3rd Annual Telluride Literary Arts Fest

3rd Annual Telluride Literary Arts Fest

3rd Telluride Literary Arts Festival features eclectic events for lovers of books and poetry. Award-winning author Peter Heller is special guest. Panel discussions, burlesque, a major poetry prize, bird forays, activities for kids, all part of Lit Fest. Get ‘Lit’ in Telluride, May 20-22, 2016.

Telluride Literary Arts Fest’s featured author is Peter Heller.

Telluride Literary Arts Fest’s featured author is Peter Heller.

In his book, “A History of Reading,” Alberto Manguel writes: “At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book—that string of confused, alien ciphers— shivered into meaning. Words spoken to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader.

That is the spirit in which the Telluride Literary Arts Festival, now in its third year, was founded. Reading is something to cherish individually, but also celebrate with friends and community.

“LitFest is an opportunity to get together and celebrate the joy of reading and writing and to affirm a good ole fashioned past-time,” says Between the Covers Bookstore co-owner Daiva Chesonis, one of the original conspirators behind Telluride’s shoulder-season event, slated in 2016 for May 20-22.

A longtime follower of book festivals, Chesonis decided in 2014 it was high time for Telluride to put on its own event for readers, writers, and poets. The result? A power-packed weekend featuring everything from performance poetry, author talks, and literary burlesque to moderated panel discussions, birding forays, and fun, hands-on bookish happenings for kiddos.

Telluride’s LitFest is cobbled together by a coalition of regional writers and literature-loving organizations and businesses, supporting (and sustaining) the literary arts. Its organizing entities include the Ah Haa School for the Arts, Between the Covers Bookstore, Telluride Institute’s Talking Gourds poetry program, Telluride Arts, and the Wilkinson Public Library.

Falling the weekend before Telluride Mountainfilm, the event is collective nod not only to the craft of books, but also to the West’s ongoing literary history. In Telluride, a prime example of that is “Tomboy Bride: A Woman’s Personal Account of Life in Mining Camps of the West” by Harriet Fish Backus. For almost two decades, it’s been the top annual bestseller at the Between the Covers, offering a wonderful glimpse into the region’s past through words.

With an award-winning library, a thriving poetry scene that includes several resident Poet Laureates, an art school that hosts writing workshops and a nationally recognized bookbinding academy, and an indie bookshop that’s been serving the literary needs of the area since 1974, Telluride is a town that sincerely embraces the literary arts.

For 2016, LitFest’s featured guest will be Peter Heller, author of several books, including “The Dog Stars”; “The Painter, Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River”; “The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet’s Largest Mammals”; and “Kook: What Surfing Taught Me about Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave.”

Heller is a longtime contributor to National Public Radio and a contributing editor at Outside Magazine and Men’s Journal. At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop—where he received an MFA in fiction and poetry—Heller won a Michener fellowship for his epic poem “The Psalms of Malvine.”

According to Chesonis, bookstore customers have long recommended Heller as a featured author. Thanks to sponsorship from the Wilkinson Public Library, the festival was able to bring the author to Telluride for LitFest 2016, where he will speak in some capacity each day of the festival.

LitFest kicks off Friday, May 20, with the weekend’s official “opening of the book” and the awarding of the annual Mark Fischer Poetry Prize at Telluride Arroyo Wine Bar at 6 p.m.

mark fischer poetry prize

Named in memory of Telluride’s much-loved poet, lawyer, skier, and raconteur, Fischer was a daring experimenter who combined a polyglot’s command of languages with a quirky sense of humor and a passion for obtuse words. In that spirit, prizes are awarded to entries that best exhibit the qualities of originality, novelty, complex meaning, linguistic skill and wit. The wilder the better. The prize comes with a cash award of $1,000, with three finalist awards of $100 each. The final judge in 2016 will be Southwest poet extraordinaire Judyth Hill, whose poem “Wage Peace” received international recognition after 9/11. (Submission deadline is April 15; poems can be submitted via the Talking Gourds website here.)

Following a post-awards dinner break, poetry ramps up again at Arroyo at 8:30 p.m. with the Triple Crown Poetry Performance by Peter Heller, Judyth Hill, and Dr. Zoey Benally, veterinarian and professor at Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint on the Navajo Nation. Open mic will follow.

Poet Judith Hill

Poet Judith Hill

Saturday morning brings an exciting new LitFest offering: Word Up, a tandem of moderated panels with authors and journalists at the library.

First up at 10 a.m. will be “Environmental Journalism: The State of the Art” featuring panelists Judy Muller (USC Annenberg professor of journalism, NPR contributor, and author of “Emus Loose in Egnar: Big Stories from Small Towns:); Amy Irvine (MFA Faculty Fellow at Southern New Hampshire University and winner of both the Orion Book Award and Colorado Book Award for “Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land”); Alec Jacobsen (Executive Director of the San Juan Independent and former Editor-in-Chief of ArtsRiot.com), and Heller.

