Good news — Molly Gloss is coming to town. Or rather, coming back. Six years ago, in May 2013, Gloss kicked off the First Draft Writers’ Series, reading to a standing-room-only crowd in the Prodigal Son Brewery’s theater room.
That means this month’s First Draft, on May 16 at 7 p.m. at Pendleton Center for the Arts, is an anniversary. A good time to celebrate PCA and the generous donors who make this series possible, all those amazing writers from all over the Northwest, and especially you, who come out on the third Thursday of each month to hear their stories, maybe even share your own at the open mic.
Six years ago, we weren’t at all sure we could put Eastern Oregon on the literary map. We wanted to celebrate great Northwest writers who live close to home — La Grande and Walla Walla, Pendleton, Fossil, Monument — but could we get others to travel all the way from Ashland, Portland, Seattle, Missoula?
And could we guarantee them an audience?
So that first night at the Prodigal Son was pretty special. I’ll never forget walking into that room. Or really, wedging my way through the door. Was there any doubt that people would come out to hear the author of “The Jump-Off Creek,” “The Hearts of Horses,” and “Falling from Horses,” three much-loved novels set in Eastern Oregon? We had already outgrown our space.
Now we meet at Pendleton Center for the Arts, but we remain grateful to the Prodigal for hosting us, and of course for inspiring our name.
For six years we have welcomed poets, novelists, writers of memoir and nonfiction. Three Oregon poet laureates — Lawson Inada, Elizabeth Woody, and Kim Stafford. Joe Wilkins read from work in progress; his novel “Fall Back Down When I Die” is out now and getting rave reviews. Craig Lesley loved us as much as we loved him; reading here was a highlight of his writing career, he said, up there with winning the Pacific Northwest Booksellers’ Award and being interviewed by Studs Terkel. In fact, Northwest writers have been spreading the word about the reception you give them here in Pendleton.
Each month is different and you never know where meeting a writer will lead. Last month when poet Vince Wixon got back home to Ashland, he sent a video of the game of Horse he played with one of my heroes, the MacArthur “genius” Mojave poet Natalie Diaz — featuring the four shots he actually made, he said, though Diaz’s basketball skills far outmatched his.
Wow, I thought. Shooting hoops with Natalie Diaz.
Ursula K. Le Guin — a writer who was nearly everybody’s hero — came to read at First Draft shortly before she would give that killer speech while accepting the National Book Foundation Medal for lifetime achievement: “Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality.” (c. 2014 Ursula K. Le Guin).
Molly Gloss, as Ursula knew, is one of those realists of a larger reality. Saga Press has re-issued her three science fiction/fantasy novels, so we’ll all get another chance to read “Outside the Gates,” “The Dazzle of Day,” and “Wild Life,” and soon, “Unforeseen,” her first collection of short fiction. In these works, as much as in her Eastern Oregon novels, we find her exploring the Western myth.
Gloss has said that she grew up attracted to cowboy mythology, “the solitary, wandering gunslinger.” But she recognized the dark underbelly of this story, and her own work has been to reshape the myth, “tell the missing stories, the untold stories of women, of nonwhite peoples, natives and immigrants, people finding ways to live together respectfully, generation after generation, on this land. Truer stories than the ones we’ve been telling for a hundred and fifty years.”
Molly’s return to First Draft feels like a perfect anniversary present. It’s you we will be celebrating. As always, no admission. And there will be cookies!