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Aspen Peak - 2017 - Issue 1 - Summer

Aspen Peak - Niche Media - Aspen living at its peak

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I t was 41 summers ago that Kurt Brown, perhaps too pre- dictably 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 longest- running 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 non- juried 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 pub- lished 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 anon- ymous 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 resi- dence 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 impos- sible 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'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 "THE BEAUTY OF COLORADO HAS ALWAYS INSPIRED ME, BUT ASPEN'S NATURAL SPLENDOR IS ON ANOTHER LEVEL." —carola lovering This summer she will be leading one of the juried workshops at Aspen Words, her second stint as a mentor and teacher, follow- ing a Beginning Fiction class she headed in 2015. "I try and teach writers that one of the most important things is building a com- munity. 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 influ- enced 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 doc- ument 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 occa- sionally 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. . 106  ASPENPEAK-MAGAZINE.COM

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