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Festival opens door to literary world

Kimberly Nicoletti

ASPEN – Explore the magic of the written word as the Aspen Writers’ Foundation celebrates its 26th annual Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival, Saturday through Wednesday.

The festival features author readings and talks, writing workshops, publishing industry panels, professional consultants and social gatherings for both readers and writers.

“Our goal is to inspire readers and writers alike with the gifts of the written word, and this year’s roster of notable authors and industry insiders is sure to do just that,” said Julie Comins, Aspen Writers’ Foundation executive director.

Pam Houston, author of “Cowboys are my Weakness” and “Waltzing the Cat,” kicks off the festival by reading from her newest, yet-to-be-published novel “Sighthound.” Her stories have been selected for the 1999 volumes of “Best American Short Stories,” The O. Henry Awards, The Pushcart Prize and the “Best American Short Stories of the Century.”

“Risk-taking is the thing I stress most in class – stylistic risks, artistic risks, emotional risks,” Houston said. “That’s how you wind up with great work. It may be a little like bloodletting, but there is this reward, the recognition of what we do.” Her risk-taking has led her to become more generous with her storytelling.

“The natural evolvement with my new book is I’ve finally gotten enough of my own story. Now I can talk about other things,” she said. “Sighthound” illuminates various points of view, such as a young male veterinarian, an older ranch caretaker and a cross-dressing actor.

“It’s important to keep trying to deny the expectations of your publisher or your audience,” she said. “Don’t get caught in the trap of trying to satisfy expectations. For instance, I felt bogged down by expectations, so I wrote a stage play. I may totally fail, but at least I’m doing something fun.”

To recharge as a writer, Houston attends festivals and takes breaks between writing books.

“I wish I had known it’s OK to have a period of percolation after my first book,” she said. “Breaks are necessary. It’s good to be not just be a writer.”

Houston teaches at the University of California-Davis five months out of the year and spends the other seven writing in Creede. She’s also a licensed river guide, ski instructor and horsewoman.

At 7 p.m. Sunday, June 23, Ted Conover, whose writings are frequently based on first-hand participation in the subjects he uncovers, reads from “Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing,” where he describes the regular rule-bending he faced during his rookie year as a corrections officer. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, “Newjack” also was banned by the New York State Department of Correctional Services.

“From my point of view, I have the best job in the world. I get to live different lives,” said Conover, who was born in Denver, spent a season teaching skiing in Breckenridge, and now lives in New York. “Some of the best places to explore are different cultures in our own town. There’s all kinds of mysteries out there and a lot of them are culture.”

Passes for the festival are $135, and individual tickets for each event are $15. For information, call (970) 925-3122 or visit the Web site

http://www.aspenwriters.org.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.

Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival

– When: June 22-26

– Where: The Given Institute, Aspen


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