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Archive: Arts & Culture / Spokane and North Idaho

Nisbet details more Northwest history on Thursday

In 1994, Jack Nisbet gave us a book that detailed the exploits of one of the great white explorers of the Northwest: David Thompson. His book was titled "Sources of the River: Tracking David Thompson Across North America" (Sasquatch Books).

Now Nisbet is back, and this time his book explores the life and times of a far less well-known figure: "The Dreamer and the Doctor" (Sasquatch Books, $24.95 hardcover) tells the story of a pioneer physician, Dr. Carrie Leiberg, and her Swedish-born husband, John Leiberg, who was a self-taught naturalist who as an agent for the U.S. Forest Commission sounded an early warning about potential ecological devastation.

 Kirk Johnson, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, had this to say about Nisbet's newest work:

“Jack Nisbet’s 'The Dreamer and the Doctor' is a textured, insightful history of the waning frontier days of the American West that reads like a novel. The featured couple, a female doctor and an obsessed botanist, provide an unusual lens to a time that is both familiar and antique, a time when science and medicine were rapidly evolving but were still intensely personal. Entwined in the narrative are the roots of the battle for Western public lands, the impact of federal science, and a growing awareness of the impact of forest fires.”

Nisbet will read from "The Dreamer and the Doctor" at 7 p.m. Thursday at Auntie's Bookstore.

Spokane makes another must-visit list

Spokane is becoming … cool? Seems so. It's showing up on the occasional "best of" list that typically forces you to flip through a number of pages, thereby exposing you to the obligatory advertisers — which is the whole point anyway.

Still, it's nice to see Spokane emerging from its traditional status as something still mired in the past, even if we suspect that much of what is good about the city is likely to disappear if people start flocking here.

That's progress, eh?

You can see the latest story, which is on this MSN Lifestyle page. Go past Hana (on Maui) and the San Juan Islands and flip directly to slide No. 11 and you'll discover once of the most gorgeous photographs of Spokane (courtesy of Shutterstock) ever taken. Even Jesse Tinsley or Colin Mulvany can't make the city look that good.

Expect to be inspired Wednesday at Auntie’s Bookstore

Above: Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy (front row, third and fourth from left, respectively) meet with President Lyndon Johnson, other members of his cabinet and other civil rights leaders on June 22, 1963, at the White House. Photo by from the JFK Presidential Library and Museum.

Claire Rudolph Murphy is a familiar name among area writers, especially to those who read fiction and nonfiction aimed primarily at young-adult readers.

Murphy's latest book fits precisely in the nonfiction category: "Martin and Bobby: A Journey Toward Justice" (Chicago Review Press, $17.95). The title refers, of course, to the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and the late U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Murphy will give a preview of her book beginning at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Auntie's Bookstore. She will be accompanied by a panel of students from local high schools and universities, all of whom will discuss the ideas regarding leadership that Murphy's book addresses.

Here's what Kirkus Reviews has to say about Murphy's book: "This book brings to life the high stakes involved in principled leadership and highlights the fact that effective leaders do not act in a vacuum but take on challenges because they are passionate about their causes."

As Murphy told Stephanie Hammett of The Spokesman-Review, "Both men evolved in their understanding, they evolved in their commitment, and they made mistakes. They made a huge impact and those words will live on. Words matter and words can inspire.”

Expect to hear a few of those inspiring words Wednesday night at Auntie's.

Catch Goldfarb’s tome about beavers at Auntie’s

Beavers have a long and storied history in North America. At one time, they were targets of mountain men intent of taking advantage of European fashion, beaver pelts proving the perfect material for making a certain kind of top hat.

Beaver dams traditionally have been ecologically beneficial, too, particularly to the life forms that flourished in the resulting pools.

The whole range of what beavers provide, not to mention their intrinsic value beyond their pelts, can be found in "Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter" (Chelsea Green Publishing Company, $24.95 hardback), a nonfiction book written by Ben Goldfarb. Described on his own website as "an independent environmental journalist, editor, and fiction writer," Goldfarb writes on any number of science and wildlife conservation issues.

Here's one review of Goldfarb's book "Eager" by the Washington Post: "Goldfarb has built a masterpiece of a treatise on the natural world, how that world stands now and how it could be in the future if we protect beaver populations. He gives us abundant reasons to respect environment-restoring beavers and their behaviors, for their own good and for ours."

