Silver City's inaugural Southwest Festival of the Written Word
celebrates all things literary.
by Donna Clayton Walter
Make way, Blues and Clay! Silver City's got a new festival coming to town.
Several years in the planning and making, the Southwest Festival of the Written Word will bring together all the elements that Southwest New Mexico locals have come to look for in a downtown special event — fanfare, food and music, for sure. But those will just be the "side men," so to speak, rounding out the new festival's focus on the written word.
Taking place in downtown Silver City on Friday, Sept. 27, through Sunday, Sept. 29, the inaugural festival will offer locals and visitors a bustling atmosphere celebrating the literary arts. More than 50 writers, agents and publishers will participate in over 35 events, including panels, presentations, workshops and readings, at more rhan a half-dozen downtown sites. Festival organizers say they hope to draw up to 1,000 attendees and that the event may happen annually or every other year, depending on future resources and how this first event is received.
The event's theme, "Textures y Sabores," translated as "Textures and Flavors," aptly describes the atmosphere they hope to create, organizers say. "All genres will be represented, including poetry, of course," says Tom Hester, chair of the festival's organizing committee. "It will be quite an event. There will even be music in the streets and one-act plays."
Originally the brainchild of Bonnie Buckley Maldonado, Silver City's first poet laureate, the festival was created to highlight writers who live and write in the Southwest. And Silver City, says Jeannie Miller, public information chair of the festival, is the perfect place for this event to land, given the area's high concentration of wordsmiths of all types and stripes. More than half of the festival presenters live in the wider Silver City area, Miller says, with the remainder coming from Texas, Arizona, Colorado and other parts of New Mexico.
Also in keeping with local festival tradition, the Southwest Festival of the Written Word will be free and open to the public except for two special events: festival keynote speaker (Friday night at the WNMU Global Resource Center) and novelist (So Far From God, The Guardians, Peel My Love Like an Onion) Ana Castillo's Memoir Writing Workshop ($125) on Saturday afternoon at Bear Mountain Lodge; and the festival banquet ($30) Saturday night where Denise Chavez, author and director of Las Cruces' Border Book Festival, will be the evening's speaker.
"Ana Castillo and Denise Chavez rank among the best novelists of America," says festival coordinator Peter Garcia, "and their excellence comes in part because they have remained true to their roots and the rich idioms in the Mexican-American communities of New Mexico, far west Texas and Chicago."
Hester adds, "It's difficult to overstate how impressive it is to have two of the leading novelists of America giving major talks a day apart in Silver City. Part of the festival committee's purpose has always been to point to Silver City, in the past and today, as a major center for authors."
A number of local organizations and individuals were key in helping to bring the festival to fruition, Miller says. The Mimbres Region Arts Council is serving as the fiscal agent for the festival.
"We're not a 501(c)3, after all, and they (MRAC) also have given us tons of wonderful, helpful advice," Miller says. "Also Lee Gruber, who organized the clay festival, shared a wealth of information with us."
Funding for the event started, Miller says, when New Mexico author Steven F. Havill generously gave a writing workshop at Bear Mountain Lodge back in January, with proceeds going to the festival. Havill is well known to mystery buffs for his Posadas County Mystery Series, set in a fictional county between Deming and Lordsburg. The first book of the series, Heartshot, was published in 1991, and since then, Havill has written 17 more. The next book, with the working title of Night Zone, is scheduled for publication this October.
In 2009, Havill launched a second series, this time set in the 1890s. The main character, Dr. Thomas Parks, handles medical crises to the best of his ability, given the knowledge and resources available at the time. This new series, Havill says, grew out of his long-time fascination with old medical texts, which he has been collecting for years.
Havill will be a panelist on Saturday, Sept. 28, at 2 p.m. addressing "Something Wicked This Way Comes: Crime & Mystery Writing."
Miller further notes that Western New Mexico University helped to cover speaker costs and that a number of invited guests generously gave up their honorariums. There also will be a literary marketplace, serving the double purpose of getting books into festival-goers' hands and generating income for the festival. Book signings and vendors will be at the former Workshops of Carneros space on Bullard Street in downtown.
"Mary Hotvedt (another festival volunteer) went to the Tucson book festival and got ideas and made connections for us," Miller adds. "Mary said that festival's just five years old and it's huge already. That one in Tucson is very spread out; we are concentrating everything downtown, which I think will increase the festival's potency."
The JW Art Gallery in Hurley will host a kick-off celebration Thursday, Sept. 26, 6-9 p.m. Randy Carr will perform act one from his one-man show "Tuck." Terry Humble will discuss his recently published book, Santa Rita del Cobre (see "Mining Santa Rita's History," November 2012), followed by a question and answer session and refreshments. During the entire festival weekend, the gallery will have on display a special selection of the artwork of Joseph Wade, who also serves on the festival committee, as well as Elvira Godfrey and Leighton Fossom.
Other festival highlights include special readings. Orlando White, an award-winning Navajo poet, and Layli Long Soldier, a Lakota poet and artist, who both write in English but use their original languages to add an underlying meaning to their poetry, will read at the festival (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.). They will also participate in a discussion of multicultural writing along with Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, WNMU scholar-in-residence, and JJ Wilson, WNMU writer-in-residence.
There will be several sessions geared for children, says Miller, encouraging local budding writers and youthful avid readers. In one event, Miller says, "Denise Chavez will give each child participant a certificate, as an acknowledgement — 'from an established writer to a new writer.' The idea of that gave everyone in the room chills to think about the impact that can have on a child."
