The Montana Book Festival's 2016 lineup features a Pulitzer Prize winner and an influential feminist New York poet alongside the state's homegrown talent this year. Plus pie and whiskey, and readings and workshops.
"We have a lot of Montana folks that people know who will be a part of it, and then we also have some authors from outside of Montana that are engaging a perhaps different conversation about diversity in literature," said festival director Rachel Mindell.
The list of authors for the late September festival reaches 150 and covers a wide range of voices.
Eileen Myles, whose writing encompasses fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essays and more, was described by Slate recently as "an unapologetic gender warrior." The New Yorker was an influential voice in queer fiction for decades outside of mainstream view. There was a wave of renewed interest after a recent reprinting of her memoir, "Chelsea Girls" and a new collection of her poetry. A character on the HBO series "Transparent" is based on her, and her poetry is featured in the series.
Mindell said Myles is an important voice and a natural fit – she was the University of Montana Creative Writing Program's Richard Hugo writer-in-residence in 2010.
She'll share a keynote evening with Gregory Pardlo, a poet whose small-press collection, "Digest," was an under-the-radar winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2015. Humanities Montana received a grant for Pulitzer poetry programming and had arranged for Pardlo to come to Montana; his visit was set for the book festival.
Another prominent voice is Maile Meloy, an acclaimed writer and Helena native whose stories were recently adapted into "Certain Women," a feature film by director Kelly Reichardt. The movie, which was shot in the Livingston area, screened at Sundance earlier this year and starred Montana's own Lily Gladstone alongside Kristen Stewart.
Lolo resident and icon James Lee Burke, who turns 80 this year, will be in attendance with a new book, "The Jealous Kind."
Sunil Yapa's debut, "Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist," has already been pegged as a best of 2016 title. The novel features a biracial protagonist caught up in the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. More than one advance review and fellow author described it as "symphonic."
Yapa has Montana ties as well: His father is Sri Lankan and his mother is from the Treasure State.
Last year the event, which Mindell described as "a new festival with deep roots," offered a new mix of readings, panels, workshops and other events.
A popular addition, Pie and Whiskey, which features desserts, drinks and writers, is returning. One of the participants this year is Montana author Virginia Reeves, whose novel "Work Like Any Other," made the long list for the International Booker Prize.
A Los Angeles event called Literary Death Match is new this year. It pits four authors against each other to win the approval of three celebrity judges in a game show, variety-style format. The L.A. Times called it "the most entertaining reading series ever."
Workshops this year include fiction, nonfiction, poetry. There will a paid and unpaid pitch session, in which authors get five to 10 minutes to pitch their work to a literary agent.
Text Craft, a local group that creates text- and book-based art, also is holding a session and sharing work.
In a break from previous years, not all events for the Sept. 20-25 festival are free.
"In order to make the festival sustainable, it's a necessary step," Mindell said.
For 15 years, the festival was known as the Montana Festival of the Book and was organized by Humanities Montana, the statewide nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Arts.
After the loss of key sponsors, Humanities decided to refocus on its core programs. A group of local residents and organizations banded together to keep the festival going with help from Humanities, sponsors and a Kickstarter campaign.
Pie and Whiskey, which proved so popular that people were turned away at the door, will have pre-sale tickets instead of tickets at the door. Tell Us Something, the local storytelling event, and the author luncheon also require tickets.
All other events on Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday are free.
The Friday and Saturday events for adults, which include workshops, panels, keynotes and more, require a festival button, which costs $15. For individual events, there's a $5 suggested donation. The Saturday book fair at the Holiday Inn and Youth Festival at the Missoula Public Library are free. Button-holders are eligible for discount events around town.
Mindell said organizers received positive responses and feedback last year.
"The festival will continue to adjust based on how this year goes," she said. Like any organization, they're always reassessing and "working to build on a strong foundation."