MOUN­TAIN OF IN­SPI­RA­TION

Aspen Peak - - Contents - BY KELLY J. HAYES

Writ­ers have long flocked to the high coun­try for the time, space, and calm to work. Now it’s Aspen’s lit­er­ary in­sti­tu­tions that are fur­nish­ing to­day’s finest fic­tion.

Aro­man­tic may imag­ine that ideas sim­ply spring from the melt­ing snow­fields, that sen­tences flow ready­formed from the rush­ing rivers, that epipha­nies fall like shoot­ing stars from the night skies. What­ever it is, Aspen has a way of in­spir­ing writ­ers.

“I don’t mean to sound cheesy,” says Brooklyn-based ex-Aspen­ite Carola Lover­ing, “but some­thing about the ma­jes­tic, se­cluded set­ting made me feel very cre­atively en­abled. And it clar­i­fied my goal. I knew I had to write the book.” That book, The One, is Lover­ing’s de­but novel, set for re­lease next year by Simon & Schus­ter.

The rar­efied Rock­ies have long shown the power to stir pas­sion­ate word­smiths to cre­ate and share sto­ries that res­onate with the out­side world as much as within the moun­tain­ous walls of the Roar­ing Fork Val­ley. From past writer res­i­dents, in­clud­ing Hunter S. Thomp­son (Fear and Loathing in Las Ve­gas), James Sal­ter (the screen­play for Down­hill Racer), and Ted Conover (Whi­te­out: Lost in Aspen), to to­day’s in­no­va­tors, like Linda Laf­ferty (The Shep­herdess of Si­enna) and Maria Sem­ple (To­day Will Be Dif­fer­ent), Aspen has a long his­tory of cradling sto­ry­tellers. But the com­mu­nity works its magic on vis­i­tors as well, those who come to drink from the writ­ing well and find their voice.

Lover­ing, 28, be­gan writ­ing her novel, a dou­ble nar­ra­tive told from the point of view of a young woman and the “so­cio­pathic guy she can’t get over,” after col­lege as a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries. “I started writ­ing my book when I was liv­ing in New York City, but wrote the bulk of the ex­ist­ing ver­sion when I moved to Aspen,” she ex­plains. “Far from the bus­tle of the city and in the peace of the moun­tains, I felt very re­moved and still. The beauty of Colorado has al­ways in­spired me, but Aspen’s nat­u­ral splen­dor is on an­other level.”

How­ever, Aspen con­trib­uted more than scenery on Lover­ing’s jour­ney to pub­li­ca­tion. “Aspen has an in­cred­i­ble lit­er­ary com­mu­nity—I had no idea un­til I moved there,” she says. “A close friend of mine works at Aspen Words, so she was a big help in ini­tially get­ting me in­volved with the writ­ing com­mu­nity and at­tend­ing pan­els and lec­tures. I re­mem­ber one espe­cially in­sight­ful panel at the Gant fea­tur­ing sev­eral lit­er­ary agents and ed­i­tors, most of them based in New York. They of­fered ad­vice on pitches and query­ing agents, and it was very help­ful to me at that point in my own process.”

WRIT­ERS HAVE LONG FLOCKED TO THE COLORADO HIGH COUN­TRY FOR

THE TIME, SPACE, AND CALM TO WORK. NOW IT’S ASPEN’S LIT­ER­ARY IN­STI­TU­TIONS THAT ARE FUR­NISH­ING

SOME OF TO­DAY’S FINEST FIC­TION.

t was 41 sum­mers ago that Kurt Brown, per­haps too pre­dictably a Jake’s Abbey bar­tender with a pen­chant for po­etry, launched the Aspen Writ­ers’ Con­fer­ence. In the en­su­ing decades, the two-week po­etry event, a kind of bi­cen­ten­nial slam, mor­phed into one of Amer­ica’s longestrun­ning writ­ers’ pro­grams, Aspen Words.

Now a sig­nif­i­cant non­profit op­er­at­ing un­der the aus­pices of the Aspen In­sti­tute, Aspen Words at­tracts writ­ers to town via its Writ­ers in Res­i­dence pro­gram, en­cour­ages fu­ture gen­er­a­tions by bring­ing authors into the val­ley’s pub­lic schools, and dis­trib­utes books by its writ­ers in res­i­dence to the com­mu­nity through the Catch and Re­lease pro­gram. But its main mis­sion is Aspen Sum­mer Words (see op­po­site page), a mash-up of ju­ried and non­juried writer work­shops and pub­lic events fea­tur­ing noted authors from around the world.

This year, the or­ga­ni­za­tion de­buts the Aspen Words Lit­er­ary Prize, a $35,000 award to a novel or short-story col­lec­tion pub­lished in 2017. The book must be “an in­flu­en­tial work of fic­tion that il­lu­mi­nates a vi­tal con­tem­po­rary is­sue and demon­strates the trans­for­ma­tive power of lit­er­a­ture on thought and cul­ture.” A five-mem­ber jury will se­lect the first win­ner, whose au­thor will be awarded the prize in 2018 at what will be­come, thanks to an anony­mous grant, an an­nual af­fair.

