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Right balance for Aspen Writers’ Foundation

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times

Leigh Vogel/The Aspen Times

Mo LaMee sees his new home region as a cosmopolitan, bustling center of ideas. Adrienne Brodeur sees her new workplace as a quiet getaway where people can escape to focus on their art.

Interestingly, it is the same place the two are describing. Earlier this spring, the two were announced as the new leaders of the Aspen Writers’ Foundation. LaMee is the full-time director of the 37-year-old organization, whose flagship program, the Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival, began Sunday and runs through Friday. Brodeur has taken over as part-time creative director.

The two agree that Aspen is an ideal location for a writers’ conference.

“We can do just about anything we can imagine. Our opportunities feel limited only by our imagination,” LaMee said, a sentiment seconded by Brodeur.

The two, though, offered different reasons for that optimism. Brodeur called Aspen “a beautiful, exotic” spot.

“It’s a place where you can escape from your life,” she said. “In your daily life, it’s paying the bills and interruptions and responsibilities.”

For LaMee, Aspen is a promised land of potential interactions.

“The Writers’ Foundation is only one component of this completely inspired place,” he said one morning on the quiet lawn of the Red Brick Center for the Arts, where the organization has its office (and two days before LaMee would make his first visit to the Grand Tasting Tent at the Food & Wine Classic, perhaps the most bustling event Aspen has to offer). “There’s a confluence of writers and singers and artists and dancers.”

Ultimately, it is that balance between ingredients that both LaMee and Brodeur see as the key to the Writers’ Foundation.

“I want that strong engagement with human interaction. And then be able to walk away from it, find a quiet place and integrate it into myself,” said LaMee, who grew up in Colorado and has lived in Carbondale and Basalt.

Perhaps above all, it is balance that the two new directors bring to the Writers’ Foundation. And their differing backgrounds go far in explaining why LaMee and Brodeur have such perspectives on Aspen.

LaMee comes from the Colorado nonprofit world. More specifically, he comes from Creede, the tiny town (population 403) in southwestern Colorado that, under his direction, has become a performance giant. Creede Repertory Theatre, which LaMee led for the past 12 years, grew to a size where it stages 10 shows a year, draws an audience of 50,000, has earned numerous awards and even does touring productions.

Brodeur lives near the center of literary America. A Manhattan-based editor and writer and the daughter of former New Yorker magazine staff writer Paul Brodeur, she is best known for co-founding, with Francis Ford Coppola, the story magazine Zoetrope, which gave space to rising stars including Ben Fountain and Jennifer Egan and which won the National Magazine Award for Fiction multiple times.

Starting Zoetrope was a fluky accomplishment for Brodeur. In the mid-’90s, she heard from a New Yorker editor that Coppola was interested in starting a story magazine. Brodeur was hardly qualified to help him in that aim; she was working in public policy at the time.

“Nothing on my resume at the time said this was a person who should start a magazine,” she said.

But she wrote the filmmaker a letter that in itself was a stretch for her.

“I don’t do things like that. It’s the only letter I wrote to a celebrity saying, ‘This is what I want to do,’” she said.

Not hearing back, Brodeur went to the writing program at Radcliffe. Several months after writing the letter, she heard from Coppola, and in 1997, they began publishing Zoetrope.

Brodeur has since built a reputation as an editor; at Zoetrope, after three years of effort, she persuaded Gabriel Garcia Marquez to contribute the first chapter of his memoir to the magazine.

The connections Brodeur has cultivated impress LaMee.

“I think Adrienne can bring to Aspen pretty much anyone. The people we’re contemplating — I’m stunned we’re even thinking about them,” he said.

LaMee and Brodeur are short on details about where they would like to take the Writers’ Foundation. They give the response that is standard to new leaders of established arts organizations: They want to talk to the community and the board and get their own experience of the Writers’ Foundation in action. LaMee, who has worked extensively with writers — a third of the programming in Creede was new works — tentatively floats the idea of adding a playwriting element to the organization.

“Taking the word from the page to performance — that’s an important part of the literary world,” he said.

The big possibility they see is in offering a unique spot — a place uniquely balanced between tranquility and cultural busyness — to writers to do their work.

“It’s a place where writers are treated like writers. Their work is considered seriously,” said Brodeur, whose first visit to Aspen was at last year’s Aspen Summer Words, where she taught a course in editing. “We want these great writers, these great teachers, to come here and get excited and transformed about their work. It’s uniquely positioned to be one of the most fantastic literary organizations in the country.”


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