For a writer, isolation can be a good thing.
“A writer needs [a] quiet space and time to write,” said Ellie Scott, program coordinator for Aspen Words, a literary arts nonprofit and program of the Aspen Institute.
The Aspen Words Writers in Residence program grants that valuable space and time to a selected writer each month from May through October.
Aspen Words partners with the Catto Shaw Foundation to host one resident per month at Catto Shaw’s property in Woody Creek, offering working writers and authors “an opportunity to nurture their creative spirit by providing time, space and living accommodations in the majestic Elk Mountains,” according to the Aspen Words website.
Prospective writers must be nominated for the program and submit an application that is reviewed by a panel chosen by Aspen Words Executive Director Adrienne Brodeur.
Brodeur is the author of the award-winning Memoir “Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover and Me.” Prior to joining Aspen Words in 2013, Brodeur worked in the publishing industry for 15 years, co-founded the literary magazine “Zoetrope: All-Story” and has served as a judge for multiple literary contests.
“Adrienne is so plugged into the literary world,” Scott said. “She often seeks out writers who she knows could benefit from our residency program.”
Scott explained that most of the writers in residence are working under an approaching deadline.
“We give the gift of uninterrupted writing time,” Scott said. “They can write all day in solitude surrounded by natural beauty and fresh air.”
As part of the program, the writer in residence gives free community talks and readings during their stay. These open events are opportunities for locals and visitors of the Roaring Fork Valley to engage with the literary world and for renowned writers to connect with the Aspen community.
The next opportunity for this intimate literary engagement and community connection is coming up on Tuesday on the lawn of the Red Brick Center for the Arts. Following Aspen Public Radio’s meet-and-greet with new Executive Director Breeze Richardson from 3 to 4:30 p.m., Aspen Words will host an author talk with July Writer in Residence Ayana Mathis at 5:30 p.m.
Mathis is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her debut novel, “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie,” was a New York Times bestseller, a 2013 New York Times Notable Book of the Year, an NPR Best Books of 2013 and was the second selection for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0.
In a New York Times book review, the African American author is praised for her prose and her “elastic” writer’s voice — the latter of which was described as, “both lyrical and unsparing, meditative and visceral, and capable of giving the reader nearly complete access to her characters’ minds and hearts.”
Mathis’ exceptional writer’s voice is not restricted to solely her words on the page. According to Scott, who will be moderating the hourlong conversation Tuesday evening, Mathis is a fabulous, funny and engaging speaker.
“Listening to Ayana discuss her beautifully written book will be special,” Scott said. “I’ll ask questions, and she’ll take the ball and run with it.”
In addition to discussing “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie,” Mathis will read a few short passages from her award-winning novel. Scott plans to set aside a portion of the conversation to ask Mathis about the novel she’s currently working on during the residency and how she’s experienced these weeks of focused, uninterrupted writing time.
Mathis has been working on her new book for about six years and is on deadline, according to Scott.
The conversation with Mathis will be Aspen Words’ second in-person, public event since the beginning of the pandemic, the first being last month’s author talk with American author, poet and chef Caroline Randall Williams. The event requires pre-registration, and all attendees must either show they are fully vaccinated or take an onsite COVID-19 rapid test.
“The pandemic really affected our literary programming,” Scott said. “It was a tectonic shift, but we discovered lots of unexpected, hidden silver linings through virtual literary experiences.”
Last year, Aspen Words had to cancel almost every residency and move other programs to online platforms, including Winter Words and Summer Words.
This year, Summer Words — recognized as one of the nation’s top writing workshops and literary festivals — is now Autumn Words. The week-long writing conference has been pushed back to the end of September.
Over the next few months, Aspen Words will present more in-person author talks with the incoming writers in residence, hosting E.J. Levy in August, Marie Myung-Ok Lee in September and Casey Gerald in October.
In addition to the return of the Writers in Residence program, Aspen Words is beginning to put on other in-person programs and events, such as the annual Book Ball featuring John Grisham on Sept. 28 at The Hotel Jerome. Tickets and tables for the benefit dinner and speaker presentation are now available for purchase.
Scott is looking forward to the reemergence of these in-person experiences within the literary community.
“Gathering as a community is a very powerful thing for writers,” Scott said. “It’s common for writers to feel part of each other’s tribe.”
From bringing people together for literary celebrations to providing working writers with serene isolation, Aspen Words’ year-round programming energizes the Roaring Fork Valley with inspiration, connection and creative expression.
“Coming out of this time, writers may have a more interesting perspective to offer because of their introspective capabilities,” Scott said. “Now, we’re finally able to share all of those stories saved up in isolation, it’s the most exciting time.”