Aspen Summer Words festival hosting free online author events


Registration for Summer Words panels is free and open now on the virtual Events page at

The Aspen Summer Words literary conference has been a staple of the early summer cultural season since 1976, when poets and writers began gathering here for workshops and talks under the shade of aspen trees.

It’s grown and evolved over the decades, and in recent years has included writer panels at The Gant conference center, student readings on the patio and the presentation of the Aspen Words Literary Prize at a gala event in the Hotel Jerome ballroom.

This year, of course, as the novel coronavirus pandemic has led to most in-person events cancelling in Aspen, is different.

But the conference and workshops will go on (online) while the public author talks are going virtual and going free and running through June.

The virtual panels had been slated to open Thursday, but have been postponed “in solidarity with all those fighting for a more just and equitable society,” citing the local and national protests against police brutality and racism.

In the first panel, NPR Books editor Petray Mayer on June 11 will moderate the craft talk “People, Places, POV” with “Candyfreak” author Steve Almond, “Leading Men” novelist Christopher Castellani, Iowa Writers’ Workshop director Lan Samantha Chang and Philadelphia poet laureate Yolanda Wisher, a former Aspen Words writer-in-residence.

Novelist Leah Henderson on June 16 will host “Can I Write About This?” tackling the hot topic of whether authors can write about people and subjects outside of their immediate experience, a debate that intensified early this year with publication of the the novel “American Dirt,” written about Mexican migrants by white American author Jeanine Cummins. Panelists have not yet been announced for the virtual event.

Novelist and A Mighty Blaze co-founder Jenna Blum, on June 17, will talk to publishing industry insiders about “The Business of Being a Writer.” Participants include Chase Literary Agency founder Farley Chase and Little, Brown executive editor Vanessa Mobley.

Aspen Words executive director and “Wild Game” memoirist Adrienne Brodeur on June 18 will moderate “Writing About Real People” with Almond, Castellani and author/grief expert Claire Bidwell Smith.

The virtual series will close with “The Writer’s Journey” on June 22, bringing together alumni of the Summer Words conference to discuss their careers. Moderated by Aspen Words managing director Caroline Tory, it will include best-selling “Sweetbitter” author Stephanie Danler, poet Trapeta Mayson and “How Much of These Hills is Gold” novelist C. Pam Zhang.

Aspen Words began moving programming online last month, beginning with the ceremony announcing its Aspen Words Literary Prize on April 16. The prize went to “Beekeeper of Aleppo” author Christy Lefteri, capping a day of virtual events with prize finalists. Aspen Words hasn’t yet announced plans for its events for the Roarign Fork Valley community read of Lefteri’s book, which had been to include local book clubs, events and a talk by Lefteri herself at Summer Words.