Don Rogers: Literary gold open to public
One of the top writing conferences happens next week in our back yard.
The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley ranks right there with Breadloaf and Sewanee, best I can tell. Yes, I am biased by geography, knowing the organizers, reading the history, spending eight-nine hours a day last year at sessions open to the public.
That and this one runs thick with Pulitzer winners — faculty, attendees who went on to earn the prize, participants who came back to teach. Michael Chabon, Richard Ford, Jennifer Egan. This list goes on. Turns my head.
I filled two notebooks last year at the public craft talks, panels and evening readings. We all have our obsessions. Yours might be tomatoes or mountain biking or fiddling or coding or horses or ren fairs.
If it’s anything literary, though, here’s a great opportunity to get a peek at the best.
Maybe the highlight will come Tuesday, when Cap Radio’s Beth Ruyak moderates a discussion at 7:30 about the challenges of writing from life with novelists Amy Tan, Glen David Gold, Elizabeth Rosner and my favorite, Nevada City’s own Sands Hall.
Hall’s dad, the novelist and professor Oakley Hall, started the conference nearly half a century ago with Squaw Valley neighbor and fellow novelist and teacher Blair Fuller.
Her sister, Brett Hall Jones, runs it; sister Tracy Hall, a school teacher, takes pictures and does whatever else is needed; brother-in-law Louie B. Jones, the novelist, co-directs the fiction program. He and Brett met at the conference, marrying in 1988.
Their mother, Barbara, a fixture through last year, died a few weeks ago in her mid-90s. This year’s conference will be hard on the community that grew up around her, and of course especially for the sisters. Time marches, the legacy looks lasting, but its parents are gone, Oakley in 2008. The grandkids help out now.
Peter Matthiessen, Anne Lamott, Anne Rice, Janet Fitch came through this conference. I slight a bunch of others by cutting short the name-dropping. But there’s a history, a tradition, why today’s brightest literary lights teach here and top agents drop in.
Nevada City locals Rachel Howard, the writer who brings us Yuba Lit readings, and Jordan Fisher Smith, whose “Engineering Eden” was a nonfiction California Book Award winner in 2017, both have attended and taught at the conference. And Josh Weil, doomed so far to besting Pulitzer winners in other contests, taught last year.
The craft talks and panels will fill the afternoons Monday through Wednesday, and then Friday and Saturday. At 7:30 each evening except Thursday and Saturday, authors will read excerpts and talk about their work.
For we hardy readers and aficionados of writing and storytelling, well, here’s gold nestled in Squaw Valley.
I’ll be bringing my empty notebooks, my pick axes, ready to mine. I’ll call it vacation.
For the schedule and more information, go to communityofwriters.org/publicevents/
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4299.