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photoArt Gresh, founder of the Mazama Festival of Books, divides his time between Mazama and New York.

Words Under the Wall
Mazama Festival of Books

The first annual Mazama Festival of Books was launched Saturday morning when Washington State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken and New York publicist Lauren Cerand inaugurated the two-day event with a discussion of the art of poetry. About 50 people gathered in an open, two-walled tent in a field adjoining the Mazama Community Club.

Sponsored by founder Art Gresh, Methow Arts, Trail’s End Bookstore and the Mazama Country Inn, the festival was inspired by the Hay Festival of Literature in the Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye, according to Gresh, who said he became familiar with that event during the time he lived in London.

A native of Pennsylvania, Gresh first discovered the Methow as a climber when he was doing graduate work in economics at the University of Washington, he told Grist. He and his wife Lisa Chai now divide their time between Mazama and New York. “I’m an east-coaster. But I feel at home here,” he said. He wanted to start the festival because “I’m an avid reader,” and he enjoys putting on events, Gresh explained.

photoWashington State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken is a civil engineer who grew up in Richland and worked at at the Hanford nuclear complex..

Flenniken grew up in Richland and became a civil engineer who worked at the Hanford nuclear reservation, which during World War II produced the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She first discovered poetry at age 32, after taking a night class in the subject. “I just fell in love with it,” she told the audience. At first she didn’t disclose her poetic leanings to her work colleagues, she said. “It was my dirty secret.” But finally, she added, “It was so much of who I was I had to come out.”

As part of her poet laureate duties, Flenniken visits schools to talk with students about expressing themselves in poetry. By third or fourth grade, she said, children have grasped the concept of metaphor. Flenniken is scheduled to return to the Methow Valley in October to work with students in the classroom.

Her most recent volume of poetry, Plume, tackles Hanford, a subject fraught with controversy and politics, from what she describes as a personal point of view. “I could never have done it if I thought of it as a political book,” she said. As a child growing up among dedicated Hanford nuclear workers, she explained, “I so believed in their ethical strength.” Then came the shocking revelations that abruptly shut down the facility. “There was a betrayal of trust… The river was poisoned,” she said. “We trusted the authorities. And the authorities were us.”

“Deposition,” one of the poems in Plume, addresses the shame that trusting atomic workers felt when, in 2000 at a Department of Energy meeting, they for the first time publicly admitted that they unknowingly had been harmed on the job by radiation – just as the anti-nuclear activist these workers despised long had claimed. Now that she’s spoken out about such painful issues at Hanford, she said, “I know that at this point I’m an outsider” in that community. There’s been no response in Richland to her observations in Plume, she added.

Other writers participating in the event were Ryan Boudinot, Erik Brooks, Katherine Lanpher, Jim Lynch, Colleen Mondor, Danbert Nobacon, Blake Nelson, Pauls Toutonghi, and Lidia Yuknavitch.


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This was an outstanding event! Through lively discussions with the interviewers (Lauren and Kathryn) and the audience, the author's lives and writing lives came to life. Anyone who enjoys reading fiction, poetry, memoir, YA, picture books, nonfiction should attend this event next time it is held. A great weekend with a remarkable gathering of writers and readers. Thank you Art, Lisa, Lauren, Kathryn, Methow Arts, Trails End Bookstore, and everyone else who helped to create this event.

Linda M Robertson


Best event I've been to this summer. Great to see our local authors Eric Brooks and Danbert Nobacon included and they delivered as much as all the other authors. Particularly enjoyed the connection between music and writing. Don't miss this event next year.

Joseph Weaver