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Aspen’s Winter Words

Brandon Wenerd's picture

By and large, literary festivals do not enjoy the same sex appeal as music festivals. Very few readers expect or can imagine an erudite and inkhorn author who pens substantial and weighty bestsellers to possess Keith Richard’s mercurial swagger, the tattoos and hubris of Tommy Lee, or the anarchic drug-fueled frenzies of Sid Vicious. In the hyper-sterile publishing/marketing world, Oprah probably wouldn’t have a book club if authors came from the same mutant reptilian breed as rock stars.

Thus, it is doubtful sold-out events at the venerable Los Angeles Times Festival of Books will result in gate crashing or a chaotic bum rush toward the stage in giggly hysteria to see Ray Bradbury or Mary Higgins Clark. When Ian McEwan reads to a capacity crowd at the 2009 PEN World Voices Festival, it is unlikely for a drunk hipster audience to begin chanting “Freebird” or flick Bic lighters in the air while exhaling dank, purple smoke from a well-rolled spliff. Bearded, dreadlocked, and hula-hoop twirling star children probably won’t park their rusty VW Vanagons outside New York’s Jarvis Center in anxious anticipation for BookExpo America – the Bonnaroo or South-by-Southwest for the publishing industry. Even in bacchanal New Orleans, home of the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, civility will ultimately prevail, resulting in unlikely circumstances for a shower of sweat-stained brassieres to liter the stage during an intimate dialogue between Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Rick Bragg and Richard Ford.

Of course, this doesn’t mean literary events are jejune affairs. And it also doesn’t mean these events are incident-free or have the potential to digress into heated discussions or, perhaps if you’re lucky, an ego-driven literary feud. But, for the most part, book festivals remain polite and sophisticated scholastic affairs with the goal of uniting the author with his or her fellow readers. These events are open forums for writers to discuss their craft with fellow authors and fans while shedding a little light on the creative mysteries that inspire a well-crafted belles-lettres.

Here in Aspen, we boast an entire nonprofit organization dedicated to strictly to the reading and writing life. The Aspen Writer’s Foundation is the oldest literary center in Colorado, and you don’t have to have membership in the Modern Language Association or an MFA to attend their events. The Foundation’s goal is preserve and retain the craft of reading and writing in today’s “gigabyte culture.”

Officially and psychically, the ski season is winding down and winter is transitioning into spring. Yet the Aspen’s Winter Words Series is still in full swing, touting three more blockbuster literary events appealing to both casual readers and hardcore wordsmiths. Labeled as an “après ski for the mind,” the Winter Words series is structured to allow author readings, a book signing, an informative question and answer session, and a meet-and-greet with internationally renowned literati.

On Wednesday, March 18th, the Winter Word’s Series brings Pulitzer-prize winning author Jeffery Eugenedies to town at the Paepcke Auditorium. Eugenedies is the author of the critically acclaimed bestselling novels Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides. In anticipation for the event, the author and Princeton University professor was quoted in a recent interview with the Aspen Daily News, paying tribute to the legendary author of Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake: "(James) Joyce was kind of the first writer that I was obsessed with."

Andrew Sean Greer speaks at the Given Institute on March 26th. Greer is the best selling author of two novels: The Confessions of Max Tivoli and The Story of a Marriage. In addition to having his books on multiple reading lists, Greer has collected dozens of literary prizes, including the New York Public Library Young Lions Award and a story included in the PEN O. Henry Prize Stories 2009 anthology.

Augusten Burroughs will grace the stage of the Paepcke Auditorium on April 2nd. Burroughs is the author of the bestselling memoir Running with Scissors and has penned five other books, including the novel A Wolf At the Table, the best selling memoir Dry, and a collection of stories, titled Magical Thinking: True Stories.

Skiing, shopping, dining, drinking, and astronomical real estate are part of Aspen’s highly visible façade. Beneath Aspen’s surface, there is rich intellectual and cultural community. Events like the Winter Words Series are a great opportunity to meet influential modern authors from around the country. While it may not be as sexy as a music festival, to a bookworm or English major, it is mighty close.

For more information, see the Aspen Writer’s Foundation: