copy at the LCCC Bookstore or at City
Newsstand. Wyoming Arts Council also stocks them in its lobby.

Saturday, May 28, 2005
You heard it here first....The first Wyoming BookFest will be held August 10-12, 2006 in Casper. It will showcase the state's writers and their books, and will include readings, panel discussions, and book signings. The planning committee held its first meeting May 27 in Casper. It welcomes your ideas about writers and events you'd like to see at the festival. Click on the comment link below.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

HELP WANTED: I wouldn’t be doing my duty if I didn’t pass along this opportunity. The National Endowment for the Arts is hiring a literature director. This comes a week after director Cliff Becker died suddenly of a heart attack. The annual salary range is $103-$135,000, which should go a long way toward paying for those daily lattes and parking tickets. You will earn it, as life at the Dana Gioia-revamped NEA is grueling (or so I hear). Seriously, it is an extremely important job suited for someone who loves literature passionately (as Cliff did) and knows his/her way around federal grant applications. Arguably, it’s the most important job in the U.S. literary field. I did a two-year tour as assistant literature director at the NEA in 1993-95. I worked hard and enjoyed life in the big city. I met scores of interesting writers, editors, publishers, and directors of literary organizations. I learned a lot and brought that experience back to WYO in 1995. The NEA press release says that the "position may also be filled through the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA)." The allows the feds to hire (for two-year terms) people currently employed by local or state governments, and public colleges and universities. You remain an employee of your home agency but get paid federal rates. That was my arrangement during my time at the NEA.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

CUBIN VOTES FOR NEA CUTS: Barbara Cubin (R-WY) joined colleagues in Colo., Utah, and Nevada to vote for two amendments to cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Here’s the latest update from Americans for the Arts: “As we announced yesterday, the Congressional Arts Caucus amendment to increase NEA funding by $15 million and NEH funding for $10 million in Fiscal Year 2006, passed the U.S. House of Representatives by voice vote. For the first time ever, the amendment passed by voice vote, which means there will not be a detailed record of who voted for or against the amendment. As anticipated, the two weakening floor amendments to cut NEA funding were defeated by overwhelming margins. The first amendment, offered by Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO), would have reduced NEA funding by $15 million to further increase funding for the Interior Department's Payments in Lieu of Taxes program. The amendment failed by a vote of 109-311. The second amendment, offered by Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-CO), would have cut NEA funding by $30 million, shifting the funds to further increase the wildfire management program. The amendment failed by a vote of 122-298. This was a slightly tougher vote for several pro-arts Western and Midwestern Members because of specific wildfire issues in their states, including Stephanie Herseth (D-SD) who submitted a statement against shifting funds from the NEA immediately following her vote.” What's with these Colorado reps? What's with Cubin?

Monday, May 23, 2005
WHEN DOGS FLEW: Utah Poet Laureate Ken Brewer is known for his fine poetry and his wicked sense of humor. For a taste of both, go to the Utah Arts Council web pages and read "Why Dogs Stopped Flying.” In Brewer’s poem, dogs flew everywhere before humans arrived. “Their tails wagged/like rudders through wind,/their stomachs bare/to the sullen earth.” Brewer is one of the featured presenters at the Wyoming Writers, Inc., conference June 3-5 at Cheyenne’s Plains Hotel. Hear Brewer read the entire poem at the Utah Arts Council site.
Sunday, May 22, 2005

THAT LITERARY CONNECTION: Mark Spragg grew up surrounded by books. Not so strange. It is when you consider that he grew up in Wyoming’s Wapiti Valley, surrounded by 13 million acres of forest that was home to many more animals than people. “I was raised without television, radio, or, for the most part, playmates,” Mark said May 21 at the Literary Connection Conference in Cheyenne. ”There were three kids in the Upper Valley – me, my brother, and two others.” So Mark read his Dad’s books and, on the family’s monthly trips to Cody, stocked up on Park County Public Library books. As a teen, he spent summers tending the ranch’s herds with real cowboys. He lived with them in the bunkhouse. “These career cowboys liked to tell stories and they liked to read,” he said. He remembered one cowboy reading the plays of Moliere. Another had a copy of Milton’s collected essays stuffed in his boot. These influences started Mark on a career as a writer. Now, at 53, his widely praised novel, “An Unfinished Life,” will be released as a movie on Sept. 9. Mark and his wife, Virginia, wrote the screenplay. They live in northwest Wyoming.

