Telluride Mushroom Fest: Long Litt Woon on Mourning + Mushrooms

Telluride Mushroom Fest: Long Litt Woon on Mourning + Mushrooms

Since 1981, the Telluride Mushroom Festival has celebrated all things mycological, from the newest advancements in mushroom science to its famous mushroom cook-off. The 39th annual Telluride Mushroom Festival takes place Wednesday, August 14 – Sunday, August 18.

According to Festival Director Dr. Britt Bunyard of Fungi Magazine, the theme this year is “Healing the Mind, Healing the Planet.” The program features a raft of myco luminaries including Prof. Emeritus of Pharmacology at Purdue Dr. David Nichols; founder/director of Chile’s Fundación Fungi; Giuliana Furci, founder/director of Chile’s Fundación Fungi; Mushroom Mountain’s Tradd Cotter; and the “Wise Woman of the San Juans,” Katrina Blair. 

Check out the online schedule.

Tickets/passes here

The program also features anthropologist-author Long Litt Woon. Kirkus Review describes her recent book, “The Way Through The Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning,” as a “A wonder-inducing dive into the unique kingdom of fungi.” 

Please scroll down for Woon’s answers to my questions from our email interview.

Long Litt Long debuts at the Telluride Mushroom Festival this year.



We are all amateurs at grief, although sooner or later every one of us will lose someone close to us. Grief grinds slowly; it devours all the time it needs, wrote Long Litt Woon.

“In her search for new meaning in life after the death of her husband, Long Litt Woon undertook the study of mushrooms. What she found in the woods, and expresses with such tender joy in this heartfelt memoir, was nothing less than salvation,” Eugenia Bone, author of “Mycophilia” and “Microbia” and a Telluride Mushroom Festival regular.

Lifehack suggessts 13 ways to handle grief from the loss of a loved one, among them, pray for strength; cry when you feel like crying; keep a journal; avoid isolation/reach out to friends and family; live in the moment.

But for Long Litt Woon, mourning came to rhyme with mushrooming, which she describes in her enchanting debut memoir, “The Way Through The Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning,” (2019, Penguin Random House). At the Telluride Mushroom Festival, Woon will do a reading from her memoir on Saturday, August 17, at the Elks Lodge, 2:30 – 3:30 p.m. A book-signing follows.

“Anyone with an interest in the natural world will delight in Long’s sharp-eyed description… of fungi and her therapeutic rambles through Norwegian woods. A wonder-inducing dive into the unique kingdom of fungi,” raved Kirkus Review.

Listed by Bookbub as among the 20 “utterly engrossing” non-fiction books for the summer of 2019.

Listed by Bustle as among the 21 “captivating memoirs to inspire and motivate you this summer.”

And BookRiot placed “The Way Through the Woods” on its list of 50 of the best books to read this summer.

“…Her explorations of the connections between humans, nature, grief, and healing are universal,” wrote Goodreads.

“It’s clear that mycology gave her a path out of despair, and her passion for mushrooms is evident as she describes the many varieties that are “luminescent and can light up a forest path when darkness falls” and the ancient true morels, with their “scent that can arouse powerful longing even in those who have forgotten where it comes from. This unique tale of rebirth after loss doubles as a riveting foray into the world of mushrooming,” raved Publisher’s Weekly.

In legend and fairy tales, forests and woods have many associations. They are inhabited by mysterious creatures, symbols of all the dangers young people must contend with if they are to become adults. In analytical psychology, the forest and woods represents the unconscious and its mysteries. They are connected with The Mother, a place where life thrives.

And mushrooms grow.

And in this particular case, grief releases its grip.

Long Litt Woon met Eiolf a month after arriving in Norway from Malaysia as an exchange student. They fell in love, married, and settled into a life of domestic bliss. Then Eiolf’s unexpected death at age 54 left Woon struggling to imagine a world without the man who had been her partner and anchor for 32 years. Adrift in grief, she signed up for a beginner’s course on mushrooming—a program the two of them had planned to take together—and found, to her surprise, that the pursuit of mushrooms rekindled her zest for life.

“The Way Through the Woods” tells the story of parallel journeys: an inner trip through the landscape of mourning, and an outer adventure into the fascinating realm of mushrooms: resilient, adaptable, and essential to nature’s cycle of death and rebirth –  including, as it turned out, of the spirit.

From idyllic Norwegian forests and urban flower beds to the sandy beaches of Corsica and New York’s Central Park, Woon uncovers an abundance of surprises, many hidden in plain sight: salmon-pink Bloody Milk Caps, which ooze red liquid when cut; delectable morels, prized for their earthy yet delicate flavor; and bioluminescent mushrooms that light up a forest at night.

Along the way, the anthropologist-turned-author discovers the warm fellowship of other mushroom obsessives and finds that giving her full attention to the natural world transforms her, opening a way for her to survive Eiolf’s death, to see herself anew, and to reengage with life.


TIO: First, please share with us the protocol for using Chinese names.

My name is Long Litt Woon (in this order). It is a Chinese name. Long is my surname and Litt Woon my first name. It means “Beautiful Cloud,” if that helps making it less strange. I am known as Woon among friends.

TIO: Now would you please share some of your personal history growing up in Malaysia. Do you come from a large family? What were your childhood interests?

I grew up in a small town called Taiping in Malaysia. I have two younger brothers. My father was the Headmaster of the King Edward VII Secondary Boys’ School and my mother was a housewife. As a child, I enjoyed reading and making music (piano, violin). I also went to judo class, but I did not like that very much.

TIO: Where were you educated? Did you know at an early age that you wanted to be an anthropologist? As an anthropologist what was your primary focus?

I went to Norway as an exchange student during my last year at school so my tertiary education is Norwegian. I have a post-graduate degree in anthropology from the University of Oslo. My dissertation was about ethnicity and nation building (in Malaysia).

TIO: As an exchange student, why did you choose Norway and once there, how did you and Eiolf meet?

I did not choose Norway. I chose the so-called Multinational Program of the American Field Service Scholarship. In this program we could be sent on exchange to any country other than the US. I figured that I would come to the US sooner or later. That was how I ended up in Norway. I met Eiolf at a party.

TIO: I know (because I am reading your wonderful book) that after Eiolf’s untimely death you turned inside, away from the world. Once you found mushrooming, you found comfort and community. Please talk about that journey and your perspective on death, dying, and grieving in the Western world.

As you know from my book, Eiolf’s death was a shock that left me utterly lost and devastated. I had to feel my way, very slowly, out of a very dark tunnel. There was very little people did that I found helpful even though I knew they wanted to support me. Mostly, I felt people/society had no time for grief. But that was what I needed most. Time. Luckily for me, I stumbled upon mushrooms, which saved me in my hour of need. That is what my book is about.

TIO: How did you happen to come to the Telluride Mushroom Festival? Did you meet Britt Bunyard through your memoir, “The Way Through The Woods: On Mushrooms and Mourning,” or was Gary Lincoff the contact?

I came to Telluride because I had met Gary Lincoff in New York and we had gone mushroom hunting in Central Park (that is in the book). Gary insisted that I could not miss Telluride. So of course I had to come (that is also in the book)! I met Brit when we were on the Gary Lincoff memorial foray in Chile immediately after Gary passed away. As you know, this was a trip Gary had been planning. We had also talked several times about bringing him to mushroom in Norway, but that plan did not come to fruition unfortunately.

TIO: What are you looking forward to most about coming to Telluride for the Festival?

I am looking forward to meeting old friends, making new ones, and being in beautiful Telluride.

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