Mountain Writers Series


Started in 1973 as a campus reading series at a community college in Gresham, Mountain Writers Series [MWS] was quick to establish itself as a leading literary presenter in the Pacific Northwest. Among the writers who read at the college in the early years were Robert Hass, Richard Hugo, Lawson Fusao Inada, Carolyn Kizer, Morton Marcus, Sandra McPherson, Charles Simic, William Stafford, Mark Strand, Vern Rutsala, David Wagoner, as well as Pulitzer Prize winner W. S. Merwin, who was featured for the first Northwest Regional Residency – or block booking of events – that MWS scheduled and what would be soon known as the signature program that distinguished Mountain Writers Series during three decades to come.

In the 1980s, with such literary partners as the Academy of American Poets and the Lannan Foundation, MWS extended residencies throughout Oregon and beyond – to Alaska, Montana, California, Washington and Idaho – linking literary presenters throughout the region in a shared goal to feature the finest of national and international writers. The luminaries in the next decade included Nobel Laureates, Poet Laureates, and recipients of nearly every major national or international literary prize. Among the featured authors were Sherman Alexie, Maggie Anderson, Eavan Boland, Rita Dove, Katherine Dunn, Cornelius Eady, Carolyn Forché, Alice Fulton, Tess Gallagher, Linda Gregg, Thom Gunn, Donald Hall, Brenda Hillman, Denis Johnson, Donald Justice, Galway Kinnell, August Kleinzhaler, Bill Knott, Yusef Komunyakaa, Maxine Kumin, Li-Young Lee, Philip Levine, Czeslaw Milosz, Sharon Olds, Dennis Schmitz, Gerald Stern, Joseph Stroud, Diane Wakoski, Derek Walcott, Ann Waldman, C. K. Williams and Al Young, to name just a few. Writers were eager to participate in MWS readings and extended residencies, and the programming expanded accordingly.

In the ‘90s, with support from nearly one hundred literary presenters in the region, MWS became a 501(c)(3) and in 1995 founded Mountain Writers Center in Portland.

The next decade included Agha Shahid Ali, Linda Bierds, Bei Dao, Lucille Clifton, Billy Collins, Madeline DeFrees, Stephen Dobyns, Mark Doty, Stephen Dunn, Martin Espada, Jack Gilbert, Eamon Grennan, Bob Hicok, Jane Hirshfield, Tony Hoagland, Dorianne Laux, Denise Levertov, Heather McHugh, Lisel Mueller, David Mura, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Simone de Piero, Paisley Rekdal, David St. John, Louis Simpson, James Tate, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Dara Weir, Robert Wrigley and more. 

In 2002, Mountain Writers Series became part of Carried Voices: Writers and Books in the West, a consortium project that included Poets & Writers, Inc., WESTAF (Western States Arts Federation), Mountain Writers Series (OR), and The Writer’s Voice/Billings Family YMCA (MT), and for one year Washington State Center for the Book, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. The project’s goal was to increase access to and engagement with award-winning writers in under-served or rural communities in five Western states – California, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. By developing a new model for writers’ residencies, creating a stronger Western literary presenting network, and more effectively linking publishers, presenters and communities, the project increased the interaction between authors and audiences in the region. For six years, the key partners annually scheduled dozens of events featuring prize-winning authors from the Western States, among them Sandra Alcosser, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Judy Blunt, Ron Carlson, Larry Colton, Tom Crawford, Claire Davis, David James Duncan, Gary Ferguson, Lawson Inada, William Kittredge, David Romtvedt, Vern Rutsala and Tom Spanbauer.

With its own program of readings and workshops continuing, as well as the on-going Northwest Regional Residencies that toured writers through the Pacific Northwest, Mountain Writers Series took another step to improve the literary landscape in the region. After three years of design and research, in 2004 Mountain Writers Series launched with a partner university the first low-residency MFA in creative writing in the region, a program that in its third year was named among the top five programs of its sort by Atlantic Monthly, and which has continued to thrive, though Mountain Writers’ affiliation has ceased. Among the core faculty that Mountain Writers Series brought to the program were Alison Apotheker, Marvin Bell, Clare Davis, Madeline DeFrees, Debra Magpie Earling, Pete Fromm, William Kittredge, Elinor Langer, Dorianne Laux, David Long, Joseph Millar, Valerie Miner, Pattiann Rogers, John Rember, Vern Rutsala, Peter Sears, Kathleen Tyau and special guest authors David James Duncan, Molly Gloss, Christopher Howell, Yusef Komunyakaa, Sharon Olds, among others.

To be continued.




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