Listening to some of Montana’s Best Writers with Librarians

I just got back from Author Series: A Literary Potpourri, a set of presentations by Montana authors at the joint meeting of the Montana Library Association and the Mountain Plains Library Associations in Billings.

If anyone needed a reminder that the Montana literary scene has deep roots in every corner of the state, this was it. The quality and scope of the presentations was tremendous.

My good friend, Billings author Craig Lancaster led off with a reading from his 2009 Montana Book Award honor book, 600 Hours of Edward. Craig read a hilarious section from the book where Edward, who has Aspersers Syndrome, obsessively contemplates the possibility of having sex on a first date he has finally arranged. (It’s okay to call it hilarious; Craig said the audience laughed in all the right places). Craig also read a scene from his new book, Summer Son, where the main character, Mitch Quillen, tries to figure out why his father keeps telephoning but refuses to talk.

Ruth McLaughlin, who now lives in Great Falls, read from the 2010 Montana Book Award winner, Bound Like Grass, a memoir about her growing up on a ranch in Eastern Montana. She read a section called “Hunger” that sweeps across three generations of hardscrabble existence including tales of her father fainting from hunger in school, her parents feeding their family bologna while saving grass fed beef for sale, and her own gorging on ice cream when she escaped to Missoula for college. I can’t overstate the admiration I have for Ruth’s ability to blend such disparate tales into a seamless whole.

Montana Poet Laureate Henry Real Bird read new work from typescript he held in hands, selections from his book, Horse Tracks, and recited other poems from memory. Henry’s mesmerizing recitations would have been hard to tell from his afterwords if he didn’t end with the phrase “and that’s how that one goes.” He was born and raised on the Crow Reservation and still speaks Crow as his primary language and his poetry springs from deep roots.

Outdoor and western writer Dan Aadland, like Real Bird, is a rancher who raises horses and writes, but his writing has the crisp precision you’d expect from person who holds a doctoral degree. That’s not to say Aadland’s writing isn’t personal and compelling—it is. He read from his book, Montana Hunter’s Journey, which chronicles his quest to learn about Theodore Roosevelt by riding through and hunting in the same land the great President visited.

In a few minutes, I’ll make my way over to the library at Montana State University—Billings, to take part in the Montana Book Award presentation ceremony. I get to present an original piece by Montana artist Dana Boussard to the 2010 MBA Winner, Ruth McLaughlin. I’m thrilled!


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