Goldfarb will read from his book, and then sign copies, at 7 p.m. Saturday at Auntie's Bookstore.

And why not? Eager-beaver readers are always welcome at Auntie's.

Catch ‘Closing It Up’ before it, uh, closes

Above: L-R, playwright/actress Molly Allen, Mary Starkey, Andrew Biviano

Last week I posted something about an art show, which I rarely do. Now, I'm going to post something about local theater, which I do even less often.

Not that I have anything against live theater. It's just that my motto is, so many movies, so little time.

But my wife and I made an exception on Friday night when we went to see a production — a "world premiere" — of "Closing It Up" at Stage Left Theater. Written by Molly Allen (who was also a principal cast member) and directed by Heather McHenry Kroetch, the play is a family comedy-drama about three siblings coming to grips with the recent death of their parents.

Yes, it is a comedy-drama. Turns out the two sisters and brother (played, by Allen, Mary Starkey and Andrew Biviano) have ambilvalent feelings about their parents. And as the play progresses (it takes place on the day of the parents' funeral and the morning after), those feelings grow darker. Yet still remain touching — and funny.

Special mention should go to Mark Pleasant, who has a show-stopping scene with Starkey (imagine dancing to the music of ABBA), and to Mary Jo Rudolph, whose single scene provides one of the production's funniest moments.

As Carolyn Lamberson wrote in The Spokesman-Review, Allen wrote "Closing It Up" in about three months, though it took some 18 months to get it ready for production. It’s Allen's third produced full-length play, and her first as Stage Left’s resident playwright.

If you haven't been to Stage Left, the space is intimate, meaning there aren't a lot of seats. Yet because they are raked, everyone has a decent view of the stage (our seats were in the next-to-last row and yet we could see just fine).

"Closing It Up" plays nightly at 7:30 through Sunday, with a special added 2 p.m. performance on Saturday. Click here to inquire about tickets and other general information.

And if you go, prepare to laugh. 

‘Maus’ author Spiegelman to speak at GU Sept. 25

If you consult any source on the most influential graphic novels every published, the resulting list is likely to begin with a single title.

And that title would be "Maus."

That work, conceived, written and drawn by Art Spiegelman, was published in serial form over the years 1980 to 1991. It reflects the author's relationship with his father, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, and details the horrific experiences endured by both his parents (his mother committed suicide when he was 20).

The novel's conceit? All the character are animals: Germans and Poles are cats and pigs, while Jews are portrayed as pigs. Published in a single book, "Maus" became in 1992 the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.

"Maus" was, as described by Washington Post reviewer Michael Cavna, as "a landmark project that led the American public, including many literary critics, toward seeing comics as a serious art form."

Spiegelman, who is 70, is scheduled to speak at Gonzaga University on Sept 25 as part of the 2018-19 Gonzaga University Visiting Writers Series. Others in the series include poet Sierra Golden, writer and actress Elena Passarello, poet Giovanni singleton and novelist Helen Helen Maria Viramontes.

The event, which will be held in GU's Hemmingson Center Ballroom, is free and open to the public.

With a new novel out, Chris Crutcher gets real

Chris Crutcher is one of Spokane's more recognized writers. His latest novel, "Loser's Bracket," which was published today, is featured in Publishers Weekly.

While he talks about a range of issues, mostly involving his novels, Crutcher doesn't shy away from commenting about our current political situation.

"I have been very aware, since Trump’s election, that there’s toxicity in the air, and I can feel an emotional illness if I hear or read too much of what he is saying," Crutcher said. "If he weren’t so rich he could be someone I’ve met in my therapy work. His narcissism is so profound—in almost all cases it wouldn’t be treatable—and it has bled out into the culture. The current administration has taken us to a scary place, and I don’t know how we’ll get out."

Yet he does see hope.

"(D)uring the March 24 marches throughout the country, teens gave me hope and reinvigorated me with their statistics about all the new young voters we’ll have registering in the next few years," he said. "Watch out, Mr. Santorum and Paul Ryan. If you don’t see the train coming, you are going to get run over."

To read the entire interview, click here.

Even nose-bleed seats can’t spoil ‘Hamilton’

So, there I was on Thursday night, up on the Mezzanine level of Seattle's Paramount Theater (section 21, Row L, seat 9), waiting for the road-show production of the musical "Hamilton" to begin.

