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Aspen Summer Words debuts

Stewart Oksenhorn

The Aspen Writers’ Foundation had more than a simple name change in mind when it replaced its flagship event, the annual Aspen Writers’ Conference, with Aspen Summer Words.

When Summer Words makes its debut, tomorrow through Saturday, participants will see a broader array of events than was offered at the Writers’ Conference. And, apparently, there will be more participants than ever to witness the changes in the program and the organization’s philosophy for the event.

The separate Writer’s Retreat, an intensive four-day gathering for the most serious writers that concludes today, filled all its slots and had a waiting list. And inquiries for Summer Words, which has programs for writers and readers, children and Spanish speakers, have been encouraging.

“So far, it’s looking good,” said Aspen Writers’ Foundation executive director Jeanne McGovern. “The retreat is full, with 36 participants. It’s the first time in my four years here that all the workshops are full. And the response we’re getting to the festival – people buying passes, interest in the lectures – is great. It’s been an uphill battle to get to that.”

Much of the expanded interest can be credited to a new approach to the Writers’ Conference’s annual summer event. “We changed the Aspen Writers’ Conference to Aspen Summer Words to meet the needs of a lot of people,” said McGovern. By restructuring the week, the retreat gives the more experienced writers an intense workshop. Moving the rest of the event into a three-day festival, we think we’ve created something the whole community can get behind. You can buy a pass for just three days, instead of a week as in the past. That was too much for most locals.”

The first Summer Words includes a series of discussions – Literary Sojourns, as they are called – addressing such topics as Poetry’s Place in the Modern World and Getting Published; a presentation for the valley’s Latino community featuring author Abelardo Delgado; and a closing Poetry Slam and Community Reading at the Howling Wolf on Saturday evening. Friday morning features the Festival Symposium at the Aspen Club Lodge, with four prominent members of the writing world – author Pam Houston, Dr. Nancy Ciccone of Denver University, Aspen Times editor-in-chief Andy Stone and Aspen Interactive president Ed Bastian – addressing the question, Will the Written Word Disappear in the New Millennium?

“That addresses one of the biggest topics of discussion in the publishing world right now,” said McGovern. “What is going to happen to books?”

Heading the list of events for tomorrow is the keynote event at the Aspen Theatre in the Park tent at 7:30 p.m. Titled “Honoring Hemingway,” the event represents a break from past Writers’ Conference keynote addresses.

“Each year, we’ve done a keynote event with a speaker, a well-known author,” said McGovern. “We thought this year we should honor Hemingway, like literary organizations across the country are doing for the centennial of his birth.” The keynote event includes a staged reading of scenes from “A Summer With Hemingway’s Twin,” an original play written by Lucille deView and directed by David Ledingham. The event closes with a discussion with Hemingway expert Dr. William Hamilton, chairman of the English department at Denver’s Metro State College.

A highlight for avid readers should be tomorrow’s A Window to the Written Word seminar, featuring professor Tom Buesch, bookstore manager Carol Bayley and editor of The Bloomsbury Review, Tom Auer. “This is the one really for readers,” said McGovern. “You don’t have to be a writer to be interested in what to read.”


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