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2004 Festival of Words behind the words

Staff Reports

Gregory Maguire wrote his first fan letter to Louise Fitzhugh, author of the acclaimed children’s book “Harriet the Spy,” when he was 12 years old. He then spent five years struggling to figure out just why his favorite author never took the time to write back to an aspiring young writer.”She never bothered to write back because she was dead,” Maguire explains from his home in Concord, Mass., days before he heads to Beaver Creek for the fifth-annual Beaver Creek Festival of Words. “I wasted five years waiting for the blessing of a deity,” he says, “I guess I was really barking up the wrong tree.”Later, Maguire, who has grown up to write dozens of “Harry Potter-esque” children’s books and the wildly successful adult cult novel, “Wicked, The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” would go on to meet a well-respected local author who invited him to lunch. The man would become his mentor and lead him into a life of children’s literature and, now, adult fiction. His soon-to-be-mentor lived the quintessential Concord lifestyle — complete with civil-war history, clean, crisp air and spacious horse-farms. Thirty years later Maguire lives in the same town and has dispelled the notion that great writers have to suffer greatly in distant lands to weave their intriguing web of words.”I didn’t have to move to France and catch a virus or to Times Square to sell my body so I could write,” he says. “I just lived outside of Boston, studied, observed and wrote.”With the Festival of Words theme this year being “we are the stories we tell,” festival organizers are encouraging attendees to get to know the people behind their favorite books. “Each of our authors’ books are stories that in some way reflect who they are and their personal experiences,” says Ebby Pinson, president of Vail Symposium, the Festival of Words organizer. “As the weekend unfolds, we will not only find out more about the authors but we will discover more about ourselves.”The spark for Maguire’s writing of “Wicked,” the story of the life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West, was much more practical than readers may imagine. At the time, Maguire was living in England. “I was about to become what the British call ‘financially embarrassed,'” he says. “I had the idea for ‘Wicked’ years back, but hadn’t seen myself as sophisticated enough to write it — but I didn’t want the bank to foreclose on my mortgage so I wrote it in five months.” Within two weeks the book was sold and is currently in its 52nd printing and has been made into a top grossing new Broadway musical.It is stories like these and answers to questions like “how do you raise three kids and write,” that festival goers are looking for, according to Maguire. With nationally recognized authors in attendance, including Haven Kimmel (“A Girl Named Zippy”), Kent Nelson (“Land that Moves, Land that Stands Still”) and Peter Shelton, (“Climb to Conquer”) on the festival’s weekend roster there will be plenty of stories to tell.”There is an old truism that says ‘everybody has a story,'” Maguire explains. “Many people that come to meet writers are secretly looking for inspiration and a role model. I think that, because I did it as well. They want to tell their own story.”Poetic justiceJust as wine lovers enjoy the Taste of Vail because they get to meet the wine-makers and art collectors are attracted to “artist in attendance” gallery events, so are book lovers drawn to the Festival of Words. This year’s event, held at the Beaver Creek Park Hyatt, kicks off Friday evening, April 16, with last year’s sleeper hit event the “Wine and Wit Poetry Reception,” hosted by Telluride Poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer. She explains that meeting a favorite author has risks.”I’ve found meeting some of my favorite writers to be a thrill,” Trommer says. “I like knowing that they are real people and that they sneeze just like I do. I guess, meeting your hero allows them to become more human in your mind.”There is a little danger to elevating writers to hero status according to Trommer. “If they turn out to be rude or snotty or egomaniacs, you can be in for a shock.”Another less risky part of meeting poets and authors at the Festival of Words is figuring out if the piece readers just finished had any basis in the author’s real life.”Poetry is interesting,” Trommer says, “although it doesn’t need to be confessional, it does tend to be based on personal experience.” People often assume the content of a poem is based on the author’s real life Trommer says. “They ask me, ‘did you really have that fight your husband’ or ‘are you really pregnant?'” (That last question refers to her recent poem “10 weeks,” where she writes about the reality of feeling her unborn-child’s heartbeat for the first time.)Using the words “quirky,” and “different,” to describe some of her author friends Trommer says getting to know writers’ processes in a festival setting can also be interesting.”Poetry is a funny master, it comes when it wants to and often unfortunately when you are driving,” she laughs. “I’m somewhat of a hazard on the road because if I don’t write it down right away, I lose it. You think you’ll remember if you don’t, but you do forget; so that means write it on the back of a receipt even if you’re driving 75 on I-70.”The results of Trommer’s fast-paced writing will be intertwined with the work of two fellow poets for a session of performance poetry that last year’s attendees say they’ll never forget. This year Trommer hints there will be a lot more original work with themes ranging from poems that bring audience members to tears — of both sorrow and laughter.”We’ll take them all over the place,” Trommer promises. “We’ll go from ‘Coyotes on the Mesa’ and ‘Frogs in the Desert’ to the problems of children of the nineties and why love is not like a rose.”The main goal of Trommer and company, and, in fact, the entire Festival of Words, is to create an event that is not stuffy and is accesible to al types of readers.”People will get it,” Trommer says. “There is nothing scary about this, it’s about having a great time with words. We want to take the poetry off the page and into the present.” It began as an oral art according to Trommer and they aim to bring it back to those roots. “Three voices to one poem adds an entirely new dimension to each poem,” she says.”People think the festival is just for the book clubs and literary people,” according to festival cofounder Alessandra Mayer, “but we have worked hard to offer a variety of interests in reading and the poetry. I’ve noticed that those that were intimidated in past years have been happily surprised and comfortable.”


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