The secret’s out. Northeastern Oregon is home to writers.
Last Saturday’s East Oregonian featured April Baer’s story about how EOU’s writing program, after a year’s hiatus, has teamed with Wallowa County’s Fishtrap to offer students the opportunity to learn at Fishtrap’s Summer Gathering.
Under the leadership of President Tom Isko, the story said, EOU has been working to expand degree programs and take a more prominent place at the table in rural affairs. The MFA writing curriculum focuses on wilderness, ecology, and issues specific to Western communities. Fishtrap’s mission since 1988 has been to promote “clear thinking and good writing in and about the West — and Fishtrap Executive Director Shannon McNerney hopes that with this connection, Northeastern Oregon “could become the literary hub of the Pacific Northwest.”
I had to smile, because I’m one of those who think we already are.
In fact, I remember Fishtrap founder Rich Wandschneider, who had complained that Oregon writers’ conferences could seem more like gatherings of I-5 writers, saying only half jokingly that we were the obvious geographical center of Northwest writing. Just look at the map. Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon — yes, there we are, at the center of that circle.
With the help of the Wallowa Valley Arts Council, Kim Stafford, and historian Alvin Josephy, the first Fishtrap Summer Gathering was born. Every summer since 1988 people have been writing with and learning from writers like Molly Gloss and Craig Lesley, Ursula K. Le Guin, David James Duncan, Yusef Kumenyakaa, Debra Earling, Gary Snyder, Luci Tapahonso. Thirty-two years of this. Just imagine.
Since Fishtrap is open entry, both beginning and experienced writers get to learn from each other, and McNerney and her staff create an atmosphere of inclusivity.
Of course there are other writing programs, and people can study for MFA degrees from Missoula to Eugene. Portland’s Literary Arts hosts the Oregon Book Awards and writing fellowships, the Portland Book Festival, Portland Arts & Lectures, and more. No question, Literary Arts is the big dog in the Northwest literary world.
But the news is getting out about Northeastern Oregon, too, and Pendleton Center for the Arts’ First Draft Writers’ Series has been part of this news. You have been welcoming Northwest writers with graciousness and enthusiasm for more than six years, and the word has spread. Writers contact us, hoping we have a spot for them though they know our calendar is booked months ahead.
Why does all this matter? Because stories matter — they shape our societies, our very lives — and a story isn’t a story until the circle is complete. Until it has been shared. Heard or read. Received.
“Tell me a story.” Whether you get your stories from First Draft or Netflix or the news, or just enjoy hearing about J.D.’s wayward goat, the lure is irresistible.
This year I was fortunate to attend the Fishtrap Weekend as the week of writing workshops was wrapping up and the year-long celebration of Ursula K. Le Guin was culminating. The theme of this year’s Summer Fishtrap had been Steering the Craft, after the title of Le Guin’s fiction handbook, and all the workshops had centered around her ideas. One such idea was central to Molly Gloss’s keynote address: that writing, as Ursula often noted, is practice.
A bit like T’ai Chi, I thought. Practice, practice. Always learning, always striving, though never quite reaching that “farthest shore.” But so worth the effort, because the journey — well, the journey is the destination, as they say.
And the journey itself can be a blessing.
On the last night of the Gathering, with lightning flashing and rain pounding on the awning above our heads, we watched Arwen Curry’s “The World of Ursula K. Le Guin,” a documentary that will be shown on PBS’s “American Masters” in October. Afterward, as we waited for Ursula’s friends Molly Gloss, Scott Russell Sanders and Luis Urrea to share their insights, Rich Wandschneider turned to me and said, “Bette, aren’t we lucky to have known her? And all the millionaires in the world can’t take that away from us.”
Which was exactly how I was feeling.