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Archive: Arts & Culture / Spokane and North Idaho

Prison author on virtual tap at Auntie’s tonight

Book readings typically follow the same routine. Someone introduces an author, who then reads from his/her work. After a brief question-and-answer period, the real objective occurs: the author signs copies of the work purchased by audience members.

Tonight's author event at Auntie's Bookstore at 7 p.m. will be a bit different. The work being highlighted is "Zek: An American Prison Story," the first long narrative — fiction inspired by real experience — by the writer Arthur Longworth.

Don't know the name? Pretty much everything you need to know about Longworth can be found in this Seattle Times story by reporter Jonathan Martin. But the quick view is that Longworth, in 1985 at the age of 21, murdered a 25-year-old woman named Cynthia Nelson. Longworth, who was on probation at the time, was sentenced to life without parole. Around the age of 40 he began writing, and his tales of prison life have won him a number of literary awards.

Longworth's book follows the character of Jonny, whose whole life is changed when he picks up a book. For obvious reasons, Longworth won't be at the reading. Instead, the event will feature guest readers Layne Pavey and Jeff Coats, plus Pacific Northwest Inlander reporter Mitch Ryals.

Here is a review of "Zek: An American Prison Story," written by Paul Constant for the Seattle Review of Books. And here is an excerpt from that review:

"You’ll be repeatedly stunned by the barbarism of 'Zek,' at the way the whole prison system works to crush the individual spirit. But if, in the middle of the story, you find Jonny’s experience too much to handle, I suggest turning back to the front of the book and reading the prologue again. It’s right there in plain English: one book can make a difference."

Auntie's readings tend to fill up quickly. Good to get there early.

Churchill quote on arts funding: fake news

If you're active on social media, you might have noticed an item going around that involves Winston Churchill and arts funding. It goes something like this:

Along with a photograph of the late British prime minister, this statement is prominently displayed: "During World War II, Winston Churchill was asked to cut funding for the arts. He replied, 'Then what are we fighting for.' "

Great sentiment, right? Especially given today's political climate, which is proposing drastic cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities . Only problem is, the quote is false.

That's not to say that Churchill didn't support the arts. After all, he himself was a writer — and, in fact, was awarded the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature.

But let's not continue to spread fake news. There's too much of it out there. Especially on Twitter.

Author examines ‘catastrophic’ Columbia River Treaty

If there's one thing that fuels the work of writer Eileen Delehanty Pearkes, it's love — specifically, she says, "my love for the landscape (and) the people who live here."

The "here" Pearkes is referring to is Columbia River country, an area she wrote about in her most recent book, "A River Captured: The Columbia River Treaty and Catastrophic Change." Pearkes will read from her book at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore.

A native of the United States, educated at Stanford University, Pearkes has lived in Canada since 1985. She is the author of six books, including "A River Captured." In December, she was named the cultural ambassador for Nelson, British Columbia. As she told the Nelson Star newspaper, she found the honor "very honouring and humbling."

Pearkes' book, says BC Booklook, "explores the controversial history of the Columbia River Treaty and its impact on the ecosystems, indigenous peoples, contemporary culture, provincial politics and recent history of southeastern British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest."

As usual, the reading is free and open to the public.

Above: The Arrow Lakes Reservoir, which was created when the Hugh Keenleyside Dam was constructed to bound the original Arrow Lakes and the Columbia River.

Catch Megan Kruse at Auntie’s tonight

One of the literary treasures of Spokane — besides Auntie's Bookstore, of course — is the annual Get Lit! literary festival that Eastern Washington University sponsors. In its glory years, that festival helped bring such international stars as Salman Rushdie and Kurt Vonnegut to Spokane.

These days Get Lit! adheres to a more modest, if equally important, role. While many of the names of the 2017 festival aren't as readily known to many in the mainstream audience, those who will be coming (April 17-23) are established and/or rising talents.

One such author who hails from the Northwest will be reading at Auntie's tonight. Megan Kruse, who lives in Olympia, will read from her first novel, "Call Me Home," at 7:30.

In prose that Seattle Times reviewer Wingate Packard calls "vivid, precise and promising," Kruse has written a novel about an abused woman who flees with her children from an abusive man.

"The violence in the subtly efficient language with which Kruse captures the effects of physical abuse is well-tempered by the humor and humanity in minor characters outside this family circle, whose dialogue is pitch-perfect," Packard wrote.

