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Life as an open book Annual festival brings authors to Vail

Wren Wertin

Take six authors, three poets, a heap of books and a slew of readers and presto – it’s the Festival of Words. In its fifth year, the once fledgling festival has culled a national reputation, grass-roots style.

The product of a joint effort by the Vail Symposium, Verbatim Booksellers and The Bookworm of Edwards, the Festival of Words’ mission is simple: to bring readers and writers together. Of course, no festival worth its salt would endeavor to do that without hoopla – and there’s plenty to be had with this year’s event. Authors and poets – and their requisite penchant for plot and drama – travel to Beaver Creek to speak about their craft, answer questions and generally hobnob with folks.

“The quality of authors we’ve been able to have has always been high,” said Ali Mayer, festival co-founder and formerly the owner of Verbatim Booksellers. “But now we’ve gone from a one-day event to the whole weekend.”



Add in two Valley Reads – a valley-wide “virtual book club” – and the festival has become an entirely different beast.



Wine and Wit

The sleeper hit of last year’s festival, Wine and Wit, kicks off the story-centric weekend. Telluride poets Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, Art Goodtimes and Ellen Marie Mettrick regaled the audience with a round-robin recitation circle last year. They’re back by popular demand.

Packed with humor, wit and dramatic flair, the evening combines the romance of poetry with the veritas of vino.



Afternoon with Authors Gail Tsukiyama, Gregory Maguire, Haven Kimmel, Kent Nelson, Peter Shelton and Susan Zimmerman will hold court in 45-minute increments during the Afternoon with Authors.

On the surface, the only thing these authors have in common is the bestseller list. But Zimmerman, the festival’s emcee, manages to find some common themes over the course of the afternoon.

“It’s always so fun when you see these authors together,” said Mayer. “It’s so eclectic.”

“And how they end up relating to each other at the end,” added Ebby Pinson, Vail Symposium president and festival co-founder.

“When we’re looking for authors, we don’t look for the same themes or genres,” said Deb Luginbuhl. Though she works at Verbatim, she rarely leaves with a paycheck, as she has a serious book habit.

“A lot of times, a theme manifests itself on its own,” said Mayer.

Tsukiyama seems to have a monopoly on writing about the texture of a place. Reading one of her novels is like walking through a dream space. Born to a Chinese mother and a Japanese father, the California native seems fascinated by personal and cultural differences.

She’s friends with Kimmel, whose novel “The Solace of Leaving Early” was selected for the Fall 2004 Valley Read. Touted as the “new Carson McCullers,” Kimmel’s characters have spunk.

“There are so many books out there,” said Pinson. “You go to the bookstore and wonder what to read. A classic? A bestseller? Preparing for the Festival of Words gives you a purpose, and pushes you to read some great books you wouldn’t necessarily pick up.”

Maguire has become a bit of a buzz name, since his book “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” was turned into a Broadway musical of the same name. His scathing wit is easy to laugh at.

Nelson, on the other hand, uses not humor but almost excruciating heart to drive home his novels. His work has won the Edward Abbey Prize for Eco-Fiction and his latest novel was named the Mountains and Plains Best Fiction Book last year. Shelton, too, has a deep interest in the natural world, but from a different perspective. “Climb to Conquer: The Untold Story of WWII’s 10th Mountain Division Ski Troops” is the Spring 2004 Valley Read choice. It delves into the history of Camp Hale and the ragtag collection of skiers who went there to train and eventually became war heroes.

“It looks at a group of people who were really influential in making this valley,” said Mayer.

Zimmerman is a believer in writing’s power to heal. While working towards ways to deepen reading and writing experiences for adults and children, Zimmerman manages to make a cohesive tapestry out of the day’s events. She always seems at ease on stage, while encouraging others to tell their own story.

Both Verbatim and The Bookworm have books by all of the authors on sale.

“Having read the books really makes you more of an active participant than a passive one,” said Luginbuhl.

Footnote Breakfast

To bring the weekend full circle, the Footnote breakfast presents an informal atmosphere where attendees can approach the authors and speak with them.

Prices are $35 for Wine and Wit, $50 for An Afternoon with Authors and $20 for Footnote Breakfast. A Literary Events Package is $95 and includes entrance to all events – advance purchases only. For more information call 476-0954 nor visit http://www.festivalofwords.org.


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