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Archive: Arts & Culture / Spokane and North Idaho

Hughes’ ghost looms large in McMinnville, OR

On a recent trip to McMInnville, OR, I was surprised to learn that a bit of Howard Hughes existed in the town.

Hughes, if you'll recall, was the reclusive rich guy who at one time was an aviator. In fact, the 2004 film "The Aviator" told his story, ending with his final years living as a shut-in in a Las Vegas hotel.

But the film isn't titled "The Aviator" lightly. And one incident in Hughes' long career was the creation of a monstrous airplane known as The Spruce Goose (proper name: Hughes H-4 Hercules). A massive seaplane, the aircraft boasts wings that span some 320 feet — which is 20 feet longer than the field football players compete on.

I'd known that the plane was somewhere in the Northwest. But it wasn't until I was approaching McMinnville (en route to a wedding event) that I realized where the Goose was exactly. And so I had to visit it.

The plane sits in the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, a nonprofit that is dedicated both to preserving the history of aviation and space and to honoring veterans. My wife and I toured the building that houses dozens of airplanes, both civilian and military, listening to a former Air Force pilot talk about each one (in distinctly nonpolitical terms that thrilled me; he called one former Air Force chief "a jerk").

And the whole time we walked around the one building (a separate building is dedicated to the space program), the wings of the Goose loomed over us. The thing is that big and more.

We finally went inside the plane and felt even more dwarfed by its size. Going inside the fuselage is free, though access to the cockpit needs a special tour (and costs nearly $30 for up to four people to climb in there for just 15 minutes, so we passed).

But just walking around the behemoth is an experience — especially when you consider that the plane (which is made of birch, not spruce) flew only once, and then cleared the water for only 70 feet during its mile-long trek.

That it got up in the air at all feels like a miracle.

Shadle Library offers poetry, prose and music

It used to be that libraries were places where you went to read. And where you were expected to do so quietly.

That's still the case, of course. But libraries long ago adapted to changing times, and modern libraries now offer a range of activities for all ages.

A good example is the Poetry Rising series, which offers a program every other month that features poetry and prose readings along with music and art presentations.

This evening at 6:30 p.m., the Shadle branch of the Spokane Public Library will host an even featuring two poets, Aiden J. Sanders and Jacke Rose, the writer Kate Poitevin and the musician Roy Carpenter.

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

Roxane Gay to headline Get Lit! on Saturday

For as long Get Lit! has been around, which is more than two decades now, Eastern Washington University's annual celebration of all things literary has been one of the Inland Northwest's most prestigious events.

From Salman Rushdie and Kurt Vonnegut to Bell Hooks and Jane Smiley, acclaimed writers of all persuasions have descended upon Spokane to share their views — and their works — with readers and writers alike.

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, Roxane Gay will join the list. Gay, the author and New York Times contributing op-ed writer, will headline the event "An Evening With Roxane Gay" at the Bing Crosby Theatre.

In a review of Gay's collection of essays, "Bad Feminist," writer Morgan Jenkins wrote, " 'Bad Feminist' made me believe that I could be honest by saying that I do not have all the answers but I am still going to challenge myself and others with my questions and my hypotheses. The book allowed me to be comfortable in the mindset of the unknown, demonstrating how, despite what society might force upon me as a black woman, I as well as my work can be irresolute and dazzling all at once."

Should be an interesting evening. Get Lit! events typically are.

Catch author Amy Dresner at Auntie’s tonight

For many people, growing up in Beverly Hills, Calif., would seem like a dream. I mean, the people on "Beverly Hills 90210" had their problems, but their lives overall were pretty cool.

And that's how life was, in a way, for Amy Dresner: dreamy. Until the dream turned bad, what with addictive behavior that included everything she could shove up her nose or in her mouth or … well, you get the point.

Dresner is the author of "My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean," a memoir that outlines her 20-year struggle with addiction. Dresner will read from her book at 7 tonight at Auntie's Bookstore.

Here is an excerpt from a column that Dresner writes for the recovery magazine The Fix: "I just came out of a six-week depression. That might not sound very long, but when you’re in hell it feels like forever. Good news: I didn’t bone any 25-year-old strangers; I didn’t cut myself; I didn’t get loaded; I didn’t smoke or vape although I really, really wanted to. I didn’t even eat pints of Ben and Jerry’s while binge-watching 'I Am A Killer.' I just felt like shit and slept as much as I could. I showed up to work. I kept my commitments. I spoke when asked to, but I felt more than unhappy. I felt like I just didn’t care. I didn’t return phone calls. I didn’t wash my hair. Suicidal thoughts bounced around my head, but I ignored them like I do those annoying dudes with clipboards outside Whole Foods."

Here is a review of Dresner's memoir from Publishers Weekly: "While cleaning syringes and human waste off Hollywood Boulevard as part of her community service, Dresner decided to seriously rethink her life. She finds humor in the darkest moments of her addiction and recovery: 'Running a women’s sober living [home] is not easy. It’s like herding cats… if the cats were on heroin.' Readers meet Dresner at her worst, but she nevertheless charms throughout her healing."

Sounds like a few people we've all known. Nice to know that recovery is a possibility.

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.