Don Rogers: Rich vein of literary gold
January 25, 2018
I knew no one going into last year's Sierra Writers Conference. I'd never participated in a writers conference, hadn't been on the Sierra College campus, didn't know where to go, what to expect.
So new to town, so ignorant. I didn't even know who this guy Gary Snyder was. Yes, embarrassing to admit now, my education sadly lacked in the Beats and the San Francisco Renaissance. It was months yet before I'd set foot in City Lights.
Of course, no one knew me, either, and incognito was kind of nice after a couple of decades in the same Colorado ski town, not famous like Olympian locals Lindsey Vonn or Mikaela Shiffrin, but known, let's say.
I'm an observer by nature, though over time my job renders me recognizable. If I do my part well enough, you'll know I'm approachable, too. Being known is a good ice-breaker, for sure. No complaints there.
But for me real magic runs through bare words and stories. The authors conjure tales that change our world out of 26 letters, the ultimate code.
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Last year, I didn't know the presenters and teachers, who included local talents like Jordan Fisher Smith, Molly Fisk, Rachel Howard, Kim Culbertson, Dmitri Keriotis. Wizards all. The whole tribe awes me in ways big name sports figures and other celebs don't. I had to work up nerve to talk with some of them when I got the chance, and it was a big thrill.
Fast forward to this year's conference last Saturday, an unexpected benchmark. I found myself no less thrilled and enamored, but these icons from a year ago have since become people. Imagine that? People I've had lunch with, seen around, taken a class from, read, critiqued in a writing group, view as mentors. Still wizards, but way cool friendly ones who are happy to share.
In the meantime between conferences, I learned what a rich literary community we really have here.
Rachel Howard's Yuba Lit public readings at the National Hotel in Nevada City give a taste. She brings in some of the brightest literary lights in our region extending to the Bay Area, and some of the random readers drawn at lot are astounding. They can steal the show.
The Squaw Valley Community of Writers, renowned for writing and poetry conferences that attract and help produce the best of the best, is based here. Last summer they blessed us with a poetry reading in a broiling Miners Foundry packed with Pulitzer winners. The family of founder Oakley Hall also boasts their own body of work in Sands Hall, his daughter who writes and teaches, and Louis B. Jones, novelist husband to executive director Brett Hall Jones.
My fandom peaked over burgers and beer at Matteo's in September with Josh Weil, whose "The Great Glass Sea" nosed out the 2015 Pulitzer winner, "All the Light We Cannot See," in that year's Dayton Literary Peace Prize. I keep both books on my desk at home and open them between tasks, hoping something in the passages soaks in.
Technically, it was an interview, though I had too much fun, laughed too hard, talked way too much and didn't take a note until I got home, half buzzed, and tried to re-create the whole conversation for a column.
I don't think there's a town this size so rife with poets, authors, readings, not to mention bookstores. Writing groups everywhere, too.
Do your art, Kurt Vonnegut urged. Do it for the sake of your sanity, your soul. Paint, photograph, throw pottery, dance, make things at The Curious Forge, build a cabinet, make a film, act, play original music, sing, try stand-up.
I have a friend who has made an art form of magic, and he's amazing. He also once was a big-time New York magazine publisher who picked just the right moment to retire. That was some trick, too.
But for me real magic runs through bare words and stories. The authors conjure tales that change our world out of 26 letters, the ultimate code. This is the very height of art to me. The best I can do for my soul.
This year I knew just where to go, knew some fellow attendees, knew two out of three of my instructors.
I found myself completely at home, learning, always learning, and looking forward to the lessons the coming year will bring until the next conference, a chance to take stock of progress in my grand quest.
You know, this is what keeps us young.
Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at email@example.com or 477-4299.