The panel will be moderated by writer Craig Childs (MFA Faculty Fellow at both University of Alaska Anchorage and Southern New Hampshire University and author of “House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest” and “The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert”).

A second panel takes place at 12:30 p.m.: “Guidebook Authoring: The Ethics and a How-to of an Ever-Expiring Genre.”

Panelists will include Telluride Mountain Club Board President Tor Anderson (author/designer of several popular Telluride-area “guide maps”) and Ted Floyd (editor of Birding, the flagship publication of the American Birding Association, and author of “The Field Guide to Birds of Colorado” and “Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America”), plus an unconfirmed third.

Birder & raconteur extraordinaire, Ted Flloyd

Birder & raconteur extraordinaire, Ted Floyd

The panel will be moderated by Chesonis (co-owner of Between the Covers Bookstore, former Art Director at Telluride Magazine and co-designer of Telluride Rocks 3rd Edition).

Along with the panel discussion, with thanks to The Colorado Nature Conservancy, Floyd will offer free birding forays on both Saturday and Sunday mornings, originating from Between the Covers.

For kids, LitFest brings back its popular Kids Book Bash at the Wilkinson Library on Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

The hands-on event will include traditional Japanese Book Binding, Black Out Poetry (write a poem by blacking out the text in an old book and using the remaining words to convey a personal expression), and Guess the Book, a contest to see who can decipher the title of a shredded book in a jar for a prize.

Saturday night features the 3rd Annual Literary Burlesque performance, featuring a troupe of regional female poets and writers who will drop layers, both literal and literary, starting at 8 p.m. at the Ah Haa School.

The theme of this year’s burlesque is “Oh Sister, Where Art Thou?,”  which obviously plays off the Cohen Brothers’ famous film by a similar name—both of which derive substance from Homer’s Odyssey.

Think of white tent revivals, jailbirds freed, and siren songs. On the latter subject, however, the original quartet of “Burl Gurrls”—Amy Irvine, Kierstin Bridger, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer and Ellen Metrick—warn us not to expect being lulled to sleep. Rather, one can expect a wake-up call, an invitation, to step into ourselves, the intimacy with others, more viscerally.

“This will be our tightest show yet, in terms of both structure and thematic material,” says founding Literary Burlesque director Irvine. “It will also be our most revealing—in terms of having built the muscles needed to dig more deeply, to dare more vulnerability with one another, as well as with the audience.”

Childs will step in as emcee-turned-southern preacher.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the event includes a cash bar. Tickets are $15 dollars in advance (through the Ah Haa or Between the Covers) or at the door, if not sold out ahead of time.

Amy Irving McHarg, author & archetypal dream student analyst

Amy Irving McHarg, author/poet & founder of Literary Burlesque.

Immediately following Literary Burlesque will be “The Rapture,” a dance party with cash bar, featuring KOTO DJ Radio Addiction spinning tunes.

“This could get primal, bring your inner beat beast,” recommends Chesonis.

LitFest wraps up on Sunday, May 22, with a Featured Author Brunch at 11 a.m. at the Wilkinson Library.

Heller will read from his myriad books and regale the crowd with stories from behind the scenes of his many adventures from around the world. (Think small aircraft and big bears.)

To gear up for the Heller’s visit, the library has designated his novel, “The Dog Stars,” as their 2016 Spring Read. They have ordered a nice stack of the books for checking out and the bookstore has them in stock as well (please note BTC will be closed April 3-21).

Whether you borrow or buy, get your hands on a copy of what The New Yorker described as “a brilliant success.” “Dog Stars” was chosen as Best Book of the Year by The San Francisco Chronicle and Atlantic Monthly.

Immediately following Heller’s presentation, the closing Gourds Circle will officially “close the book” on LitFest 2016, allowing all in attendance to share their poetry and musings.

Of the gourds circle, Talking Gourds Director Art Goodtimes says: “It’s a ritual thing, really, and a chance to listen to others. And a great way to welcome the summer season of festivals and community gatherings … with words.”

Other than the Literary Burlesque, all LitFest events are free.

Keep an eye out for the Telluride Literary Arts Festival banner across Main Street in the days leading up to May 20, a reminder to set aside some time for the written word and to thank those who write for our enjoyment and escape. In the words of the late Oliver Sacks, it is “the special intercourse of writers and readers” that LitFest is all about.

Until then, get caught reading!

For the complete 2016 LitFest schedule and presenter bios, go here.

LitFest’s Facebook handle is Telluride Literary Arts Festival.


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