Aspen Words kicks off 26th annual Winter Words Author Series with party and ticket sales Dec. 1

Guest Commentary
The Aspen Times

Started as a grassroots writers’ conference in 1976, Aspen Words has become the creative center for passionate and curious readers and writers.

One of the many thriving programs offered by Aspen Words, Winter Words, will be hosting the 26th annual Author Series between January and March 2023. To mark the opening day for ticket sales, Winter Words will be hosting a kickoff party Dec. 1 to bring together readers and writers.

This kickoff party is a collaboration with the Red Brick Artists gallery opening, according to Aspen Words Events and Communications Director Mallory Kaufman. Free of charge, the event at The Red Brick Center for the Arts will ring in the winter season and begin purchases of passes to Winter Words events. 

This year, Winter Words will bring five authors to the valley to discuss their work and end with a special book signing. Season passes and individual event tickets will be available, each offering an in-person and a live-streamed remote option to join the talk. In-person event tickets total $30 each or $12 for a virtual access ticket. Season passes offer access to all five events for $100 in-person or $50 for all-virtual access.

Winter Words has partnered with Explore Booksellers and Bookbinders Basalt to offer the shops’ members tickets at a discounted price. For one Winter Words event this year, Aspen Words will also partner with Aspen Skiing Co. to support environmental advocacy in the community. 

Students and teachers are offered free access to each Winter Words event, driving Aspen Word’s purpose to bring creativity in reading and writing to all those interested. 

“Essentially, we host events that encourage writers, inspire readers, and connect people through stories, and that is our mission,” said Caroline Tory, managing director of Aspen Words. 

The selection of authors this year: Patrick Radden Keefe, Bessel van der Kolk, Kwame Alexander, Imbolo Mbue, and Geraldine Brooks. 

Patrick Radden Keefe

“Selecting the authors to come to Winter Words is really a collaborative team effort,” Tory said. “It’s one of the most fun parts of our job — getting to read a lot, and predict what the most exciting books are going to be in terms of topic, genre, writing style.” 

The Aspen Words team starts the selection process about eight months before the season and begins reading and recruiting based on what will be relevant, important, and interesting in the coming winter months. Though the team makes their choices internally — based on their own research, reading, and perspectives — they focus on what will be best for the public, community audience they are reaching.

“We always welcome suggestions from the community, too, and want to hear what people are reading and people are excited about,” said Tory. 

Imbolo Mbue.
Photo by Kiriko Sano

The Winter Words team takes pride in these choices, and they are sure to take their time with it, simultaneously trying to bring works that will be the most relevant in the moment of the event, months later. 

“We are trying to choose the books that are really the biggest books and topics out at that moment — both locally and nationally, which can be hard to predict,” said Tory. 

Winter Words champions a diversity of writers, by genre, and writing style, as well as age, geography, and background. According to Tory, this event is made for its audience, and, as such, they emphasize this diversity to ensure a mix of material for everyone this event brings together. 

Kwame Close.
Photo by Portia Higgins

The first Winter Words event will be held on Jan. 9 in Paepcke Auditorium on the Aspen Institute campus. The event’s author is Patrick Radden Keefe, a staff writer at The New Yorker and non-fiction author of multiple bestselling books. Radden Keefe’s talk will be with regards to his latest book, “Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks.” 

According to Tory as a part of the selection team: “He is just one of those writers where, whatever the topic is, his writing is fascinating — everything from his way of researching to writing style, no matter the subject.” This is one area where the Winter Words team emphasized a thrilling writing style and experience, bringing fiction and nonfiction lovers alike together to appreciate the genre. 

Bessel Van Der Kolk.

On Jan. 23, science author Dr. Bessel van der Kolk will talk on “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Treatment of Trauma” at Paepcke Auditorium. Though this book was published in 2014, it held its spot on the bestseller list for about 140 weeks and has since held meaning to many in the wake of the global pandemic. Van der Kolk explores the impact of trauma and its unconventional treatments in this book.

“Trauma and mental health are really front of mind for our world still, and he brings a really scientific research perspective to that,” Tory said.

The Body

On Feb. 15 at TACAW in Willits, Kwame Alexander will discuss his latest, “Door of No Return,” the first in a trilogy about the journey of a boy and his family in an African village. Hosting this event at TACAW is a way of bringing this creative space for discussion closer to a demographic also invested in Winter Words — people coming from downvalley, Glenwood, and Silt. Tory said this event is a good one for students and families since the subject and the writing are conducive to conversations with younger people. 

The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander.

On March 7, best-selling Cameroonian American novelist Imbolo Mbue will unfold her second novel, “How Beautiful We Were,” at Paepcke Auditorium. This novel explores a fictional village’s battle with an intrusive American oil company and opens larger conversations about environmental advocacy. This event is partnering with Skico in support of the message. 

“How Beautiful We Were,” by Imbolo Mbue.

The closing event of Winter Words 2023 will be in Paepcke Auditorium on March 21 with Geraldine Brooks on her novel, “Horse,” released in 2022. The historical-fiction novel explores the world of horse racing in Civil War-era Kentucky and has reached the top of many reading lists this year. 

“Horse” by Geraldine Brooks.

“Winter Words is a long-standing program that serves to both inspire readers and connect our community through stories,” said Kaufman, and this year’s lineup of writers spans a diversity of thought, feeling, genre, and perspective. 

Each event, whether at Paepcke Auditorium or TACAW, will open at 5:30 p.m., with talks beginning at 6 p.m., followed by a book signing. Ticket sales open on Dec. 1, and the kickoff party is open to all to purchase author’s books, season passes, or just to enjoy the community of creativity at The Red Brick Center for the Arts.