I was stuck in a seat too small for an adult man (which is a theater tradition I detest), next to a guy who hummed throughout the show, and behind a guy whose bushy hair forced me to shift left and right the whole three hours just to catch a glimpse of the action on stage.

Even worse, the sound that traveled up into near-nosebleed territory was muffled so much so I could catch only about half of the dialogue that was either sung or delivered in Lin-Manuel Miranda's finger-snapping rap rhymes.

The stage was set, so to speak, for me to have a very bad night.

But that's a good gauge of just how good "Hamilton" is. I loved the show, nearly as much as I loved a production of "Rent" that I was lucky to see on Broadway some two decades ago.

Road-show productions can be good, of course. But they don't always live up to the hype generated by the original cast. Yet over the past couple of days, as my wife and I have driven through Southern California and central Arizona, we've listened to the soundtrack of the original show.

And what we heard at the Paramount on Thursday night, even muffled, was every bit as good. Each cast member not only had great stage presence, but each one boasted a pure Broadway voice. And the production was staged in a way that emphasized the quality of Miranda's Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning words and music. 

Now I look forward to reading Ron Chernow's biography, which Miranda credits as having inspired him to write his musical.

When I do so, rest assured that I'll make sure to be sitting in a comfortable chair, nowhere near either an inveterate hummer or a bushy-haired man.

Below: Some "Hamilton" tunes from the original show.

Calendar check: Get Lit! coming April 23-29

It's still a couple of months away, but Get Lit! 2018 — the annual literary festival sponsored by Eastern Washington University — has already released both its dates and its scheduled lineup.

The dates: April 23-29.

The locations: various event centers around Spokane, Cheney and Coeur d'Alene.

The participants: a wide range of writers representing pretty much every literary form imaginable.

Get Lit! has a long history, one that dates back to its one-day marathon reading in 1998 at The Metropolitan Performing Arts Center (now The Bing Crosby Theater). With local support, it will continue for years to come.

Finally, of the several festivals that I covered as a staff writer for The Spokesman-Review, my favorite was the 2004 event, which featured the likes of Sarah Vowell, Dave Barry, Garrison Keillor and … Kurt Vonnegut. (No less than Salman Rushdie would headline in 2005).

I couldn't find a link to the story that I wrote about Vonnegut's appearance. But I did find this blog post by a Seattle writer, who captured much of what I wrote. Enjoy.

‘Red Clocks’ imagines a post-abortion America

Even in today's era of social media, not to mention the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, it's still a mark of quality to get mentioned in the New York Times Book Review section. Especially when the mention is positive.

That's exactly what happened to writer Leni Zumas, whose novel "Red Clocks" was reviewed on Jan. 22 in the Times. Even better for area readers, Zumas will appear in person at a book event at 7 p.m. Thursday at Auntie's Bookstore.

Zumas' novel is set in an imaginary near future when abortion has been made illegal in all 50 states by federal decree. Zumas focuses on four women living in a small town in Oregon, and it details their struggles to handle this new legal situation.

As Times reviewer Naomi Alderman wrote, "Red Clocks" does a good job of capturing the potential climate in today's America.

"Zumas has a perfectly tuned ear for the way measures to restrict women’s lives and enforce social conformity are couched in the moralizing sentimentalism of children’s imagined needs,” Alderman wrote. And, she adds, Zumas’ book offers “such a clear and well-constructed extrapolation of the current debate that I doubt any reader will need to suspend disbelief for even a moment."

Zumas will appear in conversation with Alexis Smith. This should be a popular event, so those wanting seats should get to the store early.

Join Marshall and friends Saturday at Auntie’s

Its been two years since Spokane poet Tod Marshall was chosen to the Washington State Poet Laureate.

How time flies.

Marshall, a professor of English at Gonzaga University, will celebrate those years at 4:15 p.m. Saturday afternoon with a group of poet friends by holding a group reading at Auntie's Bookstore.

Author of such collections as "Bugle," "The Tangled Line" and "Dare Say," Marshall will be joined by Chris Howell, Nance Van Winckel, Maya Zeller, Laura Read, Devin Devine, Terry Lawhead and Kate Peterson.

Also, those attending the reading will be able to take free copies of "WA129+" an anthology expansion of "WA129," the latter of which will be available for purchase. "WA129" is a collection of poems, chosen and curated by Marshall, written by Washington writers.

