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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Women Writing West

October was a busy month. A good month. Beautiful fall colors and warm fall temperatures. Highlights included a symposium in Denver, and hosting Julia, a writer from northern Colorado, for a 3-day writing retreat here in Mt. Vernon. If you'd like more information on these private, one-on-one retreats, please send me a note.

The following week, I presented at the 3-day "Women Writing West" symposium hosted by Copper Nickel (literary journal for the University of Colorado, Denver). More than 500 people attended the symposium, held in Denver. Kudos to Jennifer Davis, winner of the Iowa Award for Short Fiction and assistant professor at UCD, and to Jake Adam York, poet and director of the creative writing program at UCD, for putting on such an extraordinarily well thought out and graciously run event. Co-sponsors included Colorado Center for Public Humanities, the Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and the Laboratory of Arts and Ideas.


Eight presenters, some of us old friends, some getting acquainted with each other's work for the first time, were invited to participate. How great to reconnect with Alyson Hagy from Wyoming, Lee Ann Roripaugh from South Dakota, and Pam Houston from Colorado's high country (originally from New Jersey). It was especially great to reconnect with artist, author, and friend Teresa Jordan.

Teresa grew up on Iron Mountain in Wyoming, as did a close family friend of mine, Tod Vineyard. You don't have to know Tod for long to know that he's a "real hand" - a man more at home on the back of a horse than anywhere else. Last year, my daughter did a winter internship (through Colorado State University) with Tod and his wife Vicky - feeding cows, fixing fence, building pole barns, calving out heifers, keeping her horses tuned up, and trying to keep warm. Like Tod, she was in her element and loved it.


You don't have to know Teresa for long, either, to know that she's as authentic as they come. She's also brilliant. And brilliantly creative. If you haven't read her work, start with Riding the White Horse Home. Teresa had the audience spellbound for nearly an hour as she sat perched on a stool and, in the old fashioned tradition of oral storytelling, told us a Wyoming tale rich with humor and pathos.

Acclaimed author Dierdre McNamer, and poets Maria Melendez and Karen Volkman, also presented. What incredible women! I brought home Alyson's novel Snow Ashes, Diedre's novel Red Rover, and Lee Ann's poetry Year of the Snake. Maria's love of humanity, as seen through the eyes of her work, is palpable. Karen's complex and intelligent poetry invites you to linger over each line. I've never been introduced at a gathering, or heard other authors introduced, with such care and attention as Jake and Jennifer afforded us. Thank you again, you two. You're amazing.

The symposium culminated in a launch party held at the Denver Press Club - a gala celebration of the publication of the 10th issue of Copper Nickel, literally hot off the press. The night was balmy, especially for the Mile High City in October. The Press Club (upstairs and down) was packed with UCD students, professors, and friends and fans of the contributors. Eight contributors gave readings. I read "Weaving the Web," a hybrid piece I'd written a few years ago while sequestered at a cabin in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming for a month. I start the piece out with a quote from poet Mary Oliver:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with this one wild and precious life?

It's a thought provoking question, one I often use as a writing prompt during retreats. Life is both wild, and precious. The three days spent with these other women writers, and with the students who attended the event, were treasured days - precious in the very real meaning of the word. When the symposium was over, I headed back up into the mountains - a bit richer for the experience but glad to be returning to the wilder edges of life.

For a complete article on the symposium, go to the University of Colorado's Network online publication.