Kruse will be available to sign copies of her book after the reading. 

Auntie’s to host Visiting Writer Bynum on Friday

If you don't have plans for Friday evening, you might consider reading to Auntie's Bookstore for a literary reading. Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, who is appearing courtesy of Eastern Washington University's 2016-2017 Visiting Writers Series.

The 7:30 event is free and open to the public.

Bynum, who was profiled in The New Yorker, is the author of two novels: "Ms. Hempel Chronicles" and "Madeleine Is Sleeping." Her short fiction appears in a variety of publications, including — again — The New Yorker.

In its review of "Madeleine Is Sleeping," Publishers Weekly called it a "remarkable debut" and added that "Replete with Kafkaesque metamorphoses, Freudian fantasies, Aesopian justice and religious metaphor, the novel is equal parts fairy tale, fable, romance and bildungsroman."

Nothing better than a good old bildungsroman.

Auntie’s to honor Washington Book Award winners

Above: Sharma Shields, author of "The Sasquatch Hunter's Handbook."

For a couple of years in the early '90s, I had the honor of serving on a committee to choose what was then called the Governor's Writers Awards. Now dubbed the Washington State Book Awards, the process retains pretty much the same intent: to honor "outstanding books published by Washington authors the previous year."

Two of the area authors who won awards during my tenure were John Keeble for his nonfiction book "Out of the Channel: The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Prince William Sound" and Ursula Hegi for her novel "Floating in My Mother's Palm."

The most recent area winner was Sharma Shields for her book "The Sasquatch Hunter's Handbook." The fiction winner in 2015 was Bruce Holbert for "The Hour of Lead," while the the poetry award went to Tod Marshall (now the Washington State Poet Laureate) for his collection "Bugle."

On Friday from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Auntie's Bookstore will recognize all the area winners who have won state book awards over the years. Expected to attend, among others, are Shields, poet Marshall, Mary Cronk Farrell, Gregory Spatz, Nance Van Winckle, Shann Ray, Paul Lindholdt and Bill Youngs.

The event is free and open to the public. And I imagine some books will be for sale. It'd probably be a good idea to buy one. Or three.

Hiding out in Hillyard: Kate McLachlan reads tonight

Like many public school teachers, Kate McLachlan hit a patch in which — these are her words — "she developed a case of temporary insanity." Her main symptom, however, was unique: She entered law school.

McLachlan gradually recovered her senses. And she didn't just trade grading papers for writing legal briefs. She also began writing fiction, the most recent example of which she will be reading on this frigid evening at Auntie's Bookstore.

"Alias Mrs. Jones," which was released Sept. 30, is set in 1902 Spokane, specifically the neighborhood of Hillyard (McLachlan lives in Eastern Washington). It involves a woman who, in her attempts to hide her true identity, takes a job as a teacher — something she knows nothing about. But even as she begins a relationship with a woman doctor, a murderer is on her trail. Who can she trust? (For a more complete preview, click on the embed below.)

McLachlan has written a number of books in various genres, including two in a time-travel series ("Rip Van Dyke" and "Rescue at Inspiration Point") and "Return of an Impetuous Pilot" (which won a Goldie Award).

McLachlan is an interesting story in herself. In this 2014 interview, she explains her period of "temporary insanity" and how it led her to become the author she is.

As usual, the reading is free and open to the public. And, one hopes, the streets will be clear. Located at the corner of Main and Washington, Auntie's is — of course — situated right next to the Davenport Grand Hotel.

Skoog will run the red lights at Auntie’s tonight

It's barely past Thanksgiving and Christmas is already in the air. Lights are up in neighborhoods across the city, TV ads feature all shapes and sizes of Santa Claus and every business is offering some sort of holiday discount.

So, yes, Christmas is coming. It's only natural, then, that I should share a link to a poem titled "The Carolers.

The poem was written by Ed Skoog, a poet who will be reading at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore. A native of Kansas, Skoog earned a MFA from the University of Montana and is the author of both chapbooks and full-length collections (such as 2013's "Rough Day").

Skoog will be reading from his new book, "Run the Red Lights." Sounds like something that might make a good gift.

For Christmas. 

