by linda hayes | December 9, 2013 | Lifestyle
Author Adam Haslett speaks and reads from a work-in-progress at an Aspen Writers’ Foundation event.
For the past half-dozen years, the Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s “Writer in Residence” program had brought established authors to the Roaring Fork Valley for yearlong stays, during which they could focus on writing projects. Successful to a point, the concept had its flaws. “It was a bit sporadic,” explains Adrienne Brodeur, a well-connected New York–based editor, author, and publisher, who was brought on as the Foundation’s creative director last winter. “Although it was a year long residency, writers would come and go. The process wasn’t consistent.”
The Catch and Release program provides free books by the author-in-residence and includes a public reading by the author at the Woody Creeek Communtiy Center.
To remedy the situation, Brodeur, along with AWF Executive Director Maurice “Mo” LaMee, revamped the program, shortening the time frame and adding an element that would introduce the visiting writers to the local community. “We thought: What would it be like if we had a month-long residency with writers either completing projects or working on something special and made it more attainable for the average writer?” Brodeur says. “It’s a slightly different way of going about it,” LaMee adds. “There’s more of a retreat sense, and it allows writers to be really focused on their work.”
Originally made possible by the generous Catto Charitable Foundation, the new program’s continued success is being carried forward by Daniel and Isa Shaw. An integral aspect to the evolution of the residencies, which launched in July, is a community reading initiative named “Catch and Release” (a nod to local fishermen), which provides free books by the author-in-residence and includes a public reading by the author at the Woody Creek Community Center. “We approach the publishers to make donations of books and our local staff strategically place them around town,” says Brodeur. “The idea is you’ll read this book, you’ll love it, you’ll pass it to your friend; she’ll read it and love it, and so on. Then we all can come together and talk about it and meet the author.”
A writer’s desk in the Woody Creek cabin.
Chosen writers, who are nominated to participate by other noted authors, editors, agents, and publishers, and then ultimately deemed “a good fit” for the residency program by Brodeur, are housed in a cozy Woody Creek cabin with whimsical décor. Set at the edge of a small pond and with mostly wildlife for neighbors, the cabin offers what writers often lack most: privacy and uninterrupted time to work, without modern day distractions like the Internet.
“It’s a unique situation,” Brodeur says. “There are other writer colonies around the country, like Yaddo and MacDowell, where authors go and work, then commune in the evening and eat and talk about their stuff. Here, they’re alone and working. Obviously, the Writers’ Foundation makes sure to welcome them and have dinners and lunches together as much as they can. But other than the reading, we don’t ask that much of them.”
Writers in residence for the Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s Catch and Release program stay in a large barnlike cabin in Woody Creek.
Thus far, writers in residence have included Stephanie Kallos, the best-selling, award-winning author of Broken for You and Sing Them Home; Sugarhouse author Matthew Batt; Adam Haslett, author of the novel Union Atlantic and short-story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here (a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award), and Emily Jeanne Miller, author of Brand New Human Being.
Each was profoundly productive during their month long stay. In fact, Batt, who arrived just 20 pages into a new novel and figured he’d hammer out a few chapters, ended up writing the entire thing. Kallos and Haslett (who was fiercely protective of his work-in-progress, according to LaMee) shared some new writings at their readings. “It was really thrilling to have unfiltered, unpasteurized, unlooked-at material,” says LaMee. “It’s a very vulnerable thing, sharing something that no one—not even a spouse or confidant—has seen yet.”
The view of the mountains from the Woody Creek cabin.
The Writer in Residence program, along with the “Catch and Release” initiative, will continue with a stellar lineup of authors in 2014. “It’s going to continue to grow,” says LaMee. “The community has been very receptive and the writers are over the moon. We keep thinking the next Great American Novel is going to be created here.” Aspen Writers’ Foundation, 110 E. Hallam St., 970-925-3122
photography by c2 photography