Writers are generally as glad to talk about what they put down on the page as to read it aloud. The Montana Festival of the Book facilitates both reflection and recitation with days full of readings, discussions and celebration. The affair culminates in a gala finale featuring Ron Carlson, Dee McNamer and James Lee Burke (Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Wilma Theatre), but throw in a pair of Saturday discussions with One Book Montana author Guy Vanderhaeghe (noon at the Wilma Theatre and 2:30 p.m. at the Missoula Public Library) and it begins to seem that a weekend is hardly time enough to fit it all in. That’s why we’ve culled the schedule to offer this quick guide to the best of the best; check the unabridged edition to see when these talkers might also be reading.
La vida logos
There’s bound to be more than one dish session about living la vida logos during the bookfest, but if you’re going to put a “Conversation on the Writing Life” on the agenda, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better guest than Richard Wheeler. The former newspaperman has authored more novels—30 and counting—than most people read in several years, and he recently added to that stack a memoir, modestly titled An Accidental Novelist
, as if the Livingston resident just tripped over thousands of pages of prose. John Clayton aims at interlocution with Wheeler at 1 p.m. Friday at the Holiday Inn Parkside.
In your life
Just minutes after his tête-à-tête with Wheeler, Clayton, the Red Lodge author of The Cowboy Girl
, joins a panel of biographers who’ve now consented to turn the lens of examination on themselves. New York Times reporter Jim Robbins moderates a discussion that includes Missoula’s Kim Todd, whose examination of the life of pioneering natural historian Maria Sibylla Merian, Chrysalis
, garnered a laudatory Brief Note in the New Yorker, among other plaudits. Ask probing questions of the panelists at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Holiday Inn Parkside.
Cool kids’ (round)table
Truth sayers will likely never be the coolest kids in literary circles. That honor is reserved for the fabulists, and there’s a fairly fabulous line-up of them headed for the big stage at the Wilma Theatre at 1 p.m. Saturday. Missoula weighs in heavily for this go-around with three locals who’ve made good in the past year: Aryn Kyle’s inaugural novel, The God of Animals
, won her a ribald exchange with “Weekend Edition Saturday” host Scott Simon about how horses love each other. Neil McMahon brought his prose home to Montana with his fifth novel, a tale about Anaconda sympathy and construction called Lone Creek
, and UM MFA instructor McNamer showed her stuff again with Red Rover
, a time-shifting tale of how her uncle’s life might have ended. Wisconsin-based guest Larry Watson, who’s penned a few winners about the Treasure State himself, rounds out the roundtable.
Immediately following the novelists’ discussion, some other heavyweight tellers of tall tales take the Wilma stage for a 2:30 p.m. give-and-take about the short story. Burke (the part-time Lolo resident and genre-enlivening maestro behind the Dave Robicheaux novels) addresses the novel’s pithier cousin on the strength of his 2007 collection Jesus Out to Sea
. Carlson, no short story slouch himself, sidles up to Burke towing his acclaimed recent novel, Five Skies
, about building character while constructing a giant motorcycle ramp in the high desert. Fellow discussants Claire Davis (2006’s Season of the Snake
) and recent poetry anthologist Rick DeMarinis (Poems Across the Big Sky
) add their sense of how to hit fiction’s sweet spot in the fewest words possible.
Festival of the Book’s most unconventional venue—the Mountain Line Transfer Center at the corner of Ryman and Pine streets—comes out of an effort by the fledgling New Lakes Center for the Arts to put “Poetry on the Bus.” Beginning with a reading, poems by national notables and local elementary school children will share space previously reserved for advertising on Missoula’s municipal buses. Inaugurating the mobile dispensing of verse, the stationary poetry reading will demonstrate how language composed for form as well as content can’t help but correspond to the muddy mishmash of experience. What better place to illustrate that than at a public transportation depot? Be there at 4 p.m. on Friday.
So help me dog
Jag Schweitzer, Canine Special Assistant to Montana’s chief executive, explains his boss’ job (as well as the legislative process) to pre-tweens in the children’s book First Dog
. Helena editor Jessica Solberg and Bozeman illustrator Robert Rath helped the little four-legged genius complete the story, to be celebrated with a publication party at 10 a.m. Saturday in Caras Park. And, while the governor and his wife are expected to attend, don’t let their presence diminish Jag’s impressive achievements with a pen. Yes, he knows how to shake, too.
Festival of the Book runs Thursday, Sept. 13, through Saturday, Sept. 15. For a full schedule check www.bookfest-mt.org or call 243-6022.