Veterans Day: a time to remember, reflect

Tomorrow is Veterans Day, which is the day we set aside for — as the quote goes — "honoring those who serve."

All too often, that intent — honoring the men and women who serve — gets mixed up with the mission that they are duty bound to tackle. It's an age-old conundrum for those of us who have seen enough of war, sort of like loving the person but hating the crime.

If the past is any indication — and it typically is — too many celebrations tomorrow will focus on glamor and glory instead of on the grief that war causes, on the loss and horror and wrenching sadness.

Too many celebrations will involve waving the flag and singing songs and feeling the kind of pride that I did when I stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance in third grade.

I, however, will do something different. I will silently and reverently remember those who served with me during the Vietnam War, and I will grieve the loss of the 58,220 Americans who lost their lives there, plus the million or more Southeast Asians who also died.

And I will read, again, Mark Twain's "The War Prayer." For a transcribed copy, click here.

If reading the words of one of America's national literary masters is too much for you, click on the embed below. It's an animated version of Twain's story, and its meaning applies as much today as it did more than a century ago when it was written.

Busy poet laureate Marshall speaks at Shadle

Above: A ballot box sits in front of the Shadle Branch of the Spokane Public Library

Tod Marshall gets around. Washington State's Poet Laureate not only has a day job as a professor of English at Gonzaga University, but he continues to write poetry when he can — that is, in between teaching, grading papers and making public appearances as part of his laureate duties.

Marshall will make another of several regional appearance tonight at 6 at the Shadle Branch of the Spokane Public Library. His topic: "Great Poems That Tell Tales," which is a shorthand way of talking about "poets who use narrative effectively."

In past posts involving Marshall I've included poems of his. This time I'm including a link to an interview that Marshall gave to fellow poet and teacher Yusef Komuntakaa for the Poetry Foundation.

It's called "Every Tool Became a Weapon." Here's an excerpt that seems apt on this day before a presidential election:

"Certain blacks and whites during the 1960s and 1970s went into the streets and forced change here in the United States. We must accept this: numerous oppressive laws wouldn’t have changed in this country if some progressive-thinking people hadn’t put their lives on the line in the name of freedom and change. That’s recent history."

Enjoy bedtime with Kenn Nesbitt on Saturday

One of the tasks of a parent is to make sure the kids get to bed. As any parent can tell you, it's seldom easy.

Which is one reason to applaud the work of writers such as Kenn Nesbitt. A former Children's Poet Laureate, an honor bestowed by the Poetry Foundation, Nesbitt has written several collections of poems aimed at children. He has performed them in front of audiences all over the country.

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, at Auntie's Bookstore, Nesbitt will appear with his new book — "One Minute Till Bedtime: 60-Second Poems to Send You Off to Sleep" — along with several other contributors. Among others scheduled to read with Nesbitt: Chris Cook and Verla Kay.

The reading might be past the bedtime of those youngest readers out there. Then again, it might be just the antidote for those young readers who keep their parents up till all hours.

Note: An earlier version of this post mistakenly listed this event as occurring on Friday.

Poet Laureate Marshall to read on South Hill

Above: The South Hill Public Library is a comfortable place to read.

If you've never heard of Tod Marshall, now's your chance — both to hear of him and from him.

For the record, Marshall is the Poet Laureate of Washington State. He also is a professor of English at Gonzaga University. That's who he is. What he has to offer, besides a body of poetry, is a lecture on "Great Poems That Tell Tales," which he will deliver at 6 tonight at the South Hill Public Library.

Here is a sample of a Marshall poem titled "First World Concerns":

Parking. Carbon. Peak oil. Free Range. What gets hard
and with what frequency, whether to turn off cable
and just stream. The second world is populated by bad habits:
worry, impatience, fill in the blank. The third world
is the body, what is felt in the blood, vulnerable girl or boy.
The fourth world is what the squirrel, the sparrow,
the skunk might do: to squirrel, to sparrow, to spray
smelly scent all over offenders, the many offenders.
The fifth world is everyone’s search engine history,
that stale air. There is no sixth world, only the imperative
to gather six things and keep them safe. Really safe.
See if you can. See if you can hold them and still run
fast enough. See if you can leave the rest at the curb.
Have faith: a seventh worlder will arrive to haul it away.

Tonight's reading is free and open to the public.

