Smith Henderson

Acclaimed novelist and Missoula native Smith Henderson is among the speakers at this year’s Montana Book Festival.

Perusing the schedule for Missoula's annual book festival next month, you wouldn't know it nearly ended.

The renamed Montana Book Festival features 150 authors, including regulars such as James Lee Burke and emerging talents such as Smith Henderson.

There are panels, readings and signings galore, plus new sponsors such as the Trail 103.3 FM.

Barbara Theroux, owner of Fact and Fiction, said people view the festival as more of a public event this year and wanted to step forward.

For one, "people wanted to see the thing continue," she said.

It is also possible that people felt able to suggest ideas on a different level than in the past.

Before this year, the Montana Festival of the Book was run by Humanities Montana, a nonprofit, autonomous branch of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The group announced in October that it would cease organizing the festival to refocus its staff time on statewide programs.

Theroux and a committee of literature advocates stepped forward to ensure the city's festival didn't disappear.

The initial group was Honore Bray, director of the Missoula Public Library; John Rimel of Mountain Press Publishing; and Garth Winston of Shakespeare and Co. bookstore.

They laid the legal groundwork, and the Missoula Cultural Council agreed to act as fiscal sponsor. Using its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, the festival can accept tax-deductible donations.

Organizers are running a Kickstarter to raise $5,000. Its deadline is Wednesday.

"We wanted to guarantee that we would have the money for honorariums and the authors' reception, and had been kicking around what those estimated costs would be," Theroux said.

The money was intended to be a safety net to pay the writers if grants and sponsorships didn't cover the cost of the event.

They hired a festival coordinator, Rachel Mindell, who previously helped organize Thinking Its Presence, an equally large conference on race and creative writing at the University of Montana.

"She came highly recommended for her organizational skills," Theroux said.

Mindell said there are opportunities for "fun and positive change."

"We're building off a really incredible legacy of 15 years with a great festival," she said.

For example, she created a calendar of events with the Sched app, which easily allows speakers and readers to track their events. The dates and times are still being finalized, so readers should check back closer to the dates.

In addition to the classic panels and events like a tribute to Ivan Doig, they've developed new events to target different demographics.

One is Pie and Whiskey, a reading series that originated in Spokane in which readings about pie and whiskey are accompanied by, well, pie and whiskey. Authors will also participate in a "Humble Pie" reading, in which they read from "really terrible early work," she said.

Some events, like trivia, will take place at new venues such as the VFW bar.

Mindell also pushed for a new format she calls "dicussions," which combines elements of readings, panels and forums.

Authors will read from their work and then have a conversation on craft, after which readers can ask questions.


The featured guest at the annual Top Hat luncheon is Smith Henderson, a Hellgate High School graduate who received wide acclaim for his debut novel, "Fourth of July Creek," about a social worker trying to save the son of a dangerous backwoods survivalist in northwestern Montana.

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The ticket includes the cost of the meal, plus a paperback copy of the book.

During the meal, Chérie Newman will interview Henderson for a live installment of "The Write Question," her weekly literary program.

A benefit for Montana Public Radio conveniently ties in with the festival: "Reinventing Radio: An Evening with Ira Glass," of "This American Life."

Glass will discuss his show, retell segments from the program, and talk about its innovative approach to broadcast journalism.

Tickets are $45, available at

The library has organized three days of events geared toward children, with Tiny Tales programs, illustration workshops with artist Josh Quick, a Whizpops concert and young adult authors such as Kent Davis, Blythe Woolston, Kris Dinnison and Stephanie Oakes.

There will be some sneak previews as well. Part-time Bitterroot Valley resident James Lee Burke will read from a new novel, "House of the Rising Sun," which won't be published until December.

Annick Smith, a writer and filmmaker from the Blackfoot Valley will bring advance copies of her book, "Crossing the Plains with Bruno," a nonfiction title mixing travel and memoir. The book won't be available for purchase until Oct. 6.

Tell Us Something, the monthly themed storytelling event, is hosting a special installment, a "Storyteller Celebration" with Stephen Graham Jones, an author and professor at the University of Colorado.

Instead of the usual theme event, Tell Us Something will spotlight four favorite yarn-spinners from the past. After their stories, Jones will lead a conversation on writing with Theodore Van Alst, co-chair of UM's Native American Studies Department, and Sterling HolyWhiteMountain, director of the writing center at the Blackfeet Community College.

Rick Demarinis, an award-winning author and former UM professor, will receive a lifetime achievement award.

Watch the Missoulian for more coverage of the festival in the week before it starts.

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