Friday, May 20, 2005
Robert Pack led us through the poems of Milton, Howard Nemerov, Emily Dickinson, and others this afternoon at the opening session of The Literary Connection at LCCC in Cheyenne. Pack, who teaches at University of Montana in Missoula, obviously has a fondness for Nemerov's "Walking the Dog" poem, and dogs in general. This poem has what Pack considers one of the most important aspects of poetry: tension created by the interplay among dictions. Pack will be one of the speaker's at the conference's Saturday, May 21, sessions, 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Little America Hotel ballroom.
CHANGES AFOOT FOR WYOMING WRITERS, INC.: In his column for the latest Wyo-Writer, the newsletter of Wyoming Writers, Inc., outgoing president John Beach talked about some possible changes brewing for the statewide organization. He sees a need to change the WWI board structure to respond to “difficulties retaining a president or vice president.” Substantial changes, to be voted on at the general membership meeting at 8 a.m. on June 4 in Cheyenne, could allow the board to get more involved in running the organization. It could add 8-10 members with overlapping terms. Each board member “might be” (Beach stresses that this is all preliminary) in charge of a specific area, such as membership, annual conference, etc. One thing for sure, the membership meeting will be a lively one. The current crisis is one faced by many volunteer-run organizations. The WWI has grown and this may just be a natural evolutionary stage. With almost 200 members, it needs more of them to step up to the plate. And maybe it’s time for this mature organization to find a way to hire at least one part-time staffer. Experience has taught me that it helps immensely to have someone (a paid someone) to coordinate a group’s efforts. The new Wyoming Cultural Trust may offer some aid. WYO arts orgs expect the WCT to come up with some way to grant basic operating support to organizations, especially those small to mid-sized ones which are challenged daily with lack of paid staff, high overhead costs, lack of space, etc. WWI has been through growing stages before. This may be the most challenging one yet.
Thursday, May 19, 2005

FOWLER MAKES KNIVES, SHARPENS PROSE: Ed Fowler starts every day at his Willow Bow Ranch near Riverton, Wyoming, with 30 minutes of Henry David Thoreau. Then he moves on to tending his stock and making knives. Often there is a student on his spread from Alaska or Wisconsin, studying knife making with Fowler in the old way, master artisan teaching eager apprentice. “The days start at 9 a.m. and end at 3 a.m.,” he says. “They’re trying to learn as much as they can in a short amount of time. And there’s a lot to learn.” Apprentices sometimes sleep on the floor in his 30-by-90-feet workshop which rests on a concrete slab containing his “failed experiments,” knives that didn’t quite make the grade. Fowler is the author of two books, “Knife Talk: The Art and Science of Knife making” and “Knife Talk II: The High Performance Blade.” His next book, “Guard Coyotes and Mouse Stew,” will be available by June 1. It features his observations about ranch life, including the tale about a "guard coyote" that kept Fowler’s herds safe from other coyotes. “Other ranchers don’t believe me, but it’s true.” You can learn more at his web site.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

