A week from today I will be at the Oregon Council of Teachers of English fall conference to accept the Oregon Spirit book award for The Turn of the Tide. I’m just thrilled to be in the company of the Oregon authors honored this year. Many of these women have been friends and mentors for years, women whose work I’m proud to recommend at the bookstore and books from which I’ve learned much about the craft of writing. Thank you to all those hard working English teachers who served on the award committee and all those who share books in their classrooms.
A lot of the work of being an author is the dull and dry sitting at a desk (even when that desk is in a tree) and writing day after day. But every now and then an event comes along that you know you’ll remember forever. The American Indian Cultural Festival in The Dalles last week was just such a moment. It was a celebration of literature and poetry and music and dance. It involved a group of books that I admire and authors I feel honored to share the stage with: Elizabeth Woody, Oregon’s Poet Laureate, Craig Lesley, acclaimed author of contemporary western literature, and National Book Award winning writer Sherman Alexie.
I was lucky enough to spend time with an adult book club and share a poetry reading with some truly outstanding young poets. I got to hear the culture club from Lyle school in Washington give their very first performance in the Sahaptian language with traditional dancing. They were simply amazing. I’m so proud of all they’ve accomplished in a year. I meet with some avid writers in the North Oregon Juvenal Detention Facility, and best of all I got to dance with the Taholah drum group from the Quinault Reservation. My favorite part of the whole thing was the series of classrooms who came to hear me and the Taholah drum group speak. They had all kinds of great questions about the culture and art of the Quinault and Makah and the practice of tribal whaling. It was the sort of mind-opening conversation that cultural festivals are made for. I am very grateful to Julian Peterson and Marko Black and all the tribal dancers from Taholah who shared their songs and prayers and dances so generously, and who invited the students to dance and drum along so whole-heartedly. I know those are memories the students will always cherish.
Thank you to Jim Tindale the librarian at The Dalles School District who made this all happen in conjunction with the great booksellers at Oregon’s oldest bookstore Klindt’s who sold all the books and hosted many of the events. Tina Ontiveros is the manager at Klindt’s and Joaquin Perez is the owner. The fundraising for this event was truly a community affair with donations coming from area schools and libraries, educational foundations, local congregations, Oregon’s poet laureate program, the Wasco County Cultural Trust, the Ford Foundation, the Meyer Memorial Trust, and the Confederated Tribes of the Grande Ronde. It’s inspiring to see so many community members come together in support of literacy and the cultural understanding of our local American Indian communities. Thank you!
I am beyond thrilled to be included in the American Indian Cultural Festival held this week in The Dalles. I will be appearing alongside Sherman Alexie, Elizabeth Woody, the poet laureate of Oregon, and adult writer, Craig Leslie. We will be doing a poetry reading which is free and open to the public on Thursday April 13th at 4:00 in The Dalles Middle School Commons. There will be live music and a drum and dance group from the Quinault Nation. Each of the authors will read a new poem. If you happen to be in the area, I’d love to see you there.
Klindt’s bookstore will host a book signing party at 7:00 that same evening. Klindt’s has the distinction of being the oldest bookstore in the state. I am particularly grateful to the owners of the bookstore who purchased hundreds of copies of my book, Written in Stone to give away to the students I will visit the day following these events. I am also very grateful to Jim Tindale, Librarian extraordinaire who did the lion’s share of the work in coordinating this festival which includes coordinating readings and author visits in 7 locations over the course of two days. He also spearheaded all the fundraising that made this celebration possible.
In addition to the poetry event I will be attending a talk by Sherman Alexie at The Dalles High School. Hundreds of children will come in on busses from all over the county to hear him read from Thunder Boy Jr. which was illustrated by the amazing Yuyi Morales. This event will include drummers and dancers from the Quinault nation.
First of all I must say that I love my local library for the safe harbor it has been for all four of my children for their entire childhoods. What a blessing to have a place I can encourage my kids to go on their bikes without me. A thousand thanks to the librarians who have staffed the Garden Home Branch over the years.
Next Tuesday the Adult Summer Reading Program will have a writer’s panel and I’m so pleased to be appearing with one of my long-time writing friends Heather Vogel Frederick and a new writing friend Cindy Brown. It should be lots of fun. Here’s a link to the full information. It’s also on my calendar. See you in a week!
Looking forward to warmer days and working in my treehouse this summer. I’ll be taking a workshop at Fishtrap again this summer. Last year I worked with Gary Ferguson, the author of The Carry Home, about writing nature based non-fiction. It was a really refreshing break in my routine to spend some time thinking about what makes non-fiction work. This year I’m going to take a workshop from Erika Wurth and I’m looking forward to working on a group of adult short stories I’ve been fiddling around with over the last year or so. Fishtrap is held in one of the most beautiful spots on earth, Wallowa Lake, and it’s staffed but the least stuffy literary crowd you’ve ever met. I’ve grown as a writer and felt more connected to writers in my region every time I’ve gone. If you’re looking for something different in a summer workshop, Fishtrap is still taking applications. They’ve got great stuff for young writers too so if you’re not the only writer in the family this makes a great family vacation.
I’m also looking forward to doing a little teaching in Portland at a brand new young writers workshop headed up by Kari Nelsestuen, a passionate advocate for young writers. I’ll be guest teaching a session for both the younger and older students. It’s called PDX Young Writers Camp and I’d love to send you to the website to sign up but I believe it’s already full. If you have a young writer who’d be interested in future writers camps send me note via the contact button here and I’ll get you on Kari Nelsestuen’s email list for next summer.
I’ll also be teaching two brand new interactive workshops at the Willamette Writers Conference August 7th to 9th. They are on plotting and revising novel length fiction. Participants will come away with a deeper understanding of plotting long form fiction, ideas for how to strengthen setting, theme and voice, and an interactive outline for their own work in progress. Willamette Writers always puts on a terrific conference with lots of options no matter what kind of writer you are, and they always bring in a huge range of producers, agents, and editors to take pitches.
My personal goal is to finish up the Heart of a Shepherd screenplay in May so that I’ll have all summer to delve into new work. My book that’s coming out in January is one I’ve been work on bit by bit for more than 4 years. It actually morphed into two completely different books, so it’s been a very long time since I’ve started brand new work. But now I’m debating between a story about a young Irish harper and the famine era migration of unaccompanied children from Ireland, and a story told from the point of a view of a wolf but also about migration.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about which story sounds like more fun. How do you make up your mind about which story to write next?