Thursday, October 9, 2014


Marnie Mamminga, author of Return to Wake Robin, talked about
her family's history at their cabin near Hayward, Wisconsin.
She was one of many writers who spoke at the recent
Island Literary Festival.    

Washington Island -

Eleven authors / writers were featured at the recent Washington Island Literary Festival, the second year of the event.   It was a success in several ways.

First, besides drawing writers of considerable acclaim to this event, readers were also attracted, along with aspiring writers interested in learning from veteran writers.   The range in talent and material presented was wide:  poetry, fiction, non-fiction, investigative journalism, personal memoir.   There were plenty of opportunities to meet and speak with individual authors, and to hear them read and comment on their work.  Several workshops were held prior to the main presentations on Friday, October 3, and these were also well received by those who signed up for them.

I attended Max Garland's poetry workshop and learned from his comments and easy manner regarding his own work.  Garland is a professor at UW Eau Claire and also the current Wisconsin Poet Laureate.   Afterward, I followed him to the Island School where he spoke to freshmen and sophomore students about why poetry matters, the forms which it may take, the human need for poetry, and how it provides an important means of self expression.

Although I consider my own skills to align more closely with journalistic writing and reporting (such as I'm doing here) I can't deny the interest and mystery poetry seems to hold as an outlet for expressing ideas either too complex or too difficult for linear writing.   I'd like to think that Garland's school visit will have planted a seed or two that some day - perhaps some decade - will inspire those present to seek their own expression through one of the many shapes and forms loosely identified as poetry.

Presentations during the three-day festival varied from a panel discussion to author readings followed by question and answer, but always there were plenty of opportunities to engage an author backstage on a one-to-one basis.

Guest authors were provided courtesy lodging, and Mary Jo and I were pleased to host Larry Watson and his wife, Susan.   Aside from the fact that Larry's birthday is just one week and one day before mine (I learned we were both born in 1947), Watson's book Montana 1948 remains a favorite book of mine.   I've recently read several of his books in fact, and I enjoy getting inside the lives and minds of his characters on the Montana and North Dakota plains, a spare and tough people with few frills in their lives.   It reminded me, as I read them, of my grandparents and their neighbors farming stony land on Old Stage Road near Sister Bay in the first half of the 20th Century - minus the violence that frequently emerges in Watson's characters.

Adam Schrager, a Madison television news journalist, described in his book Sixteenth Rail the
crime, investigation, capture and prosecution of the Lindberg kidnapper, using
the advanced science to examine the homemade wooden ladder used
by Bruno Hauptmann.    

I particularly enjoyed Adam Schrager's presentation of his book Sixteenth Rail, the story of a meticulous solution to the prosecution of the Lindbergh baby kidnapper by Arthur Koehler, leading wood scientist of his day, who worked at the U. S. Forestry Laboratory in Madison.  Koehler's examination of the kidnapper's ladder came amid tremendous pressure from the public and the press to nail key suspect Bruno Hauptmann.  Schrager's logical and easy-to-read book provides a fascinating look at the rise of exacting science in crime investigation to solve the nation's most publicized crime.

Poet Laureate Max Garland visited with freshman
and sophomore students at school.

Festival venues were varied.  The Farm Museum Barn, the recently reopened Washington Hotel, the Red Barn, the Island Dairy - all were utilized in addition to the TPAC, where main events were held.  At the TPAC, between events blocked for speakers, the Backstage Bookstore featured books for sale with the authors on hand to sign them.

The Literary Festival is far from a strictly "highbrow" weekend.   Events are accessible for anyone who enjoys reading, writing, or who aspires to do more of each.  Next year's festival dates have yet to be set, but several themes are being considered along with possible author names, and we're confident, based on the success of the past two festivals, an exciting slate of writers and poets will again be attracted to Washington Island.

We should also mention that the Literary Festival's goals and efforts are closely joined in spirit with Write On Door County!, an organization that fosters writing at their center near Judville.  Anne Emerson is founder and creative force, and Jerod Santek, Director.  Both Anne and Jerod were participants in this most recent Literary Festival.  Collaboration between these two organizations will help in highlighting writing as a creative force, and in the encouragement of new and aspiring writers.

 -  Dick Purinton

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