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The Fine Art of Storytelling: Ashland Literary Arts Festival Brings Us All Together

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There is great power in telling a story. The teller decides what is true or not, how to present it, and often most importantly, how to land the ending. The Ashland Literary Arts Festival on October 28 at the Hannon Library at SOU gathers an odd group of storytellers together, from book authors to filmmakers to poets to journalists for workshops, discussions and—you guessed it—swapping tales. We asked a few of the participants to tell a bit of their stories here, and what they have learned on their wordsmithing journeys. 

Kristin Anderson

What does community mean to you?

Story, by its very nature, required community to be processed: whether between writer and reader or storyteller and listener, the need for a community to exist around literature is critical…otherwise the stories go nowhere. Because writing is a solitary experience, these types of events become even more important.  The community of creators needs to support its individual constituents. 

What is your favorite written work, and why?

Wait, just one? I can never pick. So I usually just share what I’m reading right now, if I’m liking it.  Right now I’m reading: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. I’m really excited about Aza, his main character, who struggles with mental illness. In teen literature, there is a tendency towards making mentally ill female protagonists seem “adorably quirky,” like their disease is a character trait instead of a malady…John Green has successfully managed to create a likeable character struggling with a mental illness. It’s refreshing.

Edwin Battistella

What will be unique about the ALAF event?

The ALAF event this years will bring a lot of new voices—independent publishers from the Pacific Northwest, Oregon’s poet laureate Elizabeth Woody will read. The social justice theme is very exciting and Bill Bigelow and Linda Christensen, the editors of Rethinking Schools, will be presenting.  There are some fun activities planned too, like the Wonder Woman costume contest, and the Cooking with What You’ve got demonstration by Tod Davies and Sarah Lemon.

What is your favorite written work and why?

OMG. This changes all the time. Of all time, I might go with Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, which is short and prickly, or H. L. Mencken’s The American Language, a triumph of amateur scholarship. But currently I am really excited about three local authors: Victor Lodato, who wrote Edgar and Lucy, Robert Arellano, whose Havana Libre is coming out in November, and James Anderson, whose Lullaby Road will be out in January. 

Tod Davies, Author, Editorial Director of Exterminating Angel Press, Program Director for ALAF 2017

What does community mean to you, especially as a writer, which is a typically solitary experience? 

It is a solitary experience, but it’s a solitary experience in aid of connecting with the larger community. That’s what an event like ALAF is for: connecting all those solitary experiences together, weaving them together into a larger story for the community as a whole. I love that.

What will be unique about the ALAF event?

As far as I know, this is the only event in Cascadia that focuses on independent stories, independent voices heard in stories of all kinds: not just books, not just poetry, but also comics, film, documentary, anthropology, digital record. We want not just to celebrate, but to bring together indie voices of Cascadia each year. Because the more we communicate what our own independent vision is, and the more we listen to those of others, the faster new stories grow. And we all need new stories, now more than ever. Isn’t it so?

What is your favorite written work and why?

My two favorite books ever are Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, and In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust. Oddly enough, they have more in common than you might think!

Richard Herskowitz, Artistic and Executive Director, Ashland Independent Film Festival, Artistic Director, Houston Cinema Arts Festival

What does community mean to you, especially as a writer/storyteller, which is a typically solitary experience? And, how do events like ALAF contribute to that community?

I am participating not as a writer, but as the director of the Ashland Independent Film Festival, a collaborating partner with ALAF. Like ALAF, one of our aims is to support and promote local artists. We have a LAUNCH program for student filmmakers in the area, and a LOCALS ONLY program of films during AIFF at Ashland Street Cinemas. We have been highlighting the fact that Ashland has been repeatedly recognized as one of the best towns to live in and work as a filmmaker. Last April, we gave our Rogue Award to one of the illustrious filmmakers in our area, the great Alex Cox, director of Repo Man and Sid and Nancy. We’re back this time to co-sponsor the presentation of Alex Cox’s Walker, and I’ll be joining SOU Digital Arts professor Andrew Gay in conversation with Alex after the screening. 

One of the things that makes this appropriate for ALAF is that the screenplay of Walker was written by Rudy Wurlitzer, a great and strange American novelist and screenwriter, author of the novels Nog and Flats and Quake, and the screenplay for the cult film Two Lane Blacktop, among others.

Mike Madrid

What will be unique about the ALAF event?

Events like ALAF provide writers with the chance to connect with readers face to face. You get the chance to share your enthusiasm and passion for your subject matter, and in turn hear what readers are interested in. I usually speak at comic book conventions, and I’ve developed lasting relationships with a number of people I’ve met over the years. ALAF will be unique because there will be writers and creative people from different areas of interest in one place. So, it should be both stimulating and entertaining. We’ll be having a Wonder Woman costume contest, which tells you that this is not your typical literary festival.

What is your favorite written work and why?

I love Mythology by Edith Hamilton, because the author takes a complex subject and presents it in both an organized and engaging way. That is something I’ve tried to do in my own writing. But I’m also a big fan of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos. It’s a book that has to be enjoyed in its printed form to truly appreciate the masterful and hilarious use of language.

Danbert Nobacon

What will be unique about the ALAF event?

