Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Put on your listening ears

Sun Valley Writers’ Conference speakers warrant attention of all ages

Express Staff Writer

The Writers’ Conference is a chance to get your favorite books signed by the authors themselves.
Courtesy photo by Barbi Reed

    When most of the audience at the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference were in diapers, John Lewis was a young man in the forefront of a civil rights revolution.
    Now, as the only living architect of the 1963 March on Washington’s “Big Six,” Congressman Lewis will be one of the incredible speakers taking center stage at the Sun Valley Pavilion during this year’s conference, which runs July 19 - July 22.
    The conference was forced to take an unexpected summer off due to wildfires last year, but the fact that it has sold more tickets this year than any other in its 20-year history is a testament to a fruitful detour.
    And, in a nod to share the mutual admiration, this year’s conference has taken the unprecedented step of offering $20 tickets to it incredible lineup of individual speakers to online purchasers through Friday, July 18.
    Some are sold out as of this printing, as is the all-conference package.
    And there is little wonder why.
    First held in 1995 at The Community School with 12 writers and 108 attendees, the conference has grown to include about 30 writers and around 1,500 attendees. The original goal was to bring the “Who’s Who” of fiction, nonfiction, journalism, poetry, policy, film and music to the stage. Some of the previous guests have included the late David Halberstam, Ethan Canin, Gretel Ehrlich and Mark Salzman. The latter two are here this year.
    The conference honors the written word with the spoken word.
    “People are hungry for a more intimate connection,” said Executive Director Robin Eidsmo. “There is something profoundly moving to have someone standing in front of you and sharing their most intimate moments.
    “We are not in the business of teaching the art of writing, but to be the anchor in the process of bringing reader and writer together.”
    Marcia Mode-Stavros, associate director, said, “Even in the incredible space that is the Pavilion, there is a sense of having a very personal conversation, the feeling that that writer is speaking just to you.”
    Smithsonian online recently noted the festival as one of the top things to pursue in Ketchum and Sun Valley, and it’s a huge educational forum. All students, teachers and librarians can attend for free, a founding principle.
    Since 2000, the conference has hosted 40 fellows, who are among the country’s finest emerging writers. Each year, two to four young writers of exceptional promise are selected to attend. The conference has also hosted 150 scholars since its inception in 1995. A scholarship provides free admission to the conference events and a scholars’ dinner. Some are given to local residents who have a particular interest in literature while others are granted to students in memory of loved ones.
    Lewis is appearing as a memorial lecturer in Halberstam’s name.
    Born to a sharecropper and educated in the rural South, Lewis got his feet set firmly in the cause with freedom marches including the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer and the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches. He was Georgia’s 5th Congressional District representative for nearly three decades.
    He is the author of three memoirs, including the No. 1 New York Times best-selling graphic-novel memoir “March.”
    “This is not a giant book-signing festival,” Eidsmo said. “The writers come and relax and they interact and projects are launched. This has always been a conference of not just books, but personal endeavors, of ideas.”
     To maintain that life-affirming reputation, “We have to change it every year to still get the magical mix,” said media liaison Carrie Lightner. “Writing is such a solitary craft that you can’t ask just anyone to come stand up and speak.”
    That’s why they have accommodated personalities to bring out the best by constructing settings from workshops in comfy chairs and limited numbers to interview-style presentations.
    “We never rest on our laurels,” Eidsmo said. “We are already working on next year.”

Put your reading glasses on
For books on this year’s reading list, go to:
-   Chapter One Bookstore in Ketchum at 726-5425, or
-    Iconoclast Books in Ketchum at 726-1564 or
Use that mouse to get $20 tickets online at until Friday, July 18.

Saturday, July 19
Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson:  “Two Guys, One Story: A Mermaid Wouldn’t Say That.” From 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Sunday, July 20
Ari Shavit: “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel.” From 5-6 p.m.

Timothy Geithner with Liaquat Ahamed: “A Former Treasury Secretary Deconstructs the Financial Crisis.” From 6:30-
7:30 p.m.

Monday, July 21
Simon Winchester: “The Pleasures of the Writing Life.”
From 5-6 p.m.

Congressman John Lewis: “My Country, My Story.”
From 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Tuesday, July 22
Edward Hirsch: A Celebration of W.S. Merwin. From 8:45-
10:15 a.m.

Thomas Cahill: “Heretics and Heroes: How Renaissance Artists and Reformation Priests Created Our World.” From 10:45-11:45 a.m.

Dave Barry: “Reflections on the SVWC and the Meaning of Life.” From noon-1 p.m.
-    Events take place in the Sun Valley Pavilion


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