I took a stroll through downtown Grand Junction the other day. One block off the bustling Main Street thoroughfare, you’re in a different world. I found myself standing in front of the Historic Melrose Hotel, described in online reviews as “scary,” “creepy,” and “a dump.” An inebriated fellow lurched out of the hotel’s front door and slurred “hello.”
I had come to find a poem called “Snow.”
And there it was, on a plaque directly in front of the Melrose:
It’s white, light and cold.
It melts and moves...
No arms, no eyes, no hair.
In just three lines, the human dinginess dropped away. You look at life a little differently when you read something like that. The poem was by Garion Starr.
He’s in the 4th grade.
Starr’s poem is one of dozens by local elementary students, all part of the Poetry in the Streets project sponsored by the Western Colorado Writers’ Forum, a community of writers and educators whose mission is to “write, teach, inspire, mentor, grow.” Poetry in the Streets is now in its fourth year; the program brings WCWF writers into local schools to help teach kids not merely to write poetry but more importantly, to become more literate. As recently as 2011, “Third, fifth, eighth grade and high school score samplings showed that just a third to half of [Grand Valley] District 51 students, and fewer than half of all high school students, could write at minimum proficiency levels,” WCWF director Sandra Dorr said. “What’s missing for children and adults who cannot write is the ability and joy of articulating on the page what they most want to say: they stand outside the written word, where most art, work and life take place.”
In two weeks, the WCWF will present its second biennial literary festival (and major annual fundraiser) for writers and readers, The Language of the Fantastic. Dorr got the idea for it from her friend, novelist Ursula K. LeGuin. “I don’t know,” LeGuin said, “but I think fiction begins in dream and myth, and all its oldest forms are fantasies.” Accordingly, the festival will include not only fiction and nonfiction workshops with authors Rick Bass (Why I Came West, Ninemile Wolves) and Melissa Pritchard (Spirit Seizures), but also science fiction and fantasy workshops with Daniel Abraham and Jim Van Pelt; both Abraham and Van Pelt have been finalists for the Nebula Award, which recognizes the best science fiction and fantasy published in the U.S. every year. There will also be poetry workshops, fantastic and mythical, with David Rothman, Janice Gould, Luis Lopez and (in Spanish) Bella Clara Ventura, as well as “Conversations With Writers” on panels that address such topics as building an audience, blogging, and getting published. A Friday night reading entitled The High King Dreaming, a Saturday night banquet at the Colorado Mesa University ballroom, replete with fine food, wine, flamenco guitar and readings, and a Sunday community breakfast will all be on offer. And Western Slope poets Rosemerry Trommer and Wendy Videlock, among others, will give presentations.
It’s all in service of WCWF’s commitment to reach out: to book and poetry lovers the weekend of Oct. 11-13, and others in the community the rest of the year. After all, the power of language and literature can be life transforming. Members of the WCWF recently gave workshops at the Catholic Outreach Soup Kitchen, Latimer House and the Department of Youth Corrections, for example. “Many of these students have found housing, started college or stayed out of juvenile corrections,” Dorr said. “Most are still writing.” For more on the WCWF and The Language of the Fantastic, visit westerncoloradowriters.org.
In Telluride: Screenwriters in the Sky
And speaking of seminars on writing…if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to pen movie scripts for a living, the annual Screenwriters in the Sky workshop could be just your ticket. Each year, entertainment-industry attorney, film producer and full-time Telluride resident Lary Simpson brings a holy quartet of Hollywood professionals – a screenwriter, an entertainment attorney, an agent, and a script doctor – to Telluride for a seminar on making it in the Business.
Which can be tricky.
First, there is the writing itself. According to Simpson, “If you are lucky enough to get someone to read your script and then lucky enough to get someone to buy or option your script (God bless you), then you might just find that it will be rewritten ad nauseum and maybe even to death. Even worse, those rewrites won’t be done by you…unless you pay attention to your attorney.”
Then, there are the rights to the writing. As entertainment attorney Tom Hunter, a guest at this year’s workshop, has said: “Mark my words, every film that is successful and some that aren’t end up in some type of litigation; usually concerning film rights.”
The workshop runs Fri.,Oct. 4-to Sun., Oct. 6 and includes not only presentations from the podium, but one-on-one sessions with the pros on Sunday morning. Who knows? You may leave with a deal – or, at least, a much better idea of how to get one. Which brings up a question. What if a Telluride scriptwriter wanted to stay anonymous on some project? Would he be a ghostwriter in the sky?
For a complete schedule or to register, visit screenwritersinthesky.org.