A few of the 500 Literary Sojourn attendees browse books during the 19th annual event Saturday at Sheraton Steamboat Resort.

Photo by Matt Stensland

A few of the 500 Literary Sojourn attendees browse books during the 19th annual event Saturday at Sheraton Steamboat Resort.

19th annual Literary Sojourn in Steamboat brings fiction to life

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— Like a good book, Saturday’s 19th annual Literary Sojourn was a towering rollercoaster of emotional swings, from raucous laughter one moment to somber realizations the next.

Master of ceremonies Julia Glass, who most recently penned “The Widower’s Tale,” exemplified that theme in the first moments of the annual author festival by engaging the crowd in a game of Mad Libs using the work of featured authors and reminding the audience what it truly means to be an author.

She quoted Margaret Atwood: “Wanting to meet an author because you liked her book is like wanting to meet the duck because you liked the pâté.”

It was met with laughter, but Glass took it one profound step further.

“When you write fiction … it comes from your gut; it’s you inside out,” Glass said. “It’s what we’re made of, not just what we make.

“I think of the tale I write as a stream that flows constantly along my actual life. Sometimes, I have to step off the path and immerse myself.”

The crowd of 500 that was packed into the banquet room at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort on Saturday afternoon had the chance to immerse themselves into the minds of six authors of great renown, learning about their process, their lives and their inspirations.

Event organizer Chris Painter, the Bud Werner Memorial Library director who puts on the event, called the day “inspiring.”

“I’m a reader, and I think we readers have to take our jobs seriously, just as the author has to take their job seriously,” she said. “For me, it’s about a stronger connection to the books, and it’s about bringing books to life by hearing the stories behind the stories.”

After brunch, coffee and conversation, the crowd was treated to insights from a diverse lineup of authors, hearing nostalgic sailing adventure tales from activist and Zen Buddhist priest Peter Mathiessen and the story about how Paula McLain fell in love with Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, and in turn fell in love with Hemingway.

Julie Orringer talked about how the initial nugget of an idea for a story feels like falling in love, and Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan revealed that she writes all of her work by hand on legal pads.

At a table in a far corner, Debbie Baucom Lewis sat with members of her book club in Fort Collins, where she is from. A writer herself, Baucom Lewis said she loved hearing the trials and tribulations of other authors as well as sharing her love of literature with her friends.

“Reading a book is like traveling to me,” she said. “It’s like going to another place. Then when you talk about it, you get to share it on another level. It’s like looking through someone else’s binoculars.”

With the diversity in authors’ presentations, there were some strange binoculars to look through.

Jim Shepard, the author of strangely dark and jarring stories and novels, was sardonically funny in his speech but didn’t sugar coat anything as he talked about how he uses literature to engage with the rest of the world.

And that world isn’t always beautiful.

“Suffering is everywhere,” he said. “Drama is everywhere.”

And that fact wasn’t lost on the audience because it was the eve of the 10th anniversary of one of the greatest American tragedies.

In her opening address, Julia Glass addressed the author’s role in such a tragedy, claiming that it wasn’t necessarily the job of a fiction writer to make sense of why something like 9/11 happened.

But there still is a lot left to make sense of.

“How can anyone honestly make sense of such things? What fiction writers do is make sense of how we endure the fateful things that befall us,” she said. “All the best fiction to me is about one thing: How we go on.”

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com

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