CLIFF, WE’LL MISS YOU: Dana Gioia, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, issued the official statement today: “It is with deepest sorrow that I announce that Cliff Becker, Director of Literature at the National Endowment for the Arts, died on May 17 of a heart attack.” It was a shock, as Cliff is someone I worked with at the NEA from 1993-95. He was only 40 years old, a hard worker with a wicked sense of humor who loved good writing and books. He leaves behind a lovely wife and daughter. He survived the Newt Gingrich-instituted decimation of the NEA staff in 1995 and later became interim director of the literature program, then director. I served as his guide during a May 1998 road trip to Wyoming as he promoted the Endowment’s ArtsReach grants for under-served states. I told Cliff to wear his dark D.C. suit for all our meetings. “They won’t believe you’re from the NEA if you don’t dress the part,” I told him. He knew I was pulling his leg but went along with it, for awhile anyway. We plowed through a blizzard in Yellowstone and a big blow near Greybull. Laura Bell served us coffee and cake at the Old Stone School near Shell. Cliff met tons of people on his trip. Wyoming organizations applied for – and received – five grants. I’ll let Gioia the poet have the last words: “We are heartbroken by Cliff’s sudden and untimely death. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. All of us at the NEA grieve with them at this great loss. Cliff was an important part of the fabric and personality of the Arts Endowment. He was beloved by his colleagues. And he loved them. During his 13 years at the Endowment, he nurtured our Literature programs with an understanding of how literature can open the heart and mind to a new and greater understanding of the world. He was widely respected in the field for his regard not only for the written word, but also for those who write and those who read. He will be missed deeply.” Amen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

SHOSHONE DICTIONARY IN THE WORKS: Shoshone native speakers are reviewing copies of a new dictionary featuring 9,000 words. Reba Teran, director of the Shoshone Cultural Center at Fort Washakie, has been working for three years on the printed and audio version of the dictionary. In a Wind River News article, Teran says that “we recorded elders saying the word and then recorded it in English.” All those were put into computerized text and audio files. The dictionary accompanies a renewed interest in tribal language immersion programs offered at Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation schools. That’s a big switch from U.S. Government education policy 100 years ago that prohibited students from speaking their native languages. The Shoshone language traditionally was not written, Teran says. George Hill was the first to write down Shoshone words in 1877. Writer Rupert Weeks (“Pachee Goyo, the bald one”) was one of several tribal members who over the years did extensive dictionary work. The completed dictionary will reveal a vibrant and under-appreciated language. Says Teran: “Our language is very visual and very comical. You can make yourself laugh for hours just by talking.”

Monday, May 16, 2005
I asked novelist Tim Sandlin if he'd like to be subjected to question-and-answer sessions about the Jackson Hole Writers Conference, June 23-26, and other topics about the writing life in WYO. He agreed. This is the second in a series.

Mike: You were talking about the conference's origins...

Tim: History lesson: Warren Adler called four or five people to lunch. We discussed starting a writers conference. The first two years, Philip Berman ran the Jackson Hole Writers Conference. He wanted to make a for-profit business out of it. Now, having been in the conference business for fourteen years, I firmly believe Philip was nuts. You can't make a profit. You can't even make an income. It has to be done for love or not at all.

Anyway, Philip moved on and a committee of four, and later five, local writers took over. As the years passed, I gradually ended up point man. We didn't have titles until we formed a non-profit. Im Director. Deborah Bedford is President. We plant to swap every few years. The University of Wyoming conferences office does all the work no writer who is writing would
dream of doing. The grunt work.

My job is to figure out what writers I most want to meet and invite them to a week in Jackson Hole. We don't pay squat, compared to other conferences, but the agents, editors, and big-time
guys come for a fraction of their usual fees because they want to see the Tetons and Yellowstone, and we only invite nice people. Since I don't get paid, I don't deal with anyone who has a reputation of being high maintenence.

Look for more from Tim Sandlin in upcoming posts.
Sunday, May 15, 2005

NEW NOVEL BY CHAUDET: Annette Chaudet of Greybull has published “Beyond the World: A Novel of 18th Century France” with her press, Pronghorn. This is Chaudet’s second novel. The first, “Montana Spring,” was written under the pseudonym Richard Magniet. Chaudet has also edited a number of books, including “Where the Buffalo Roam,” the “Hard Ground” anthologies, and color catalogs for the annual design conference in Cody. Other new books from Pronghorn include “High Country Veggies: High Altitude Growing and Cooking with Fresh Vegetables” by Cheryl Anderson Wright, “Root of Evil” by Sarah de Souza, and “My Cowboy Hat Still Fits: My Life as a Rodeo Star” by UW grad Abe Morris. Chaudet also has launched the “Art of the Books” project to help libraries with fund-raisers. Call Chaudet at Pronghorn Press, 307-765-2979.