The event is free and open to the public.

Auntie’s reading: Peety and Eric, who rescued whom?

Those of us who are interested in what's commonly referred to as self-help books — but particularly those who love dog stories — should have a good time at Auntie's Bookstore on Friday.

At 7 p.m., author Eric O'Grey will show up with his dog Jake to share tales of his book "Walking With Peety: The Dog Who Saved My Life." The event is a fund-raiser for the Spokane Humane Society.

O'Grey will tell how he was overweight, depressed and diabetic until he partnered up with Peety, a rescue dog who was also overweight. The two of them began sharing time, going on walks, eating healthier and — in the process of becoming fast friends — both changed their lives for the better.

Co-authored by O'Grey and Mark Dagostino, "Walking With Peety: The Dog Who Saved My Life" has been featured on National Public Radio, on the Today Show and other national media outlets.

True to the title of his book, O'Grey credits Peety for helping him find the road to recovery. As he told NPR, "He looked at me like I was the best person on the planet, and I wanted to become the person he thought I was."

Peety died in 2015. O'Grey, who lives in Boise, runs now with his black lab Jake (pictured above). The video below is a preview of the story O'Grey will share. Make sure you have some tissue handy before watching it.

Auntie’s to host tales of family life tonight

Above: (L to R) Author Cindy Hval, the late Myrt Powers, Walt Powers. Hval featured the couple in her book "War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation."

Family life will be the focus of two authors' work at Auntie's Bookstore tonight. Writers Kay Gillies Dixon and Cindy Hval will present their respective books at a 7 p.m. event.

Dixon will read from her new book "Tales of Family Travel: Bathrooms of the World," which is a chronicle of her family's treks through Italy, Kenya, Cyprus and other countries. Expect to hear stories that include everything from "toddlers stuck in bathroom stalls to the dangers of peeing in crocodile-infested rivers."

Hval, a columnist for The Spokesman-Review, is the author of "War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation." She will preview her forthcoming book "Tiaras and Testosterone: TNT," a compilation of her newspaper columns.

Get there early. Seats tend to go fast.

Reza Aslan tackles ‘God’ Nov. 13 at The Bing

Though events occur almost daily (or should that be nightly) at Auntie's Bookstore, sometimes it pays to look ahead. Which is what attracted me to an Auntie's-sponsored event that will take place on Monday, Nov. 13.

 A 7 p.m. reading at The Bing Crosby Theater by author Reza Aslan.

Aslan, an Iranian-born American citizen, is the author of four books, including the best-selling "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth." For this tour, he will be reading from his latest book, "God: A Human History." Aslan’s degrees include a B.A. in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a Ph.D. in the Sociology of Religions from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Here are some reviews of "God: A Human History":

Publishers Weekly: "The book showcases Aslan’s signature style—verging on academic but always accessible—and his methodological agnosticism as he sets aside claims of truth about 'God' in order to explore theories on how humans have come to believe in gods, humanize them, deify humanity, and conceive of gods across the ages."

Kirkus Review: "Aslan provides an intriguing glimpse into the history of primitive human belief systems, as evidenced by such archaeological remains as cave paintings, burial sites, and primitive temples. He goes further to explore psychological and physiological reasons for the birth of belief."

Those interested in attending can get a free ticket by purchasing a hardback (or audiobook) copy of "God: A Human History" from Auntie's. Otherwise, tickets are $10.

Averett to read from mystery ‘Scablands’ Friday at Auntie’s

Ed Averett is a longtime Spokane resident, now living in Ecuador, who had a long career as a therapist. In his spare time, though, besides working and helping his wife Mary to raise their family, he wrote.

And he became pretty good at it. You'll be able to see just how good at 7 p.m. Friday at Auntie's Bookstore when Averett shows up to read from his new book, the mystery "Scablands."

Described by Kirkus as a tale of "forensic psychologist in the mid-1990s (who) consults on an investigation of the murder of her former intern," the novel is getting good reviews.

The Kirkus reviewer went on to write, "Readers may find some of the material that Carmen digs into, such as pornography, to be relatively tame, but they give the protagonist opportunities to view the case from a more clinical perspective, which adds credibility to the story. Her narration is rife with questions, effectively indicating the amateur sleuth’s tendency to constantly examine what she’s learned."

Pornography tame? That's a new one. Have to check out that book to see for myself.