Saturday, September 19, 2009

Localit grows in Cheyenne and Casper and other Wyoming locales

During the past year, I've been talking a lot about my transformation into a locavore (a.k.a. localvore). I'm growing some of my own food and trying to eat foodstuffs grown and raised close to home. It's a daunting task. Cheyenne isn't Salinas or Iowa City or Vidalia. For that, I can only be thankful. But, people in these cities and other temperate climes have a lot better chance of locavoring than I do at 6,200 windswept feet in America's high dry prairie.

But I keep on keeping on. I have a new batch of strawberries, probably due to the cooling weather. Lettuce, too, its last seasonal gasp. I'm still watching the tomatoes ripen. My Superman-like laser vision has speeded up the process, but not by much. A freeze is forecast on Tuesday, followed by a slight warming trend which some call Indian Summer except the Indians. I may just cover up during the freeze emergency, and then see how many more days the tomatoes have.

As I dwell on fruits and veggies, I was thinking about arts on the local scene, especially writers and poets and books. Let's call it "localit," as in "local literature." Homegrown words by homegrown writers, or at least transplanted writers (like me) who took root in the rocky soil of Wyoming.

The second annual Wyoming Book Festival was held today in Cheyenne's Lion's Park. It may be a coincidence, but the park is also home to the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens and a very impressive community garden. As I write this, two boxes of carrots grown in that garden by a friend await my attention. They're tasty -- I had a batch last week which I threw in with some Yukon Gold potatoes and some tasty local beets for a root veggie extravaganza.

Writers featured today at the conference were mainly from Wyoming: Zak Pullen, Casper; Craig Johnson, Ucross; Gene Gagliano, Buffalo; Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale; Peg Sundberg, Wheatland; and Tina Ann Forkner and Cindy Keen Reynders from Cheyenne. The only Coloradan presenting on the main stage was mystery writer Margaret Coel whose novels are set in Wyoming's Wind River Reservation but she lives in Boulder, Colo. Thing is, Margaret lives closer to Wyoming that most of the Wyoming presenters. Those borders are funny things.

Meanwhile, inside the Community House, other writers staffed tables featuring their books. The Cheyenne Barnes & Noble offered the books for sale. Outside, basking in the sunny September day by the amphitheatre, was Nancy Curtis of Glendo and her High Plains Press books.

You could fairly call this event an example of localit. Yes, I know B&N is not an indie. But its staff supports us local writers.

After hanging out at the bookfest for awhile, I was off to a meeting of the board for Wyoming Writers, Inc. It's a 35-year-old statewide organizations of some 200 writers, most from Wyoming but a growing number from surrounding states. It's an all-volunteer org that puts on an annual writing competition, annual conference, newsletter, listserv and web site. It birthed WyoPoets, which also holds it own annual writing workshop and has a fine web site. Almost all WyoPoets members are members of WWInc.

The board is planning its 2010 conference in Cody. WWInc has money in the bank and the conference is self-supporting. Last year's event in Casper featured former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser as keynote speaker. Other presenters came from Cheyenne and Jackson and Cincinnati and NYC. We take pains to assemble a great mix of presenters, realizing we sometimes have to reach far and wide to get the expertise we seek. We're seeking some great writers and editors and agents for the Cody event. And, at the same time, keeping the cost reasonable.

WWInc is an organization that it made up of both professional and hobbyist writers. An odd mix -- but it works. We do our best to support the pastime of writing as well as its professional pursuit. Next weekend, two WWInc staffers will be at the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association gathering to support books by members.

In two weeks, the Laramie County Community College Foundation is putting on its Literary Connection. Here's a short description:

The LCCC Foundation is excited to announce that the Literary Connection will be returning Oct. 2-3, 2009. We are pleased to introduce our three guest authors for this year: Pam Houston, author of the best-seller Cowboys Are My Weakness; Colorado native and Sky Bridge author Laura Pritchett; and essayist and fiction writer Bill Roorbach from Masachusetts. This year, we are introducing our morning workshop session on Friday with our three guest authors. They will each talk about the skills of writing, the process of literary development and more. On Saturday, we will reintroduce our authors as they present a guest lecture, again taking time to answer your questions and sign copies of their books. Space is limited and pre-registration is required. Please visit our guest authors' websites for more info:;;

Some might object to the fact that the community college spends money on arts-oriented events. But what better venue than a "community" college, which tries (not always successfully) to be the center of activities. As U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said this week at a statewide forum at Casper College: "The community college system here is among the best in the country," Duncan said. "We recognize this has been an underrecognized asset, an underrecognized resource."

What better way to say "localit" than your local community college?

Speaking of Casper College... The Casper College Literary Conference is Oct. 8-10. It features a series of workshops and presentation by fantastic writers, culminating in a chili feed and reading by the Wyoming Arts Council's creative writing fellowship winners at noon on Oct. 10. Three Wyoming poets will join fellowship Greg Pape, Montana Poet Laureate, for a reading in the Izaak Walton Clubhouse on the banks of the North Platte River in central Wyoming.

Write locally, read poetry locally, fish locally.

This local emphasis on the arts doesn't stop with writers. This summer, when I was in Jackson, local galleries were closing due to the economic downturn. Others were wondering if it wasn't time to act and think more locally, and depend less on tourist dollars and donations by politicos and CEOs and Wall Street arbitragers who have built second or third or fourth houses in Jackson Hole. Their fortunes are falling fast. Too much dependence on this fleeting wealth has skewed expectations.

Act locally, think locally, write locally.

Paint locally, sculpt locally, quilt locally.

New bumper sticker slogans for Wyoming.

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