Artists of Utah: 15 Bytes Book Award
We've Got Words. The Best Words
Interviews with the winners of the 2016 15 Bytes Book Awards
Fiction: Jeri Parker's Unmoored
A Salt Lake City resident, Parker is the author of the memoir A Thousand Voices, nominated for the Utah Book Award, as well as an artist. At the local Wildflowers Bed and Breakfast, which she co-owns, over 60 of her paintings are on display. Her works also hang in public and private collections in London, Paris, Athens, Istanbul, Frankfurt, and Sydney as well as half the states.
Jeri Parker’s novel, Unmoored, is an “enthralling family saga” set in the area of the North Fork of the Snake River in Idaho and portrays “the complex relationships between key players in a person’s life and who they become,” according to the award judges.
Rennie England is shattered by the untimely death of her father. She feels as if the world has spun off its axis, taking her sense of identity with it. She no longer knows where she begins or ends. The self she has always known, has lost its moorings. She is forced to evaluate the complicated relationship she has always had with her father as memories surface through the grieving process. The watershed of memory unexpectedly unleashed by death reveals the powerful residual connection between her father and everything else she has experienced in her life.
Unmoored is made powerful by the author’s ability to invoke rich images of the natural landscape, as well as the sometimes stark reality of human nature. Seething with raw emotion, readers feel as if they are experiencing the critical moments in Rennie’s past, firsthand.
Now living in Salt Lake City but raised in eastern Idaho, Parker has a love for its woodlands and rivers. And as with the main character of her novel, she too is a painter as well as a writer. Through both broad strokes and intricate details, Parker’s novel creates a moving portrait of love and loss impossible to forget.
Unmoored (Winter Beach Press, 2015) is one of three books of fiction that were finalists for the 4th Annual 15 Bytes Book Award, the winner of which receives a modest cash prize. Melanie Rae Thon and Paul Ketzle, also from Salt Lake City, will appear with Parker later this year at an honorary reading and celebration during the Utah Humanities Book Festival.
You can find the 15 Bytes book review of Unmoored by Krystal Baker here. Below, Baker has asked Parker a few questions about her book, her process and her future plans.
15 BYTES: Tell us a little about yourself? Perhaps something not many people know?
JERI PARKER: I was in a riot in Cairo in 1965 and experienced firsthand the depth of resentment felt toward those getting unwarranted preferential treatment. My group of young American students were guests of the Egyptian government. When we were ushered to the front of a very long line into anniversary ceremonies for President Nasser, shoving and pushing turned into a full riot and some of us got a little roughed up. I came away with an indelible sense of the outrage felt toward those given undue privilege.
15B: Of all the characters you have created, which is your favorite and why?
JP: The grandmother. She is robust, all-out, straightforward, a celebrant, and a storyteller—a chronicler of her time. She is unabashedly based on my own grandmother, a major influence on my life and my inclination to write.
15B: Tell us a little about your plans for the future. Where do you see yourself as a writer in five years?
JP: I see myself, God willin’ and the creek don’t rise, sitting on this deck at my cabin in Idaho, pen, if not brush, in hand. I’ll have finished Ten Seasons of Wilderness [an upcoming collection of fiction] and a series of short stories. I hope I will have set up a foundation, leaving this cabin to other writers.
15B: What do you believe is the biggest “truth” about life you believe your readers will find in your writing?
JP: Yiyiyi, the big truth questions. I believe readers will find in my pages that life is uncontainable, unpredictable, full of ambiguity along with a precious few certainties, that the stories that grow out of these elements invite readers to a greater understanding and interpretation of their own lives.
15B: You have characters that overlap in your memoir, A Thousand Voices, and novel, what can you tell us about that?
JP: I like to let them cross borders. They did it in my own life, it seemed to me, and I let a few of them keep it up.
15B: How are writing and painting similar/different for you? Has one influenced the other?
JP: Doug Snow, the wonderful Utah abstract painter, once said to me about my moving from writing to painting, “You ask all the same questions.” And that’s the heart of it; once you have the questions, you’re there—on canvas or paper. My favorite question turned out to be, “What wouldn’t this character do? What wouldn’t I do with this still life?”
15B: What motivates you to write?
