The Festival of the Book’s Gala Reading Friday night is the obvious highlight of a weekend full of events—William Kittredge (see opposite page) and esteemed Montana-born author Ivan Doig (in support of his latest, The Whistling Season) take the stage of the Wilma together in prime time. It’s hard to top that pair, but the weekend’s schedule leaves plenty of room for access to other noteworthy authors, in intimate settings, discussing compelling work. With that in mind, here are a few selected highlights from this year’s Festival:
The late University of Montana poetry professor Richard Hugo once delivered this bit of advice about his craft: “Never write a poem about anything that ought to have a poem written about it.” Hugo practiced what he preached, writing about ordinary places and people, and doing a lot of it in Western Montanan terrain. In “Degrees of Gray at Philipsburg,” for instance, he started with the sobering first stanza of, “You might come here Sunday on a whim./Say your life broke down. The last good kiss/you had was years ago.” That’s a pummeling thought, and the more one reads of Hugo, and learns of his life, the more battered and raw his material becomes. That fact will be on display Saturday, Sept. 30, at noon at the Wilma Theatre, during a Hugo homage highlighted by two new looks at his work. A documentary, Kicking the Loose Gravel Home, will be premiered, as will a double-CD of Hugo reading and discussing his poems. The respective project directors will be on hand.
Another local luminary will also be remembered Friday, Sept. 30, at 4 p.m., when friends of poet Patricia Goedicke read her work at the Holiday Inn Parkside. At last year’s Festival of the Book, Goedicke, an instrumental mentor to Missoula’s writing community, read from a posthumous collection of her husband’s work in one of the Festival’s more poignant moments. This year could be just as memorable. Goedicke passed away July 14 at the age of 75.
Church and state
It’s an election year, so it’s already difficult to escape the likes of political commentator and author David Sirota. But when the Helena resident released his well-timed print documentary of political corruption in April, his profile entered an even larger arena; he appeared on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” and found a place on The New York Times bestseller list. Sirota’s so big he will appear with Home Ground Radio’s Brian Kahn to discuss his book, Hostile Takeover: How Big Money & Corruption Conquered Our Government—and How We Can Take It Back, during one of the festival’s only non-free events ($25) Friday, Sept. 29, at noon in the Wilma Theatre.
Local author David James Duncan also took a whack at the world of politics with his own nonfiction release this year, albeit in a less traditional fashion. God Laughs & Plays, published by the fledgling Triad Institute, is a collection of talks, essays and interviews compiled under the subtitle “Churchless Sermons in Response to the Preachments of the Fundamentalist Right.” Duncan’s take is undeniably impassioned—in an interview with the Indy he called it “the first and last wild ride of the Evangelist DJD”—and he’ll be reading Saturday, Sept. 30, at 1 p.m. at the Missoulian Angler (401 S. Orange St.).
What exactly does the other side of the midlife divide look like? Judging from her new collection of short stories, Claire Davis has at least 10 different views. In the new Labors of the Heart (available Tuesday, Oct. 3), she explores those vistas through the lens of marriage, good and bad. In one intriguing setup, a wife of 40 years takes up taxidermy as a means of coping with the loss of her husband.
Davis will tackle her topic with two fellow writers—Annick Smith and Mary Clearman Blew—from another short story anthology, Kiss Tomorrow Hello, released earlier this year. The discussion takes place Friday, Sept. 30, at 4 p.m. in the Holiday Inn Parkside Ballroom.
Bozeman resident Greg Mortenson was either in the right place at the wrong time or the wrong place at the right time, but either way it worked out. After a failed attempt to climb K2 in 1993, he was left ill and near death in the Pakistani village of Korphe. In exchange for the villagers nursing him to health, Mortenson pledged to build them their first school. His efforts were far from easy, and along the way he encountered the Taliban and angry mullahs and got himself kidnapped—and yet still he built the school. Mortenson now runs the Central Asia Institute, which plans to build more. From his experiences he’s drawn a critically acclaimed account, including suggestions about how to fight Islamic extremism. Mortenson talks about his ongoing work and Three Cups of Tea Saturday, Sept. 30, at 1 p.m. in the Holiday Inn Parkside Ballroom.
Old and new
James Lee Burke continues to churn out material, and this year the Lolo resident introduced yet another chapter in his Dave Robicheaux series with Pegasus Descending. As entertaining as Burke’s latest crime fiction novel may be, his readings are almost better. See what we mean Saturday, Sept. 30, at the Holiday Inn Parkside Ballroom at 2:30 p.m., when he’s joined by C.J. Box.
UM journalism grad Seth Kantner doesn’t have Burke’s track record, but he’s still off to a promising start. His 2004 debut, Ordinary Wolves—a novel based on Kantner’s childhood in Alaska’s wilderness—was a bestseller, and is now available in paperback. Kantner speaks with Douglas Smith at 9:30 a.m. on the same day and in the same room as Burke.
For a full schedule of 2006 Montana Festival of the Book, visit www.bookfest-mt.org or call 243-6022. All events listed above are free unless otherwise noted.