The New Mexico Humanities Council, which receives funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, is underwriting five festival sessions woven together by the theme "To Write — Defining a Region." For 30 years the council has underwritten New Mexico projects that engage humanities scholars and public audiences in a dialog. The Southwest Festival of the Written Word is one of five projects selected for this granting period.
"We are honored in our first year to have 12 of our outstanding presenters designated as New Mexico Humanities Scholars," says Miller. Those are Susan Berry, Stephen Fox, Mark Lee Gardner, David Remley, Sharman Apt Russell, John Gist, Ann Lane Hedlund, Philip Connors, Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Layli Long Soldier, Orlando White and J.J. Amawora Wilson.
Berry, retired director of the Silver City Museum, will mine the rich legacy of writing about and in southwestern New Mexico in her presentation, "We've Had Words: The Literary Heritage of Southwest New Mexico" (Friday, 3:30 p.m.). In "Making History: The Art of Historical Writing" three master historians — Fox, Gardner and Remley — will describe how their research resulted in an impressive array of histories (Friday, 2 p.m.). In "The Scripture of Snail and Fern," Russell, professor of humanities at WNMU, will use photographs of the Southwest to demonstrate how nature elicits responses from observers (Saturday, 10 a.m.).
In another session, a panel of three — Gist, a philosopher-novelist-personal essayist and WNMU professor of creative writing; Hedlund, retired museum curator and professor of anthropology; and Connors, editor, Gila National Forest fire lookout, and author of Fire Season — will discuss "The Truth and Beyond: Creative Non-Fiction" (Friday, 3:30 p.m.)
And in the fifth session, four more of the scholars — Ortego y Gasca; Long Soldier; White, award-winning poet and professor at Diné College; and Wilson — will converse on the theme, "Out of the Margins: Multicultural Writing in the 21st Century" (Sunday, 10 a.m.).
Several sessions are geared to those wanting to write, or write better, to listen to and even work with published authors.
Castillo, an award winning poet, novelist, essayist, editor, playwright and translator, describes her memoir-writing workshop as a time for "talking, laughing, crying, venting and writing from the heart and mind." After that, she says, the participants will learn to get rid of all the sentimentality and leave on the page what is important to the reader to know about their memoirs. The workshop will consist of a number of exercises to help participants know how to get started.
"In memoir, the reader must be persuaded that the narrator is writing honestly, whether or not he/she is secondary," explains Castillo. "It doesn't matter as much 'what happened' as what you make of what you remember may have happened."
Desert Exposure editor David A. Fryxell, a former director of the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, will talk on "Taking Your Writing to the Next Level" at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday. Fryxell is also a former editor-in-chief of Writer's Digest magazine and wrote that publication's Nonfiction column for a decade, along with three books about writing, most recently Write Faster. Write Better.
If you yearn to be a travel writer, attend the panel discussion on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. with three intrepid southwestern traveler-writers — Richard Mahler, Esther Melvin and Elan Head — who will discuss the their adventures and the art of travel writing. Mahler, former "Southwest Storylines" columnist for Desert Exposure, is the author of The Jaguar's Shadow and Belize: Adventures in Nature. Melvin's new book, Walking Going, A Journey to the Holy Mountains of Nepal, is a memoir of spiritual seeking and the travel that came with the quest. Head, a Grant County native, began her career as a local newspaper reporter; since then, writing has taken her around the world, from posh resorts in Palau to combat outposts in Afghanistan. Along the way, she became a commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor, and spent four years as editor-in-chief of the helicopter industry magazine Vertical.
Festival spokesperson Miller, a long-time board member of the Western Institute of Lifelong Learning (WILL) as well as a teacher of expressive writing, says she is looking forward to the festival finally happening. She's eager not only to see the fruition and completion of so much hard work, but also to drink in the atmosphere herself.
"As a writer and a writing teacher, I just think it's so cool to get all of these people together. It's so neat to hear how authors think," Miller says. "People have ideas about 'how writers are,' you know. But this is a chance to meet the person who is a writer. I think it will be so interesting and powerful to hear them talk about how they work, in their own words. There are quite a few sessions I want to attend!"
She goes on to say, "The most eloquent description of 'Textures y Sabores' can be found on our home page. It reads, 'Living under a wide sky, turquoise bright, in a land where crinkled mountains rise purple and brown behind stretches of grass or cacti, some write of their days. Living in that crease where the past and present meet, where English and Spanish and languages of the indigenous meld, some write of their encounters. The festival celebrates those who write in or about the Southwest, and brings together their readers to touch the rough and smooth of their words, to taste the fire and cool of our written life.'
"The festival has something of interest for everyone," she adds, "from the first-grader who will write and read his or her own book, to published authors who want to mingle and converse with other southwestern writers. If you read, you'll want to meet your favorite authors and discover some new ones. If you write, you'll want to check out three days of great how-to sessions about writing in all genres. For all who love words, this will be an amazing opportunity!"
For a full, updated schedule of events, see the festival website at www.swwordfiesta.org. To register for Ana Castillo's memoir writing workshop, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the kick-off event at JW Art Gallery, see www.jwartgallery.com or call (575) 537-0300.
Freelance writer Donna Clayton Walter is a past Desert Exposure
senior editor who now sends her words from Santa Fe.