Friday, May 13, 2005
I asked novelist Tim Sandlin if he'd like to be subjected to question-and-answer sessions about the Jackson Hole Writers Conference, June 23-26, and other topics about the writing life in WYO. He agreed. This is the first in a series.

Mike: How did you get involved in the planning of the Jackson Hole Writers Conference? It takes a lot of work. Were you an unwilling conscript or a naive volunteer?

Tim: Writing, especially the writing of fiction, is the most isolating of all art forms. In my opinion. To write a novel you go into a room in your brain that no one else may enter and you stay there for a year, at least. Sometimes many years. I don't see music or visual arts or acting being quite the same thing. And, besides the emotional isolation, being a writer in the West can be physically isolating, if you let it. There aren't a lot of us outside the cities and college towns. I wrote pretty much daily in Jackson Hole for over fifteen years before I met another writer. I suppose they were here, but I wasn't alert enough to track them down. And, I made a conscious decision, early on, that I could either write or ski, and I chose to write, so I often spent months without talking to a person who was interested in anything I was interested in.

Then, I went off to North Carolina to grad school and found, out there, you can't throw a rock without conking a writer on the head. The problem with East Coast writers is so many of them don't know anyone who isn't a writer. Or an agent, or an editor, or a writing teacher. I found writers in the East were isolated from life its ownself, while writers in the West were isolated from writers.

Which brings up the writers conference. When I returned to the country God vacations in I wasn't willing to give up all contact with writers, but I didn't want to mummify myself either. The logical choice was the writers conference: Four days a year I spend in the company of writers, talking about writing, recharging the batteries, and connecting with people who have
a common interest. The other (you do the math) however-many-days of the year, I write.

At least, that was the original plan.

Read more in upcoming wyolitmail posts.
Monday, May 09, 2005

WYOMING BOOKFEST IN 2006: A few months ago, the planning committee for the Casper College Literary Conference began talking about a Wyoming Book Festival in summer 2006. We all thought it was a grand idea. WYO is one of the few states without a book festival. Our southern neighbor, Colorado, used to have a huge bookfest (I was on the original planning committee) but it died a slow death. A reenergized CO Center for the Book is talking about resurrecting it. WYO did have a bookfest in October 2001, planned by a handful of writers and arts administrators, yours truly among them. It featured a Friday evening reading by the four state poets laureate from UTWYONECO, and a Saturday filed with panel discussions, teen readings, and a book fair. U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi from Gillette, a diehard reader and arts supporter, opened the Friday reading. He and his staff were glad to be in WYO – they had just fled the post-9/11 anthrax attack on their D.C. office building. That 2001 outing was pretty successful but it was more a Laramie County event than a statewide one. So who wants to help plan this shindig? So far, the state’s Arts Council, Humanities Council, and Center for the Book have agreed to participate in one way or another. Casper College is interested in wrapping its annual literary conference into any bookfest – as long as it’s held in Casper. That committee is looking at the 2006 weekends of Aug. 4-5 or 11-12. We’re open to other possibilities. Any ideas?

Friday, May 06, 2005
Holocaust article
POETRY NEVER FORGETS: Pioneer Park sixth-graders wore black T-shirts with the legend "Never Forget." At the podium, Howard Rodack belted out "Ani Ma'Amin," the same one Jews sang in 1944 on their way to Auschwitz gas chambers. This Holocaust Observance Ceremony May 5 in the Wyoming State Capitol complex brought out sixth-graders and septuagenarians alike to mark the gruesome anniversary of six million Jewish deaths in Hitler's "Final Solution." As Mt. Sinai Congregation's Uri Neil noted, another six million Poles, homosexuals, gypsies, and anti-Nazi activists also perished in the camps from 1933-45. "Never again!" That's what Jews say in response to the Holocaust. Artists and writers responded in their own unique ways. For writers, their "voices of conscience" reverberate through the decades. They could be Armenians, Native Americans, Rwandans, Jews, or Kurds. Romanian poet Paul Celan spent 18 months in a Nazi death camp. In his best-known poem, "Fugue of Death," he describes it: "Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall/we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night." Memorable poems attempt to recreate the "black milk" of other genocides. Which ones do you remember?

