Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Writer Timothy Egan to speak in Ketchum

Lecture will address forests and wildfire

Express Staff Writer

Timothy Egan is an acclaimed writer and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
Courtesy photo

    New York Times columnist Timothy Egan will speak Thursday, Oct. 2, at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood in Ketchum. The talk is hosted by the Sun Valley Center for the Arts.
     Egan, who lives in Seattle, is an acclaimed writer and veteran chronicler of the West. His interests range wide across the American landscape and American history. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, a popular columnist and a National Book Award-winning author.
    His weekly online “Opinionator” column for The New York Times is consistently among the most read pieces on the site. His columns often address Western issues, but they are equally likely to comment on national politics and international affairs, particularly in the Mideast.
    Before that, Egan worked as one of the newspaper’s national correspondents, roaming the West and serving as its Pacific Northwest correspondent. In 2001, he was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that wrote the series “How Race Is Lived in America.”
    Egan’s talk will focus on his book “The Big Burn—Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America,” a New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2009 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award. The book chronicles the massive 1910 wildfire that devastated northern Idaho and western Montana, but it also explains the effect the fire had on swaying public opinion to support an effective U.S. Forest Service and forest conservation in general. Roosevelt had recently appointed Gifford Pinchot the first director of the fledgling agency, and the two worked hard to promote an ethic of conservation in a country accustomed to an attitude that all its natural resources were at the disposal of whoever could profit from them the fastest. At the time, creating large publicly owned forests was a radical idea.
    “The Big Burn had stirred the blood of many Americans, and for them conservation was no longer an abstract debate,” Egan wrote. “Roosevelt and Pinchot had personalized it—boys out west had died for it. …
    “The fires in the Rocky Mountains, Roosevelt said, should prompt a renewal of the idea of protecting public land with a corps of young foresters.”
    The fire helped Roosevelt’s conservation cause triumph over opposition from politicians such as Idaho Sen. Weldon Heyburn, who resisted not only conservation, but labor reform and antitrust laws as well. It also prompted debate on how to best manage forests to reduce the risk of wildlife.
    Egan’s numerous books include “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl,” a work that Walter Cronkite called “can’t-put-it-down history” and that won the 2006 National Book Award for nonfiction. (Egan is featured prominently in Ken Burns’ 2012 film, “The Dust Bowl.”)
    Egan’s most recent book, “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward S. Curtis,” is a biography of the famous photographer of Ameri­can Indians.
    This third-generation Westerner is also the author of “The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest,” a text consistently voted one of the essential books about the region. It won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award.
    Egan also wrote “Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West,” a New York Times Notable Book of the Year that won the Moun­tains and Plains Book Seller’s Association Award, and “Breaking Blue,” a true crime account of the nation’s longest running murder investigation.
    Egan penned a novel, “The Winemaker’s Daughter,” a story of wine, love, fire and betrayal, and has been a regular contributor to BBC Radio with his series of vignettes on American life.
    Egan’s talk will begin at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for Center members and $35 for nonmembers. They can be bought at

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