The Montana Book Festival has always been focused, of course, on Montana and the writers who live here. But that definition doesn’t necessarily encompass all of the writing the organizers want to feature.
“We’ve kind of loosely defined the festival as being about Western writing,” co-organizer Tess Fahlgren said. “And that extends beyond Montana and the masculine prairie writing.”
Modern ideas of Western writing include people of all races and identities, Fahlgren said, and encompass stories not just about rough-and-tumble lives in the wilderness, but stories on race, identity and sex.
“We try to be a diverse festival. We have lots of people of color and good representation of the queer community,” Fahlgren said.
Last year’s festival took place during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, which provided a tense backdrop, Fahlgren said. It feels like a sigh of relief to open this year’s festival with a response, of sorts.
“The first night we have this really exciting collection coming out that is on the #MeToo movement,” Fahlgren said. “It feels so good to be able to showcase this book on the first night.”
The book, titled “Indelible in the Hippocampus,” features 22 authors who write on their experiences, from teenage life to current workplaces. The collection’s editor, Shelly Oria, will be on a discussion panel, alongside Missoula writers Sharma Shields, Tamara Love and Melissa Stephenson.
Identity continues to be a theme of this year’s fest, from the intersection of race and culture to the timely topic of immigrant experiences, from three female authors who either immigrated to America, or write on the subject.
“I’m so grateful we got three women who can talk on this important topic,” Fahlgren said.
The festival also keeps its focus on working writers, with a course of eight workshops aimed toward poets, fiction writers, songwriters and memoirists. Each workshop is $35 apiece, but Fahlgren hoped writers would make time to attend as many as possible given the schedule.
“You should be able to get to all of them. They don’t overlap,” she said. “They’re all really awesome.”
Much of the fest will be held at the new Mercantile Hotel’s conference room, which will be broken up into sections to host workshops and readings, and will host the keynote event Saturday night.
The exhibitor fair will be on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a cocktail reception, in conjunction with the Norman Maclean Festival, will start at 5 p.m. on Friday.
All events are $5 each, or free with a $15 button, available at Fact and Fiction. The cocktail reception costs $15.
Find a complete schedule at montanabookfestival.org.
Some events to note:
Memoir on a Mission
This panel, to be moderated by Dorothy Rice, will feature two memoirists who have detailed their outdoorsy pursuits in novels.
Susan Purvis spent 20 years training avalanche rescue dogs and search dogs, a journey she wrote about in “Go Find.”
Heather Hansman, meanwhile, wrote about a raft trip down the entirety of the Green River from Wyoming to Utah, in “an energizing mix of travelogue and investigative journalism,” according to Publishers Weekly.
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“These are just really badass women who did something really cool and wrote a memoir about it,” Fahlgren said.
This event is at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sep. 12 at Fact and Fiction.
Kings of Conservation
Three Montana authors will discuss their individual books on George Bird Grinnell, Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and John Muir.
John Taliaferro combed through 40,000 pages of Grinnell’s letters and diaries to put together an “enthralling portrait” of the environmentalist.
John Clayton examines the dynamic between environmentalist John Muir and Gifford Pinchot, the founder of the U.S. Forest Service, during the establishment of the first national parks.
Keith Aune (along with Glenn Plumb) focused in on Theodore Roosevelt’s work restoring bison in the Great Plains, which was “the catalyst for an entire conservation movement” led by Roosevelt.
These authors will discuss their books, as well as the historical relevance of public lands — a topic sure to tie in to some current events.
“I think that will be really relevant to the people of Missoula,” Fahlgren said.
This event is at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Sep. 13 at the Dana Gallery.
Recipe Writing as Storytelling
Four food writers, from chefs to mystery authors, will discuss the power of recipes as standalone writing, or woven into larger works.
The panel includes Missoula writer Greg Patent (who contributes to the Missoulian’s weekly Food section) and Livingston writer Seabring Davis, who has published numerous books on Montana food.
Leslie Budewitz writes food-themed mystery novels like “Chai Another Day,” set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market and “Death Al Dente,” a mystery set in Jewel Basin, a town that bears a resemblance to Budewitz's Bigfork hometown.
Sara Bir has written two cookbooks, one aimed at fruit foragers and the other themed around her home state of Ohio.
This event is at 3 p.m. on Friday, Sep. 13 at The Public House
Mixed: Navigating the Kaleidoscope of Identity
This discussion features two writers who focus on mixed-race identity. Shonda Buchanan is the literary editor of Harriet Tubman Press, and wrote “Who’s Afraid of Black Indians?” a collection of poetry that was nominated for the Black Caucus of the American Library Association awards. Nicole Zelniker released her debut “Mixed” earlier in 2019. The nonfiction work examines the lives of mixed-race people and families in modern America.
Danielle Cooney, a creative writing graduate student at UM, will moderate the discussion.
This event is at 12 p.m. on Saturday, Sep. 14 at Monk’s Bar.