JP: The need to understand, and the surprise of it, the fun of it.
Poetry: Nancy Takacs' Blue Patina
A resident of Wellington, Utah, in Carbon County, Takacs is the author of three poetry chapbooks and two full-length books of poetry, Blue Patina and Preserves (City Art Press, 2004). In September, Finishing Line Press will release her collection Red Voice. Most recently she was awarded the Juniper Prize for her collection The Worrier.
In the citation, 15 Bytes’ judges write that in this powerful volume,
[T]he natural world is deeply embedded in her language. Human existence coincides with the earth’s natural rhythms to create a spatial and temporal topography—what is routine in nature becomes ritual beneath the speaker’s observant eye. The first poem acts as a “proem” or preliminary commentary on what we will encounter: a myriad of observations that contain an undertone of wonder found only by those who have wandered far enough to the edge of a Utah forest or into the center of a foxglove blossom to see what others can’t or won’t notice. Several poems provide a sense of place—namely the rural area of Price, Utah, near where the poet resides. The vastness of the landscape as described in the poem “Utah Map” is contrasted against specific landmarks such as “an American flag/ time and wind ate except/ for a few withered stars” drilled into Balance Rock by “a woman from the town of Elmo,” or an Anasazi granary near Escalante. Other poems are written as a series of calls and responses, the answers lyrical and strange. In one line a botanical word describes best the multiplicity of sight and voices existing throughout the book—rhizome: “I want…[to] know under the surface/how long the trail of rhizome/can be, for one blossom.” Yet, despite the hint of a complex source, the emergence of a linguistic landscape seems effortless. Thus, the gift of these poems: sight on the ground or in the sky—patient, observant, sensory, precise, and always, always exploring.
Blue Patina is one of three collections of poetry that were finalists for the 4th Annual 15 Bytes Book Award, the winner of which receives a modest cash prize. Poets C. Wade Bentley and Rob Carney, both finalists from Salt Lake City, will appear with Takacs later this year at an honorary reading and celebration during the Utah Humanities Book Festival.
To read the 15 Bytes review of Blue Patina by Danielle Dubrasky, click here.
15 Bytes caught up with Takacs via email recently to ask her questions about the winning collection and her forthcoming work.
15B: In her 15 Bytes review of Blue Patina, Danielle Dubrasky says that as a poet you seem to be someone “who sees and hears many things and by doing so creates a ritual,” and that “[t]he ritual involves community even when the speaker is solitary.” First off, do you agree with that assessment, and if so, can you address how this happens to you–drawing from the solitary observations of a poet and translating it into a community ritual?
NT: I had not thought about this until Danielle wrote the review, but yes, I can see how some of the poems can be read this way. Rituals are of course symbolic, mysterious, rippling away. They give us a sense of belonging. I find writing poetry is a ritual for trying to embrace what is beyond myself. I guess I am looking for connection, as well as rebellion against routine, what is under the surface of disparate words and experiences, the mystery of what creates intimacy, maybe arriving at a point at which our lives are not parallel any longer. But since writing poetry is also a personal act, there is also delight in finding one’s own edges within language, and within the voice, and the voice is solitary.
One poem that happens to start with the solitary and then find community is “New Year’s at Albertson’s.” Living in a small town like Price, you find that everyone knows everyone. This feeling of community in a grocery store has its ups and downs, and the poem reflects that. It opens with “Sometimes the store is better than the internet.” You find out what’s going on in town while shopping, although at times you want to just be anonymous. In the writing of the poem, I included what one might feel–liking the idea of hearing news about friends, avoiding acquaintances you don’t want to run into, but then finding yourself in conversations anyway, waiting at the deli. The poem ends with the woman cashier the speaker knows and talks with about the local herd of deer that travels around their same neighborhood and how they worry together about the herd’s food supply during the cold weather. The speaker feels uplifted by this connection, and there is a communion because they both care about the deer. This intimacy was discovered in the writing of the poem, based on the truth. But at first the poem was going to be just a humorous poem about mundane events. That is not where the poem wanted to go.
15B: Tell us about your “Worrier”poems, a collection of which just won the Juniper Prize. What were the origins of these poems, and how did they finally emerge into a full-blown collection?
