Third annual Festival of Words kicks off this weekend
For one afternoon, six published authors and a heap of readers will converge in the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek to interact with each other. Each author will speak to the audience, as well as respond to audience comments and questions. Visiting authors include Mark Dunn, Susan Zimmermann, Leif Enger, Dan O’Brien, Claire Davis and Jodi Picoult. Zimmermann will once again be the Mistress of Ceremonies, as she has been since the event’s inception. The day will be capped off with Wine and Wit, during which everyone will mingle together over the three staples of life: sinful cheese, magical elixirs and good conversation.
“I love words, because words capture our thinking and make us human,” said Zimmermann, author of “Grief Dancers.” “They bind us to one another across the ages and, of course, they have enormous power, precision, and expressive range. Because of that, I’m an enormous fan of the Festival of Words. It brings the community together around books, words, and thought, thus honoring something vital to our culture.”
“It all began with the word, right?” asked O’Brien. “I suspect it will all end the same way.”
O’Brien, author of “Buffalo for the Broken Heart,” is looking forward to the Festival. Tired of the wind in South Dakota, he needs a dose of Colorado’s high life. He writes for three reasons.
“A desire to be understood by others, a desire to understand myself and a desire to eat,” he said.
“I can’t not write,” said Picoult, author of “Salem Falls.” “The stories bat around inside my head and make me infinitely crabby.”
According to Picoult, she has a love/hate relationship with words.
“I love the idea that words break down at a certain point, that there are certain moments or emotions that can’t be defined by language,” she said. “Which is why my characters often lose the power of speech, or have a phrase fall like a stone at their feet… Words are a commodity in my writing, and like everything that’s in demand, at crucial instances they simply run out.”
Perhaps the visiting author with the most interesting relationship with words is Dunn, who wrote “Ella Minnow Pea.” Not only did he have to coin more than 100 words in the writing of it, but it’s the first progressively lipogrammatic novel ever written. As stated in the book, a lipogram is a written work composed of words selected so as to avoid the use of one or more letters of the alphabet.
“We have the richest language in the world and it kills me to see people who, far from wanting to celebrate it, diminish it by making no effort to enrich their own vocabularies,” said Dunn. “The potential is there for a breadth of expression unavailable to most cultures on earth, and we don’t realize it. (“Ella Minnow Pea’) is also a look at a society and a culture that appreciates its language to the point of elevating it to a status unfathomable in our own country.”
“I love words. While other kids collected stamps and baseball cards, I collected words,” he added.
The authors are given the freedom to speak about something important to them. According to Zimmermann, this year they’ve been asked to weave in a bit about why they write, their writing routines, and where they get their inspiration.
“Even here in the 21st century, there are areas of artistic and literary achievement that have yet to be ventured into,” said Dunn.
Dunn will be speaking about 12 things he’s learned by being a writer, a grab bag of thoughts including growing up near Graceland, 9-11 and a copyright infringement suit against Paramount. Davis, author of “Winter Range,” will be speaking about the habit of art and what it can mean in a person’s life.
“The more you write, the more accessible it is,” she said. “There’s this phenomenon that seems to happen where you write things you’d never dream of. On the other hand, if you’re not in the habit of art where you move through your days looking at landscapes, listening to dialogue, you might not recognize inspiration when it strikes.”
“Inspiration is always there; it’s an artist’s job to recognize it,” she added.
Zimmermann, too, takes her inspiration from the world around her, whether or not she is working on a novel at the time.
“When I’m in between writing projects, I’m much less disciplined,” she said. “I tell myself, “Relax, you’re marinating.'”
Davis is participating in the Festival because she likes to support literature and the art of books. Because the Festival is hosted in part by Eagle County’s independent bookstores, it’s an ideal scenario for Davis. She sees independent bookstores as essential to a town’s sense of community.
Picoult will talk about the role of research in her writing, as well as the “amazing escapades” she’s had while researching her novels. She initially decided to participate as a way to kick off the tour for her newest novel.
“Then I heard who the other writers were and decided I would also be in excellent company, in a beautiful location… well, who would turn that down?” she asked.
O’Brien preferred to hold his cards close and didn’t divulge his intended subject.
“I’ll have to look at the crowd,” he said. “I’m going to try to give them what they’re coming to hear.”
Currently in its third year, the Festival has grown in both recognition of the event and recognition of the authors. It is the joint effort of six literary organizations of Eagle County: The Bookworm of Edwards, Eagle Valley Library District, The Literacy Project, Vail Public Library, Vail Symposium and Verbatim Booksellers.
Each Festival of Words is quite different than the others because the author line-up always changes.
“This year we have a strong dose of really excellent, diverse writers,” said Zimmermann. “Each has his or her unique style and focus. Writers tend to be pretty independent, original thinkers, so I’m sure this year’s group will have fascinating new perspectives on writing and life to share.”
Ebby Pinson, president of Vail Symposium, theorized that perhaps this would be the most whimsical of Festivals, due to the set. Pismo Gallery has donated a slew of fanciful furniture and capricious art pieces to grace the stage.
This year, all Eagle County high school students will be able to attend free of charge. For everyone else the cost is $45. Tickets are available by calling 845-TIXS.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.