Arts & Culture

Dana Oland: Lineup of notable writers highlights Boise’s growing literary scene

If it feels like Boise is a literary hot bed, that’s because it is, says The Cabin’s executive director Britt Udesen. The fact that three internationally known authors will speak about their work, lives and world views next week just adds an exclamation point.

Coming off Sherman Alexie’s sold out talk for The Cabin’s Readings & Conversations, and Treefort’s successful Storyfort shindig in March, you can hear Pulitzer Prize finalist Karen Russell speak at the Egyptian Theatre on April 7 at the final Readings & Conversations this season. Then Canadian writer and literary legend Margaret Atwood will speak as part of Boise State’s Distinguished Lecture Series on April 8, and National Book Award for Fiction winner Phil Klay will share his work at a talk for the Boise Public Library at the Egyptian on April 9.

This week is a bit of an anomaly, but it’s a hint at what happens in Boise all the time, Udesen says.

“Between what we do at The Cabin, BSU, (Boise Public) Library and other groups – such as Ghosts and Projectors and Big Tree Arts poetry series, Rediscovered Book Shop and other bookstores – there are so many events,” Udesen says. “And it’s amazing how well-attended they are. I think we’re hungry for a chance to gather as a community and talk about ideas and stories.”

It’s been a growing phenomenon, says BSU’s Mitch Wieland, an award-winning author, BSU professor and publisher of The Idaho Review literary journal.

“I think there’s something in the water here,” he says. “I came to BSU 1996, Boise was pretty literary even back then. I think it’s coming together quite nicely now.”

Having a Masters in Fine Arts for Creative Writing at Boise State has helped by producing a rich community of homegrown writers, such as YA fiction writer Cynthia Hand, and more who come to study and often stay, such as award-winning short story and screen writer Alan Heathcock.

That makes a ready audience for these types of events, says Bruce DeLaney, owner of Rediscovered Book Shop in Downtown Boise. He and his wife Laura opened Rediscovered nine years ago on the Bench and moved it into Downtown in 2010. The shop partners with The Cabin and area libraries to bring in writers, and it supplies books on site for sale and produces its own writer’s events such as an appearance by mystery writer Elizabeth George at 7 p.m. May 29 at the Meridian Library, 1326 W. Cherry Lane.

“A lot of things have coalesced to get us to this point,” DeLaney says. “It’s a combination of The Cabin working to bring writers here who have a great experience and spread the word, and having an international writer like Tony Doerr shining a spotlight on Boise with the astounding success of his book (“All the Light We Cannot See”). The bottom line is that it’s the audience that makes a difference.” DeLaney says.

Phil Klay

Author Phil Klay won the National Book Award in November and his life now moves at hyper speed as he travels the country to talk about his Iraq War story collection “Redeployment.”

“Writing this book deepened and complicated my understanding of the war,” Klay says.

Klay’s story collection won the National Book Award over Boise author Tony Doerr‘s novel “All the Light We Cannot See.” The two, according to literary trackers, were neck and neck for the honor.

Klay spoke from Huntsville, Texas, last week, where he was on a book tour that will bring him to Boise thanks to the Boise Public Library.

Klay, who is a U.S. Marine veteran, found his voice as a writer after his experience serving as a public information officer in Iraq.

“Redeployment” and the other stories in his book offer a rich pastiche of soldiers’ experiences across rank, gender, culture and military organization. He address the difficult and dangerous subjects of service and the heartbreaking reality of reintegrating into domestic life. He’s found an eager audience for his work, both among veterans and the general population.

“There are so many discussions we can have about the war,” Klay says. “We’re in a moment where we’re trying to figure out what to make of the veterans of this war, and what the contact is between the citizenry and the soldier.”

Klay says the attention from the award has been encouraging, “and a bit stressful.” He is currently working on his first novel.

Klay will speak at 7 p.m. April 9 at the Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St., Boise. It’s free with a ticket available at Boise Public Library branches, Rediscovered Book Shop and EventBrite.com.

About Margaret Atwood

One of the most lauded writers on the planet, Margaret Atwood is the definition of a distinguished lecturer.

A novelist, poet, essayist and critic, Atwood has won literally hundreds of literary awards throughout her career, including the Booker Prize, the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Her books include “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Cat’s Eye,” “The Blind Assassin” and her “social science” “MaddAddam” trilogy. She has creatively toyed with and transformed the conventions of literary form and has been given her own adjective: “Atwoodian.”

She will speak at 7 p.m. April 8 at the BSU Student Union Building’s Jordan Ballroom, 1910 University Drive. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Free.

About Karen Russell

The Pulitzer Prize finalist and MacArthur Fellowship winner Karen Russell caps off this year’s Readings & Conversations, a literary lecture series produced by The Cabin.

Russell’s work explores the connection between humans and their surroundings and how the natural world touches on the supernatural and the mythical. She received her Pulitzer nomination for her debut novel “Swamplandia,” an evocative and imaginative story about a young girl growing up in the surreal setting of her family’s alligator-wrestling theme park in a mythical version of the Florida Everglades. She received her MacArthur “Genius” Grant in 2013, the same year her latest story collection “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” came out. In it, she dances the line between the physical and the metaphysical world through characters that transform and shape-shift physically and metaphorically from human to inhuman and back again.

Russell will speak at 7:30 p.m. April 7 at the Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St., Boise. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available for balcony seating only and cost $26.50 at EgyptianTheatre.net.

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