Thursday, May 05, 2005
SALLIS UPDATE: James Sallis is serving as the judge for this year's Wyoming Arts Council creative writing fellowships in fiction. He also will read form his work at the fellowship reading Oct. 1 at the Casper College Literary Conference. As you peruse Sallis's web site, you may be intimidated by the scores of books and articles he's written. He professes no magic formula, just some simple rules for writing: "Put your butt in the chair. Don't look down." But this noir writer also has a playful side, a sense of humor, a guy who likes surprises. In a Writing Life column on Web Del Sol, Sallis writes: "Often, asked what my major literary influences are, I respond, only half joking, 'science fiction and horror movies of the fifties.' It's true. Their proletarianism, the undercurrents of political and social themes, their mistrust of government and of received wisdom, their demotic nature and simultaneous insistence that the phenomenal world was not the true or only world; these all marked and in many ways formed me. I went right from Them! and The Thing from Another World to Richard Matheson and Robert Heinlein, from This Island Earth to Dickens and John O'Hara, from Forbidden Planet to Hemingway and Faulkner." Here's something else, an admission that might help Wyoming writers as they assemble their manuscripts for the fellowship competition: "Another statement I frequently make in interviews is that some years back I wearied of the well-made story and began improvising, improvising the way a musician does, sketching out the theme, then going where the story takes me. Surprise for the writer, the very joy of discovery, would become discovery and surprise for the reader." Find full article here.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
DEADLINE APPROACHES: Just a reminder that the deadline for the Wyoming Arts Council's creative writing fellowships in fiction is Friday, May 20, 2005. The competition, open to Wyoming residents only, offers three $3,000 fellowships to the best short story (or stories) or novel excerpt up to 25 pages. Each of the three winners also receive a $500 stipend to read their work at the Casper College Literary Conference Oct. 1 with fellowship judge James Sallis. Get your printable applications on the WAC web site.
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
DEBUT OF 2005 OWEN WISTER REVIEW: I traveled the snow-splashed Summit April 30 to attend a reception for the University of Wyoming's Owen Wister Review. The evening event at Laramie's Old Train Dept attracted 60 people on a night more winter than spring. The literary magazine has had its ups and downs since its founding in the 1970s by retired prof (and former WYO Poet Laureate) Bob Roripaugh. Bob Townsend, the 2005 editor, showed me a copy of the typed-and-photocopied 1978 inagural issue. It was a little rough in spots but featured good writing on a western theme. Bob notes in the foreword to the 2005 issue that his goal was to return to the western theme but approach it in a more contemporary vein. Emilene Ostlind, Bob Roripaugh, and Siri Nordvall culled the poetry submissions. Wyoming Arts Council fellowship winner B.J. Buckley, selected as OWR's featured writer, read her poetry to accompaniment by a coal train rumbling down the track fifty yards away. Big Horn resident and recent UW grad Greg Nickerson recited his cowboy poem, "The Wake of Old-Time Tom," in which a dead cowboy's ashes engage in an unseemly act. Myra L. Peak's husband and eight-month-old daughter joined other audience members to listen to the Green River writer read an excerpt from a novel-in-progress about her stint as a coal-mine foreman in the 1980s. Other readers included Micah Wyatt, Sheridan; Renee Carrier, Hulett; Joan Gelfand, San Francisco; and Garry Wallace, Powell. Three of the people involved in this event are alumni of Young Writers Camp, held each summer near the aptly-named town of Story, Wyo. Wyatt is a former camper and now is YWC director. Ostlind and Nickerson each attended several sessions of the camp, having fun and polishing their writing for future publication. Get your copy of the Owen Wister Review at Laramie bookstores or by writing UW Student Publications, Dept. 3625, 1000 E. University Ave., Laramie, WY 82071.

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