Marra is what Spokane is Reading today

Anthony Marra boasts a pretty impressive resume. After graduating from USC, he earned an MFA at the esteemed Iowa Writer's Workshop. He won a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, where he now teaches.

Marra is the author of a 2013 novel, the intriguingly named "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena," which won both acclaim and awards. But it's his short story collection, “The Tsar of Love and Techno,” that is relevant here: It is the focus of this year's Spokane Is Reading project.

As such, Marra will appear at 7 tonight at the Bing Crosby Theater (at 1 p.m., Marra will appear at the Spokane Valley Event Center). Both events are free and open to the public.

Not yet impressed? Then read some of the critical comments about Marra's work:

First, the New York Times on Marra's novel. Now a rave review from the Washington Post

Now, Times reviewer Sarah Lyall on Marra's story collection: "(Marra) starts this miracle of a book by showing us how a system can erase the past, the truth, even its citizens. He ends by demonstrating, through his courageous, flawed, deeply human characters, how individual people can restore the things that have been taken away."

And from The Guardian: " 'The Tsar of Love and Techno' … shares much with David Mitchell’s expansive 'Cloud Atlas,' and it wears its blend of dry humour and tragedy very well."

From Newsday: "By the time you reach Marra's astonishing final story about Kolya, 'The End' — set, a dateline tells us, in 'Outer Space, Year Unknown' — the book has achieved a heart-rending cumulative power."

That should be enough to intrigue you. It should definitely impress you, if not convince you to catch one of his appearances.

Ben Cartwright cooks up some poetry tonight

Like most every other kind of art in the world, poetry is an acquired taste. This may seem obvious, but is it?

Take cooking, for example. In recent years — one could argue since at least 1963 when Julia Child co-authored "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" — food has become the province of chefs who possess a sense not just of taste but for presentation. As such, cooking has earned the description used in the title of Child's book.

Yet no matter who the chef is, or how beautiful the dish, no one is going to prepare something with cilantro that my wife would consider eating. "It tastes like cat urine smells," she says. When it comes to art, personal preferences always have to be considered.

It's the same with other arts. How many of the general public have read, say, Dostoevsky for mere pleasure? Or watched the movies of Ingmar Bergman with the same sense of enthusiasm. Meditated over the paintings of Jackson Pollock? Listened with pleasure to the music of Miles Davis? And so on.

And you can place poetry at or near the top of the list. On the website of Sage Hill Press, publisher Thom Caraway attempts to define what he looks for in a good poem. In his appreciation of poems "that invite me in, give me work to do, reward that work, and toss me around the universe," he adds a list of poets he loves (among them: Richard Hugo and Nance Van Winkle) and those he does not (among them: John Ashbury and Sylvia Plath).

I'm sure Caraway has had more than one dinner-party debate over the inclusion of Plath in that last grouping.

Anyway, all of this is a long-winded way of announcing a poetry reading tonight at Auntie's Bookstore. Spokane poet Ben Cartwright, who teaches at Gonzaga University and whose poems have appeared in a number of publications, will read from his first book "After Our Departure."

For a taste of what Cartwright has to offer, click here.

The reading is set for 7. As is typical, the event is free and open to the public.

And don't worry. As far as I know, cilantro will not be served.

Schott’s poetry explores nature, baseball and more

Poetry is the topic tonight at Auntie's Bookstore, where Lynn Rigney Schott will read from her new chapbook, "Light Years."

This might not seem like too special of an event. But fans of baseball might disagree.

Schott, who lives on a farm near Kettle Falls, is the daughter of the late baseball manager Bill Rigney. In fact, a poem that Schott wrote about her father, "Spring Training," was published in the March 26, 1984, edition of The New Yorker magazine. A New York Times article about Schott and how her poem came to be published can be accessed here.

But Schott, who has an uncanny way with words, writes about other things as well. For example: the natural world she observes from her home near Mingo Mountain. You can also access three of Schott's poems by clicking here. I'll just include a stanza from one of my favorites, a poem titled "The Butcher Bird:

I don’t know which is worse, you said,
Catholicism or Science.
Better to be a marveller like Muir
who admired the world in a wild-ass storm
from the top of a reeling Douglas fir.
“I clung with muscles firm
braced, like a bobolink on a reed.”

Schott's reading will begin at 7. As is typical at Auntie's, the event is free and open to the public.