Novelist Han­nah Tinti knows well the power of par­tic­i­pa­tion in Aspen Words. Her new novel, The Twelve Lives of Sa­muel Haw­ley (The Dial Press), was pub­lished to rave re­views this spring (fel­low au­thor Ann Patch­ett said the book is “one part Quentin Tarantino, one part Scheherazade, and twelve parts wild in­no­va­tion”). The book fol­lows the re­la­tion­ship of a lov­ing, gun-tot­ing father and his com­ing-of-age daugh­ter dur­ing their no­madic trav­els around the coun­try. Tinti, 43, com­pleted the work while a writer in res­i­dence in 2014.

“I was able to fin­ish the draft of my book dur­ing the month I spent in Woody Creek,” says Tinti, a Brook­lynite like Lover­ing and a co­founder of the lit­er­ary mag­a­zine One Story. “Sense of place is re­ally im­por­tant in the book, and be­ing in such a rugged and wild land­scape re­ally helped me re­late and un­der­stand that. I still show photos at cock­tail par­ties of the bear that tried to break into my cabin while I was writ­ing,” she laughs. In Twelve Lives, the pro­tag­o­nist em­bod­ies the 12 labors of Her­cules, seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble tasks com­pleted in atone­ment by the leg­endary Greek hero. To help her­self vi­su­al­ize them as she wrote, Tinti even painted pic­tures of the labors dur­ing her time in Woody Creek.

I“THE BEAUTY OF COLORADO

HAS AL­WAYS IN­SPIRED ME, BUT ASPEN’S NAT­U­RAL SPLEN­DOR IS ON AN­OTHER LEVEL.”

—carola lover­ing “I’M AL­WAYS STRUCK BY HOW QUICKLY ASPEN’S WRITER COM­MU­NI­TIES FORM. PEO­PLE HERE ARE SO IN­FLU­ENCED BY THE LAND­SCAPE AND EN­GAGED WITH NA­TURE.”—han­nah tinti

This sum­mer she will be lead­ing one of the ju­ried work­shops at Aspen Words, her sec­ond stint as a men­tor and teacher, fol­low­ing a Be­gin­ning Fic­tion class she headed in 2015. “I try and teach writ­ers that one of the most im­por­tant things is build­ing a com­mu­nity. It’s like in moun­taineer­ing, where you are all tied to­gether by a rope and when each one moves and takes a step, ev­ery­one moves for­ward,” she says. “I’m al­ways struck at Aspen by how quickly these com­mu­ni­ties form. Peo­ple here are so in­flu­enced by the land­scape and are en­gaged with na­ture. I’m re­ally ex­cited to be com­ing back.”

Of course, not all of Aspen’s writ­ers come from Brooklyn. Lo­cally grown and groomed tal­ent Tony Vag­neur be­gan writ­ing sto­ries about the Roar­ing Fork Val­ley when he was just a young pup on the fam­ily ranch. His book, Aspen: Then and Now: Re­flec­tions of a Na­tive Son (Woody Creek Press), is not only a love let­ter to the places he has seen in a life well-lived, but a doc­u­ment of the changes that have taken place in Aspen and the val­ley be­yond.

“When I was 9 years old, I got my first re­jec­tion slip from the Reader’s Digest,” re­mem­bers Vag­neur, now 70. “It killed me, and I think I quit writ­ing for a long time after that.” But he had a writ­ing re­nais­sance after he quit his col­lege foot­ball team at the Univer­sity of North­ern Colorado. “Some­where in the back of my mind, I had Ernest Hem­ing­way on the brain.”

Over the next quar­ter-cen­tury, he wrote “busi­ness let­ters and pro­pos­als which never seemed to get much no­tice, and I’d oc­ca­sion­ally spout off about some­thing in the lo­cal pa­per that would piss me off,” but it was in Jan­uary of 2005 that Vag­neur be­gan his ac­claimed col­umn, “Sad­dle Sore,” in The Aspen Times. There he painted pic­tures in words—of the peo­ple, the an­i­mals, and the places that he em­braces with spe­cial love and vigor. It is per­haps the best-writ­ten reg­u­lar news­pa­per col­umn in the state, and when the op­por­tu­nity came to pro­duce a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries in book form, he scoured his 500-plus col­umns for gems.

“As you might have guessed, much of my life is in that book,” he says. “I don’t share ev­ery­thing, but try to lay out the in­ter­est­ing parts in a way that makes sense. In ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion, I too of­ten ex­pect peo­ple to know what I’m talk­ing about, and I cuss way too much. But in writ­ing, I think I do a bet­ter job of com­mu­ni­cat­ing.”

Up and down the val­ley, that’s a com­mon trait. .

Writ­ers in arms: The Roar­ing Fork Val­ley and its lit­er­ary in­sti­tu­tions have nur­tured writ­ers for decades. Among the lat­est are (from top) novelist and One Story co­founder Han­nah Tinti, who fin­ished her lat­est book dur­ing an Aspen Words res­i­dency; Tony Vag­neur, au­thor of Aspen: Then and Now: Re­flec­tions of a Na­tive Son, who first found lit­er­ary ex­pres­sion as a colum­nist for The Aspen Times; and Carola Lover­ing, who says Aspen’s “ma­jes­tic, se­cluded set­ting made [her] feel very cre­atively en­abled” to fin­ish her de­but novel, The One, which will be pub­lished by Simon & Schus­ter next year.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.