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Reading riot

Getting down with poetry slams, UFOs, bodice rippers and truth at the Montana Festival of the Book



There are hundreds of reasons to attend the Montana Festival of the Book. If you are a true book nerd, sometimes it’s just about listening to charming authors read from their striking works. Or it’s about stalking—stalking these charming authors in order to get them to sign a copy of their striking book. If you are an aspiring writer you will enjoy panel discussions in which successful writers affirm your neuroticism and doubt about being unpublished. You will be encouraged. You will hear surprising stories behind the stories. You will be taken by an author you’re never heard before. This year, you’ll probably be starstruck by a night of Sherman Alexie reading from decades of his work (Oct. 10 at the Wilma at 8 PM) and Saturday night’s gala (Wilma, 7:30 PM) featuring Montana’s poet laureate, Tami Haaland, plus Jamie Ford, Richard Manning and Claire Vaye Watkins. Here we give you a handful of other must-sees from this year’s festival.

Missoula Independent news
  • Cathrine L. Walters

Not faking it

We already know what happens when you fabricate your memoir á la James Frey with A Million Little Pieces, or write fabricated articles like former journalist Stephen Glass. For one, “South Park” will make fun of you. Also, Oprah will shame you on national TV.

Those examples are the extreme, of course. Most journalists and memoirists come to their stories with good intentions, even if the process isn’t easy. Finding the way to tell those stories in the most truthful, accurate way—and still be dramatically effective—requires a critical eye, a love for nuance, an ethical will and an arsenal of colorful language. At a nonfiction panel, authors Bill Dedman, Jo Deurbrouck, Gayle Morrison, Brad Tyer and Todd Wilkinson share their philosophies and the rules of telling other people’s stories—whether they’re writing about copper kings’ daughters, river rats, the CIA, environmental disasters or celebrity conservationists. Another panel, which includes Richard Manning and Susanna Sonnenberg, addresses how friends and family inspired their memoirs—for better or worse.

Catch “Truth in the First and Third: Finding and Creating Nonfiction Stories” Fri., Oct. 11, at 2:30 PM and “Ties that Bind: The Memoir and Relationships” Sat., Oct. 12, at 11 AM, both in Holiday Inn Ballroom A. Free.

Blood and Dark

How a book becomes a film is always a point of interest at the Festival of the Book. If you haven’t already seen Winter In the Blood, the Montana-made adaptation of James Welch’s book, you’re in luck. The film screens at the Roxy a couple times this weekend. Another, perhaps lesser known film, Shepard & Dark, will also be showing. The documentary is based on a 50-year relationship between playwright and actor Sam Shepard and his friend Johnny Dark. It’s an intimate portrait of what happens when two besties document their thoughts in letters. The friction is palpable between the men who in many ways envied each other’s lives—Shepard’s in the spotlight, Dark’s as an everyman working a menial job in a small town.

Winter in the Blood: Fri. at 7 PM and Sat. at 7 and 9. Shepard & Dark: Fri. at 7: 15 PM and Sat. at 7:15 and 9:15. $7/$5 seniors and students.

Wakefield slam

It’s hard to tell where nonfiction and fiction merge with Buddy Wakefield. On the International Poetry Slam winner’s website he says he quit his job at a biomedical firm and moved into the “small town of Honda Civic.” (He moved into his Honda Civic to travel around.) The site offers a bunch of “press” quotes from Utah Phillips, Mos Def and Forbes that merely say “Buddy Wakefield!” or “...Buddy Wakefield,” and one quote that says “Buddy Wakefield is a honey badger.” There is also a reference to Children of the Corn. This is all to say that the slam poetry artist and author of The Henhouse: The International Book for Chickens and their Lovers is a funny, vibrant guy, and fortunately for us it’s a fact that he will appear at this year’s Slam Poetry event, hosted by seasoned local artist Tahj Kjelland.

Fri., Oct. 11, at the Top Hat at 7:30 PM. Free.

Bodice-rippers and E.T.

Sometimes it seems like we only care about formal literary writing around here. Or writing of the West. Festival panels support that bias, but you can find some that cater to genre fiction and the offbeat, too. For the “Romancing the Novel” panel, romantic suspense, young adult and historical paranormal authors talk about the power of love (and lust!) in storytelling.

In the offbeat vein, Joan Bird, a doctor of zoology and conservation biology, talks about UFOs and ETs. Yes, as in unidentified flying objects and extraterrestrials. Bird, who wrote Montana UFOs, will talk about Montana-based sightings and state government projects that will speak directly to your secret “X-Files” obsession even if you’re a skeptic.

“Romancing the Novel” takes place Sat., Oct. 12, at 9:30 AM at the Holiday Inn Ballroom A, followed by Bird’s “Montana UFOs and Extraterrestrials” reading. Free.

Lunch men

You’ve never listened to the Lunchbox Podcast starring Ed Skoog and J. Robert Lennon? You have no idea how much you’re missing. The two writers share amusing observations about other writers and themselves, plus random thoughts about things like the deception of soy sausage and how a single saxophone note affects a poetry reading. You can catch a live taping of the show that includes special guests. You never know what those guys will do next.

Sat., Oct. 12, at 2:30 PM at the Brooks and Browns Lounge. Free.


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