NT: My first “Worrier” poem wasn’t titled “The Worrier.” I remember writing it in Wisconsin several years ago where my husband and I go during the summer. I do a lot of writing there. I was having fun writing in various forms before this and thought I had never tried to write a poem in the question and answer form that these poems are in. I was just playing around, and the poem “The Woman I Always Wanted to Be” sat in my notebook for a while before I felt I had to write other poems in the same form. I was happy to keep the poems to myself. I wasn’t sure where they were going, but I liked writing them. I didn’t know if they worked.
After some months, I showed them to a few readers. It won a poetry award in the Utah Original Writing Competition. Then it was accepted for publication. As the sequence came into being, I felt the questioner and responder seemed to worry about different topics related to mid-life, a love of and need for what is natural around us, and a mourning for our disappearing wilderness and the lack of compassion in our world at large. So each poem became titled “The Worrier” with different subtitles.
Some of the first Worriers appear in a section of Blue Patina. At the time this book was accepted for publication, I was writing more of them and had a book of new Worriers. I found that what the poems needed to be could only be written inside this particular form. The form brought the language to me, and then the sequencing. I’m both shocked and delighted that The Worrier Poems will be published next year.
Art Book: James Aton's The Art and Life of Jimmie Jones
Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, James Aton had a Catholic education – grade school through college. He received an MA in English from the University of Kentucky in 1977, and a Ph.D. in American Literature from Ohio University in 1981. The now self-described “Jack Catholic” has been fully entranced by Utah’s redrock country since moving here in 1980. He is a professor of English at Southern Utah University.
Aton has twice been a Visiting Fulbright Scholar in American Studies, first in 1989-90 in Indonesia, and again in 1997-98 in the Peoples Republic of China. He calls those “the teaching highlights of my life.”
After a couple of false starts, Aton ultimately married “the love of my life,” Carrie Lynn Trenholm, the first Beverley Taylor Sorenson Endowed Chair of art education at SUU. Now retired, she is a full-time fused-glass artist. He has one daughter, Jennifer Aton Parietti, from his marriage to Jill Wilks (who would introduce him to artist Jimmie Jones). Daughter Jennifer, he says, “grew up on the rivers of the Colorado Plateau.”
The Art and Life of Jimmie Jones (Gibbs Smith, 2015) is one of three art books with Utah connections that were finalists for the 4th Annual 15 Bytes Book Award, the winner of which receives a modest cash prize.Painters of Grand Teton National Park by Donna L. and James L. Poulton (see our review) and Branding the American West: Paintings and Films 1900-1950, edited by Marian Wardle and Sarah E. Boehme (see our review) were also finalists.
You can read Ann Poore’s review of The Art and Life of Jimmie Jones here. She recently interviewed the author about his career, writing the book and future plans.
15 Bytes: Hasn’t your interest in the Plateau resulted in some well-received books?
James Aton: I was a jock in school, and that interest in physical activity has translated into a passion for rafting, kayaking, hiking, backpacking and skiing. My love for the Canyon Country led me to my research interests–anything and everything about the Colorado Plateau. I took my first river trip in 1983 on the San Juan and was hooked. That led to my work on John Wesley Powell, then the San Juan [with Robert S. McPherson, River Flowing from the Sunrise: An Environmental History of the Lower San Juan], then The River Knows Everything: Desolation Canyon and the Green with Dan Miller, and so on.
15B: How long did you know Jimmie Jones? How did you come to write the book on him?
JA: I met Jimmie in 1980, right after I arrived in Cedar, and we became friends. I first did an article on him for Southwest Art in ‘85. Later, in 2007, I learned he had emphysema and knew he didn’t have long. I talked my filmmaker colleague and friend Jon Smith into doing a film, “Jimmie Jones: Redrock Painter,” that came out right before he died in 2009 and aired on KUED about a year later. Gibbs Smith approached me in the fall of 2010 and asked me to do the book. He knew Jimmie and had known him for quite a while, I think. Jimmie is one of the best Southwest landscape artists ever but just hasn’t gotten his due. I hope this book, along with the Jim Jones gallery in our new museum, will help get that word out, will make people stand up and take notice.
15B: Did you have trouble writing on someone you knew personally, or was that helpful?
