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Montana Book Festival: Pulitzer winner, 'hillbilly Gothic,' and more
Montana Book Festival

Montana Book Festival: Pulitzer winner, 'hillbilly Gothic,' and more

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Missoula will never be more of a writers' town than Sept. 27-Oct. 1, when some 150 authors will be here for the Montana Book Festival.

Director Karla Theilen said they have a diverse program, with everything from a nationally known radical feminist art activist to headliners Jane Smiley, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and Donald Ray Pollock, a celebrated writer of "hillbilly gothic" novels and stories.

And of course, the popular Pie & Whiskey event, where a shot and a slice accompany readings by local and national authors in the Union Bar. If you're a fan of romance novels, there's a panel representing the state's large number of romance novelists. If you're an aspiring writer, there are workshops and panels to help sell your work.

This is the third year of the festival. Its former incarnation was the Montana Festival of the Book, run by Humanities Montana. The nonprofit determined it needed to focus on its statewide programs, and a local group stepped in to keep the festival going.

Here are a few of the highlights. You can peruse the schedule and even save your events with the mobile-friendly app at

Note that some events require registration and a $15 festival button, available at Fact & Fiction, Shakespeare and Co., or at the door at events.


Jane Smiley's appearances at the festival have a broader demographic swath than most writers.

For the grownups: Smiley won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for her novel, "A Thousand Acres," which sets the plot of "King Lear" on a Midwestern farm. Her trilogy, "The Last Hundred Years" quite literally covers a century in the life of a farm family.

For kids ages 8 and younger, she has an equine-themed series, "The Horses of Oak Valley." For even younger kids, see "Twenty Yawns," illustrated by Lauren Castillo.

Her appearance for kids' and young readers is Saturday, Sept. 30, 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Shakespeare & Co., 103 S. Third St. W.

"Knockemstiff," the title of Donald Ray Pollock's first collection, is the name of a town in Ohio, but the phrase also gives you an idea of the grit and tone of his writing, which has been called "hillbilly gothic."

Pollock worked over three decades at a meat-packing plant and then a paper mill before enrolling in a writing program and pursuing his craft full-time. His novels "The Devil All The Time" and last year's "The Heavenly Table" have been praised for evocation of the rural Midwest and his flair for violence and colorful dialogue.

He'll sit down for an interview about his work, "Hillbilly Gothic: Getting the Dirt on Pollock," on Saturday, Sept. 30, from 1-2 p.m. at Shakespeare & Co., 103 S. Third St. W.

Festival gala reading: Smiley and Pollock will appear at the gala reading on Friday, Sept. 29, from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Holiday Inn 200 S. Pattee St.


The legendary author and creative writing professor William Kittredge will receive a lifetime achievement award this year.

As a writer, Kittredge has been celebrated for his work in multiple forms: memoir ("Hole in the Sky"), story and essay collections and novels ("The Willow Field"). Through his teaching post at UM, he's helped shape generations of writers. As an editor, he and Annick Smith created "The Last Best Place," the definitive anthology of Western literature.

Kittredge, along with friends, peers and former students including Deirdre McNamer, Robert Stubblefield and Kim Zupan, will talk about his life and work.

• Saturday, Sept. 30, 1:30-3 p.m. Downtown Dance Collective 121 W. Main St.

On a related note, 2017 marks the 30th anniversary of the "The Last Best Place." Fans of the "big book" can learn about its gestation with a panel discussion. The participants, which include contributors and editors of the anthology, are Margaret Kingsland, William Kittredge, Annick Smith, Bill Bevis, Mary Clearman Blew, Bill Lang and Lois Welch.

• Saturday, Sept. 30, 12-1:15 p.m., Downtown Dance Collective, 121 W. Main St.


The ever-popular Pie and Whiskey is returning this year. The literary concoction, which features a slice of pie, a shot of whiskey and a great lineup of authors, was founded in Spokane and has found success for its combination on the road.

The line-up of speakers is Kevin Canty, Lynsey G., William Kittredge, Leyna Krow, Kate Lebo, Sam Ligon, Tiffany Midge, Donald Ray Pollock, Prageeta Sharma, Jane Smiley and Maya Jewell Zeller.

Note that tickets are required and the event sold out in previous years. Tickets are $7 cash or $8 credit, available at Shakespeare & Co. or at in the "Shop" section.

• Thursday, Sept. 28, 8:30-10:30 p.m. Union Club, 208 E. Main St.


A founding member of the radical feminist collective the Guerrilla Girls will be at the Missoula Art Museum. The group, whose members always appeared in public anonymously in gorilla masks, have fought against gender, race and class discrimination in the art world. For this appearance, co-founder Donna Kaz, aka Aphra Behn, will appear sans disguise and discuss her life and career as chronicled in her book, "Un/Masked: Memoirs of a Guerrilla Girl on Tour."

She'll appear for a Q&A with Lynsey G., a local author who recently published her own memoir, "Watching Porn: And Other Confessions of an Adult Entertainment Journalist."

• 11:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 29, Missoula Art Museum, 335 N. Pattee St.


At the agent pitch sessions, writers can sign for a practice session with a pro.

"That is a rare opportunity to be able to practice pitching a manuscript to a real-life literary agent from New York," Theilen said.

Julie Stevenson, of Massie & McQuilkin will meet for 10-minute, one-on-one sessions from 9 a.m. to noon at the Fact & Fiction A&E Conference Room on Wednesday and Thursday. Pre-registration is required.

Sandra Scofield will lead a workshop called "Aboutness: Leash Your Novel, Shape Your Writing, Pitch Your Book."

"Once you have a draft of a manuscript completed, you have to go through a process to get to the essence of what it's about," Theilen said. Before you can pitch it, you have to distill the book instead of repeating details or storylines.

The workshop is Wednesday from 1:15-3:30 p.m.

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