I teach theatre in High School and have acted in many plays and when a community comes together—the actors and backstage crew—to put on a play for four, or eight or twelve shows as it operates in the not-so-surprisingly-named community theatre here in rural Washington. As the director of the first play I was in said: ‘this community will put these twelve plays on and then it will never be the same group of people working on the same project again. The ALAF event will be the same. A coming together of artistic minds that will be unique in its make-up lasting only for the duration of the event, like a many headed flowering plant, but which will go on to sow seeds for many such future meetings of minds, growing from the connections people make. In other words the instinct to socialize arising from this particular ALAF. 

What is your favorite written work and why?

Impossible question to answer of course, but I will say The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, which I have read twice and I was thinking about recently (I am due for another re-read.) Why? Because the creativity and inventiveness of the magical realism therein blew my mind. Mick Jagger said he wrote Sympathy for the Devil, after reading it.


Midge Raymond

What does community mean to you, especially as a writer/storyteller, which is a typically solitary experience?

Community is so important to writers, in part because so many of us are introverts — we need to get out every once in a while! And the best part about being a part of a literary community is that your fellow writers understand you. They understand the whole experience, from working in solitude to navigating the crazy world of publishing. For me, going to writing festivals is the best way to discover amazing writers I may not have known before — whether it’s at a scheduled reading or panel, or through a conversation with another writer. I always go home with tons of new books.

And, how do events like ALAF contribute to that community? What will be unique about the ALAF event?

Events like ALAF are wonderful for bringing readers and writers together. And this year, ALAF goes beyond showcasing local writers to include many more Northwest writers as well as small-press publishers, which offers a terrific opportunity for readers and writers who are curious about publishing. What I’m also excited about is ALAF’s expansion into film, comics, and other literary arts, like vintage typewriters. There will truly be something for everyone at ALAF this year.

What is your favorite written work and why?

My favorite written work changes so often — I fall in love with a book, and then discover another brilliant book and fall in love all over again. Right now, one of the books I’m encouraging everyone I know to read is Karen Joy Fowler’s We are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which is absolutely stunning.

Geoff Ridden

What will be unique about the ALAF event?

This event will be larger than previous literary festivals in Ashland, and will include a greater variety of activities—cosplay and karaoke!

What is your favorite written work and why?

King Lear, which never fails to move me.

 

 

Chelsea Rose

What does community mean to you, especially as a writer/storyteller, which is a typically solitary experience? And, how do events like ALAF contribute to that community?

As an archaeologist, I am basically a storyteller—it is my job to take the material traces of objects left behind and string them together in a meaningful way. While this is undeniably a creative process, it is also a scientific one. This can make it difficult to share our work with the interested public—many of the reports we generate are dry reading even at the best of times. However, at the SOU Laboratory of Anthropology (SOULA), sharing the wonders of archaeology far and wide is part of our core mission. We have had a local archaeology column in the Jacksonville Review for several years now, are featured monthly on the Jefferson Exchange in a feature called Underground History, and are always looking for ways to bring the community along on our adventures. 

What is your favorite written work and why?

I love reading handwritten nineteenth century diaries, old newspapers (especially now they are digitized), and I am a sucker for photo-laden regional histories.  As archaeologists we consider books and printed materials in and of themselves artifacts, and it is always fun to read something in the hopes of finding a clue that nobody had noticed before. 

Bruce Rutledge

How do events like ALAF contribute to community?

Without community, storytellers would just be howling in the wind. Events like ALAF are energizing to me. It’s important to recharge with like-minded people every once in awhile. When I’m with people who don’t like to read, I feel oppressed, but when I’m with people who like to read, I feel invigorated.

What is your favorite written work and why?

That is so hard, and I reserve the right to change my mind and appoint another work my favorite at a later date, but right now it’s Kobo Abe’s The Ruined Map, a literary crime novel that is so murky and twisted and never falls into cliche. Really, any book that gives you that little tingle at the base of your spine when you read it deserves to be a favorite.

 

Laura Stanfill, Publisher of Forest Avenue Press

What will be unique about the ALAF event?

Tod Davies has done an excellent job of reaching out to small presses outside of Ashland to bring them together for the festival. I’m excited to meet attendees, but equally excited to spend time with presses outside my close geographical range, because we’ll make new connections and find new ways to support each other. And Tod is bringing us together to help us all get stronger and grow together, so that mission is why so many of us are hauling our books and authors from other cities to participate. Because we believe we’re better together.

I also love that all the presses who want interns have been invited to request them. So not only are we connecting with each other, and with the festival attendees, we’re also building relationships with students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn about publishing in such a hands-on way.

What is your favorite written work and why?

Choosing a favorite book, oh my! It’s such a hard question. I read fiction almost exclusively, and fall in love with new titles each year, and then recommend them to others. Right now, at this very moment, I’m most excited about the debut novel we just published, Queen of Spades by Michael Shou-Yung Shum. I recently spent a few days telling booksellers about its classic and mysterious plot, how its smart construction keeps the pages turning, and how its casino setting gives it the air of a drawing room comedy, featuring the casino employees and a mysterious 100-year-old woman known only as the Countess. Michael has two PhDs and has been working for years to have this moment of shifting from potential to publication—a book that other people can pick up, read, savor, and respond to—and there’s really nothing more satisfying in the publishing industry than sitting in a packed house of readers at a book launch, knowing how much time, energy, and talent have gone into creating a story that now everyone can hold in their hands.

 

Ashland Literary Arts Festival

10 am – 4 pm, Saturday, October 28

Hannon Library, Southern Oregon University, 1250 Siskiyou Boulevard, Ashland

Check out the full schedule at https://ashlandliteraryartsfestival2017.sched.com/

 

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