JA: Both. It was helpful in that I knew what his voice sounded like, I knew his sense of humor, I knew how private he was, I had lots of stories in my head. The difficult part was pulling back and trying to be objective, trying to be critical where that was needed. Jimmy was just so beloved; it was hard to find his faults. He was probably one of the best human beings I’ve ever known in my life and I could find 200 people who would say the same thing. He was so much fun to be around. He was a great listener. He loved to laugh and was amazingly well-read.
15B: Was it problematic to discuss Jimmie’s life as a gay man?
JA: Just that some of his family and friends here in Cedar City would have a hard time with that. I knew it would be a touchy subject for some of his siblings — and it was — but we worked through it and they were very supportive and helpful for the whole project.
15B: What was the biggest hurdle in writing the book?
JA: For me, it was the fact that I was not an art historian. I know how to research and write and gather information and tell stories and all that. I asked Gibbs and he said that wasn’t a problem and said you’ll figure it out. I gathered a number of artists from down here and had them look at Jimmie’s work and talk about it and I recorded them as they talked – artists from the area like Arlene Braithwaite and Richard Hardin and others – and credited them in the book.
15B: Was there anything that didn’t fit into the scope of the book that you thought was really interesting?
JA: Jimmie kayaked most of the rivers of the Colorado Plateau and I had stories about those trips that got cut. I wish I had been able to put them in. But the manuscript I turned in was pretty much twice the page limit and twice the number of photos that the contract called for and they could have cut a whole lot more than they did. So I’m very grateful. That’s why they did the double column rather than single column layout with wider margins.
15B: What do you plan to write in future? Do you have a novel in you?
JA: I’m not a novelist, but I have a contract with U of U Press (with Jerry Spangler as lead author) on The Crimson Cowboys: The Remarkable Odyssey of the Claflin Emerson Expedition. In the late 1920s the Peabody Museum at Harvard became interested once again in Utah archaeology. Boston businessmen William H. Claflin Jr., and Raymond Emerson (grandson of Ralph Waldo) took a pack trip to Utah to scout for archaeological possibilities. Encouraged by what they found, they financed four years of research in eastern Utah, focusing on areas like the Green River north of the Colorado, Nine Mile Canyon and the Fremont River. The book should be out in early 2018.
Organization Spotlight: Ogden
The Corner Bookstore
Booked on 25th opens in Ogden
Small, intimate bookshops are hard to find in the hustle and bustle of today’s world focused on electronic gadgets, commerce, and the newest Internet craze. If your mania for Pokemon Go! has finally settled down, now might be the time to discover an old-fashioned reason for getting outside and walking the community -- your local book shop. If you’re in Ogden, Booked on 25th is the place to go, a delightful little corner of the world with endless possibilities.
Down to earth book lover Marcy Rizzi opened Booked on 25ththis summer. It is an eclectic, hole-in-the-wall bookstore for those looking for an uncensored, unbiased selection of works. A former English student, Rizzi jokingly suggested opening a bookstore after she lost funding for undergraduate student aid, but what started as a fantasy has turned into a reality.
“I see my niche in the market as being an ‘uncensored bookstore’ where people can come and find literature and books to read that they don’t have to think deeply about,” Rizzi says.
As you walk into her store you are immediately greeted by locally crafted bookshelves, a cozy reading area and works by local writers prominently displayed. The store’s brand and icon — a raven — pop up all over, giving the place a strong brand while maintaining the feel of an independent bookstore.
Booked on 25th is also a community center. Rizzi holds poetry readings and book launches, both for international bestsellers like the most recent Harry Potter book as well as signings and reading by local authors (usually held on Saturdays). “I also let artists self-publish here,” Rizzi says, “because I support local authors’ work.” She’s also hosted workshops for budding writers.
“I stock new books every week, but it’s been hard keeping anything in stock,” Rizzi observes on the success of the store since opening. “I didn’t think we would get this much business this soon.” She’s currently hiring a couple of part-time booksellers, if anyone’s in the market for work — because when you’re the only employee sick days mean a closed bookstore. In addition to new books Rizzi also sells used books and does custom orders if she doesn’t have something in stock. “I want to bridge gaps in the community through literature; I see my demographic as anyone and everyone.” Marcy Rizzi is all about the community.