Bellwether Prize recipients to speak in Steamboat Springs
October 4, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Writer Naomi Benaron was walking down a beach near Gisenyi, Rwanda, when her foot hit a human bone in the sand. She looked down, and a beach littered with human skeletons and teeth spread out before her. She gathered as much as she could in her arms.
"I had this seminal moment where I thought, these aren't just bones, they're stories, and if someone else doesn't tell these stories, they'll never be told," she said in an interview Thursday with Explore Steamboat.
It was those stories that spurred her to write "Running the Rift," which earned the Bellwether Prize in 2010. The literature award was founded by Barbara Kingsolver in 2000 and is awarded every other year to work of socially engaged literature.
Benaron will be appearing with Hillary Jordan, who won the award in 2006 for "Mudbound," in a free event at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at Bud Werner Memorial Library. The library's parking lot will be open after a construction project had closed it this week.
The Bellwether Prize event is not the only literature-themed event this weekend. Saturday's 19th Literary Sojourn sold out months ago in less than 1 1/2 hours. The hottest ticket in town offers guests a chance to hear the stories behind the work of well-known authors. A few tickets still are available for exchange at http://www.literarysojourn.org/tickets.
But those who miss out still will have the opportunity to attend this new event Sunday morning. Discussion about social justice, racism, genocide and women's rights will take center stage in a discussion led by two women at the forefront of socially conscious fiction.
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Jennie Lay, Bud Werner Memorial Library adult programs coordinator, said it was serendipitous how the Literary Sojourn and the Bellwether event became intertwined. It just worked out that Jordan is also a Sojourn author and that Benaron has family in Steamboat and was able to join in the event.
"This is a great opportunity and special way to end a very special weekend of literature in Steamboat," Lay said.
Neither woman said she set out to write a piece of activism literature. The stories were what caught them both.
"It's going to be an interesting part of the discussion: What fiction offers in another way of storytelling, and what is the power of fiction to convey perspective?" Lay said.
There are many kinds of activism, but Jordan and Benaron see a power in fiction that other mediums don't have.
"Literature is the only form of art that actually puts you into the mind of another person," Jordan said. "By doing that, it can be a force for change. Knowledge is the enemy of hatred and misunderstanding and feeling like people are 'the other.' Once you can inhabit someone and see their world, it has a real power to break down barriers."
Benaron said her mother escaped Eastern Europe during the Holocaust, and inspired by that heritage, she's always been interested in topics of global significance.
"I didn't say, 'I'm going to write a novel to teach people about genocide,'" she said. "It is the story, but I'm always drawn to stories of social justice."
She said she always was terrified of writing a novel, but once she began to tell the story, she never turned back.
"For me, it was never a question, It's how I relate world,” she said. "Stories are how I relate to the world."
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com