Don Rogers: A fount of wisdom in Squaw
If you like to read and think, if you are compelled to write, if you are curious what authors think about, here’s heaven: Yep, the venerable Squaw Valley’s annual writers conference and its public sessions return next week.
Nevada City’s Rachel Howard, an instructor at the conference, will read from her new novel, “The Risk of Us,” on Tuesday evening. Sands Hall will give a craft talk Wednesday at least in part inspired by her 2018 memoir “Flunk. Start.” Her brother-in-law, Louis B. Jones, the novelist and co-director of the fiction program for the conference, will moderate and participate in panel discussions.
I’m a big fan and kind of an apprentice of each, as I think about it. Read some of their books, taken part in workshops they’ve led, attended talks, listened all too attentively, I’m sure, in conversations.
But these locals know stuff, a lot of stuff, about what fascinates me so much these days with storytelling, the key to so much of life at large and each of our personal sagas. Maybe something in this will unlock how to help the business of journalism better support the practice before local media deserts expand to full Saharas in an era when, ironically, demand for news has never been higher. Answers come in the oddest of places.
I attended the conference last year as a student and the year before that checking out the rich offerings for the public, as I plan to do as much as my schedule will allow this year. Authors, editors, agents, teachers and one Sacramento public radio personality we should know well, Beth Ruyak, will have plenty of insights, I know.
I’ll fill notebooks and try to apply what I learn. Maybe Sands will let me sneak into one or more of her vaunted 4 p.m. rapid-fire critique workshops and I’ll be amazed again at her memory and spot-on critiques of short works read aloud.
Evenings are devoted to authors reading from their work. Some are alumni and some from the faculty, some both.
Here’s an opportunity to savor samples of the highest work from the highest art form, according to me, in a grand alpine environment. Bring a sweater along with your ears.
I know this isn’t for everyone. My own family is happy enough to let me go and then tolerates my reports of bliss later. I mean, who reads books anymore, never mind write them?
You might be surprised, actually. The publishing houses pump out something like 300,000 new titles a year in the United States, and this number swells by a million more counting self publishing. All this represents only a single digit percentage of everyone writing manuscripts they hope to publish. It’s a little crazy. Especially considering how we far prefer TV and movies.
But more people than ever can read, even like to read. This is purely a matter of numbers. There are way, way more people than ever and so more educated people than ever. More readers and writers than ever, too.
The worlds and ideas conjured out of 26 distinct scratch marks — code! — approach infinite even if sometimes every damn story seems the same, a problem of capitalism in our country, tyranny in some others, concepts spread and limited by the printed word.
To me, Squaw runs at a headwaters for writing as art, in turn the headwaters for thought, particularly the kind of critical thinking and understanding we need as a society to progress, evolve. I look at reading and writing as building wisdom and a reservoir for summoning creativity. So it’s well worth an effort akin to tackling a long, steep trail on the mountains outside.
Here, for a week, a fine collection of masters will assemble and share. Their audiences tend to be sharp, too. Don’t be surprised to have rich, if brief, conversations with seatmates between talks and readings. Just part of the experience. It’s not exactly skiing. But it’s not winter, either.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.