Some western North Dakota counties may have more cows than books but that doesn’t mean the state’s rural residents aren’t hankering for words. That’s why the literary nonprofit Dunn County Writers is roping up a weekend of wordy events.
By Jennifer Strange
For the DC Herald
“Our mission is to capture and chronicle the voice of western North Dakotans so the legacy of this region is preserved in writing forever,” said DCW Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Strange. “One of the ways we do this is by bringing award-winning writers to Dunn County so people can deepen their knowledge of the craft of writing.”
The group produces two Visiting Writers Series each year. The first of 2016 takes place March 5-6 at the High Plains Cultural Center in Killdeer.
On Saturday, DCW welcomes author and teacher Craig Lesley as the headliner of “An Evening of Western Songs & Words.” Guests get a chance to chat with the acclaimed writer of America’s Rural West during a 5:30 p.m. social hour. Watford City’s own Jessie Veeder will perform a set of Americana music before Lesley reads from his work. A CD and book sale and signing will top off the evening.
Two of Lesley’s four novels—“The Sky Fisherman” and “Storm Riders”—were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. “Winterkill” was the first to win the Golden Spur award for Best Novel and the Medicine Pipe Bearer’s Award for Best First Novel from the Western Writers of America.
Lesley’s memoir, “Burning Fence: A Western Memoir of Fatherhood,” tells his story of growing up on the hardscrabble range of Eastern Oregon and then fostering a Hidatsa son from North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.
“I certainly look forward to meeting a rural-minded, award-winning author like Craig Lesley,” said DCW Board Member Colette “Koko” Gjermundson of Marshall. “Hearing about his personal experiences here adds an interesting, local twist.”
This free event is open to the public and is part of the North Dakota Humanities Council’s Pulitzer Prize Centennial Initiative. The NDHC is spending the entire year celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prizes, culminating in a GameChanger ideas festival in the fall.
“We’ve asked our program partners to help us achieve our goal by creating their own innovative programming around the Pulitzer Prize,” said NDHC Executive Director Brenna Gerhardt. “We are thrilled the Dunn County Writers accepted our invitation and has created a program that brings Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer Craig Lesley to their community.”
These events wouldn’t occur without partial funding from NDHC and donations of time, products, services and funding from area businesses and organizations like Dickinson State University’s Heart River Writer’s Circle (HRWC).
“Western North Dakota is full of readers and writers,” said Peter Grimes, assistant professor of English at DSU. “Literature is, by its nature, a rather solitary pursuit, so it is part of the mission of groups like HRWC and Dunn County Writers to connect those who love books.”
To help connect readers and writers, these two groups have organized a free, wheelchair-accessible shuttle bus between the Dickinson Public Library and Killdeer for the March 5 event. The shuttle and professional driver are provided by Harlow’s Bus Service. Interested parties should be at the parking lot around 4:15 p.m. for a 4:30 p.m.
Coordination assistance from Library Director Rita Ennen and generous donations from Dunn County Herald, First International Bank & Trust, Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing, Killdeer Pharmacy, SM Fencing & Energy Services Inc. and Wood Group PSN/Mitchell’s Oilfield Services make the shuttle—and event advertising in local newspapers— possible.
“The free bus is a boon to anyone who would like to come but wouldn’t care to drive up Highway 22,” said Gjermundson. “It’s so exciting that donations from local groups make that possible. Imagine the fun in traveling to and from such an event with a group of like-minded citizens!”
Guests at Saturday’s reception and reading will also enjoy a free buffet, featuring savory hors d’oeuvres donated by the Dunn County Writers and desserts donated by Becky’s Bakery of Killdeer. Punch and wine will be offered, courtesy of the writers’ group.
Saturday’s reception is followed by “Western Wordsmithing with Craig Lesley: A Generative Workshop” on Sunday, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. at the High Plains Cultural Center in Killdeer. As of press time, four of 20 workshop spots remain and registration is $10.
The workshop presents a unique opportunity for western North Dakota writers to work with a high-caliber writing teacher in an intimate setting. Lesley plans to focus his craft talk and exercises on the people and places of the American West.
“Workshops like this inspire me and keep my mind alive,” said DCW member Denise Sandvick of Killdeer. “When you write something that works, you realize you’re doing something that makes a difference to yourself, to your neighbors and to your fellow writers.”
A continental breakfast donated by Nana Lil’s of Killdeer will precede the workshop and a light lunch will follow.
Other area businesses providing support to the weekend of literary events include Cobblestone Hotel & Suites, Dunn County Historical Society & Museum, High Plains Cultural Center, Quality Quick Print and The Dickinson Buzz.
“That fact that so many local businesses and entities are willing to come alongside Dunn County Writers to support this America’s Rural West event is a cultural boost for our souls and our communities,” Gjermundson said. “It’s important to consider our local stories and inspiring to learn from widely published authors who, like us, understand and celebrate rural lifestyles.”