Author Erica Bauermeister writing architecture book during Aspen Words residency
If You Go …
Who: Aspen Words writer-in-residence Erica Bauermeister
Where: Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar
When: Tuesday, Oct. 24, 5:30 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: Free copies of Bauermeister’s ‘The School of Essential Ingredients’ are available at eh Aspen Words office in advance of the event; http://www.aspenwords.org
On a recent afternoon in Aspen, writer Erica Bauermeister found herself in a long conversation with the influential local architect Harry Teague. The subject of their chat, lasting more than two hours, was how buildings shape human behavior, perception and psychology.
This deep dive into architectural theory with Aspen’s best-known builder was all in a day’s work for Bauermeister, Aspen Words’ October writer-in-residence, who is writing a creative nonfiction book about architecture.
After a run of four books of fiction, Bauermeister is deep into working on a collection of connected essays about built environments and human behavior.
“It’s an attempt to weave together what is part memoir, part architectural theory, part philosophy,” Bauermeister told me recently in Wheeler Park. “It’s this amazing collage of things.”
Bauermeister and her husband, 16 years ago, bought a 1909-built home in coastal Port Townsend, Washington, from a hoarder. The process of renovating it is the backbone of her story, with curious meanderings into deeper questions about the places we make for ourselves. For example, Bauermeister says, a chapter about replacing the house’s foundation evolves into a meditation on roots and American rootlessness.
“It’s been a long time gestating, reading, thinking about it,” she said of the project, tentatively titled “House Lessons.”
This creative swerve away from her bestselling novels and into architectural theory is just the latest turn in what’s been an unpredictable, fascinating career for Bauermeister.
When she emerged from the University of Washington with a Ph.D in feminist theory, Bauermiester side-stepped academia and instead ended up publishing influential reader’s guides: “500 Great Books By Women” in 1994, followed by “Let’s Hear It For the Girls,” a similar guide aimed at readers age 14 and younger.
She read thousands of books by women in her research and believed she could reshape the male-dominated canon and the syllabi of American schools through these guides.
“I knew I could affect change not by screaming, but by providing information,” she says. “The reader’s guides came out of going to graduate school, being frustrated with the lack of women being taught and knowing that what I do really, really well is research. And knowing that there are good-hearted academics out there at all levels who would include women authors but they didn’t have the time to do it.”
After publishing the guides, she moved to Italy and fell in love with food — a passion that unexpectedly, as Bauermeister puts it, “shocked me into fiction.”
Fascinated by the way relationships form around food, she penned the novel “The School of Essential Ingredients.” It became a bestseller and began her run of fiction writing. Those popular novels and linked short story collections — like her current architecture project — look at the subtleties of things like food and the sense of smell.
“I like to work with the subliminal things that are affecting our lives that we’re not paying attention to,” she says.
Arriving for her residency at Mojo Garden Farm in Woody Creek during a surprise early-autumn snow storm, Bauermeister got to work on the beginnings of her architecture book.
During her first week, she organized about 500 index cards of thoughts, facts, memories and such.
“There’s this big 8-foot-long table which I can clear off and I just spread them all out and divided them into chapters,” Bauermiester says. “It’s such a luxury to have the literal space but also the time, and I don’t have to clean it off for dinner for my husband or my kids.”
In her second week, she wrote a book proposal for the project. And from there, she got down to writing.
“It’s this lovely ability to live within the idea,” she says of the residency. “You can write any time of the day you want. And there’s a fluidity to it that you only get in a situation like this.”
She has taken some breaks to do some local field research, exploring the ghost towns of Independence and Ashcroft and taking in the architecture of Aspen’s West End. Bauermeister was enthralled by the town’s unpredictable mix of old miner’s cabins, Victorian homes and avant-garde contemporary architecture.
“Somehow it all works,” she says. “It blends together. They don’t fight each other. And that’s rare in my experience.”
Bauermiester will read and discuss her work during a free Aspen Words event at Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar on Tuesday, Oct. 24.
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