April 8, 2012 in Features

In addition to readings, Get Lit adds hoops, music, whiskey and pie

By The Spokesman-Review
Courtesy photo

Rick Bass, a Montana author nationally noted for his writings on man’s relationship to wilderness, will be a featured guest at Get Lit! on April 14, 2012.
(Full-size photo)

If you go

Get Lit! Festival

What: A celebration of writing sponsored by Eastern Washington University

When: Tuesday through April 15

Where: Various venues

Tickets: $15 for the headlining events, available through TicketsWest, (800) 325-SEAT or www.ticketswest.com. College students free with valid ID. Dozens of other readings, poetry slams and panel discussions are free.

More information: Visit www.ewu.edu/getlit for a complete schedule. Printed programs are available on newsstands throughout the Inland Northwest.

If the term “literary festival” conjures up a kind of droning sound – readings in tweed – this week’s Get Lit! Festival might startle you.

It will have:

• A basketball game.

• An “astral art-folk” string band.

• A theatrical performance.

• A late night “pie and whiskey” bash.

Eastern Washington University’s annual literature festival will also, of course, have plenty of readings, but these authors aren’t exactly the droning type. Headliners include Colson Whitehead, whose latest book is a zombie-gore extravaganza; Steve Almond, a literary stand-up satirist; and Lois Lowry, who helped entire generations of American kids get through middle school.

“I can’t stress enough how excited I am to have so many of these great authors,” said Melissa Huggins, the Get Lit! program coordinator.

And then there’s the best-known name of the festival, Susan Orlean, who has something in common with Margaret Thatcher, Julia Child and Karen Silkwood. Meryl Streep has portrayed them all.

In Orlean’s case, it was 2002’s “Adaptation.” What, exactly, goes through a person’s mind upon seeing Streep on the big screen, pretending to be you?

“Shock and awe,” said Orlean, reached via email while traveling in Italy.

Orlean is best-known for “The Orchid Thief,” the nonfiction book that provided the inspiration for “Adaptation.” She is also revered for her brilliant New Yorker pieces, many of which were collected in 2002’s “The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup.”

Her reading here will center on a book that has far more bark than drone, “Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend.” It’s a riveting biography of the most famous dog ever to come out of Hollywood – a series of dogs, really. Orlean, famous for her profiles of people, set herself an unusual challenge.

“Writing with a nonverbal main character presents all the challenges you can imagine – not a single quote was available, not a bit of internal monologue could be presented,” Orlean said. “Also, there’s a risk that writing about a dog could seem trivial or sentimental.”

She overcame those problems partly through a technique that has become her trademark. It’s not only a story of Rin Tin Tin’s life; it’s a vivid look at the time and place that produced her main character – Hollywood from the 1920s through the 1950s.

During her research, she came to realize that many of the people who were drawn to Rin Tin Tin were “fatherless” or “motherless” or had a “persistent absence in their lives.”

How did Rin Tin Tin help fill that gap?

“The love a dog provides – constant and unqualified – is a kind of connection that is almost an idealized version of parental love,” Orlean said. “I also think lonely people want to feel wordlessly understood, which is how we often feel about our relationship with our pets.”

Both her American editor and British editor were a little wary of this story when Orlean proposed it. They were not exactly dog-lovers. In fact both were “staunch dog-skeptics,” she said. They were won over.

“I wrote the book with the idea that you didn’t need to love dogs to care about it,” Orlean said.

Her reading will be 7 p.m. Thursday at the Bing Crosby Theater. Tickets are $15. The deadpan satirical Almond is also on the bill, which should make a bracing contrast.

The Get Lit! schedule is far too large to include here. It requires, literally, a 32-page program,

But here are some highlights, in chronological order:

• HooPalousa at Get Lit! – This is a benefit basketball game featuring, among others, former Gonzaga University stars David Pendergraft, Cory Violette and Casey Calvary.

What’s literary about it? It will also feature local writers Jess Walter, Shann Ray and Tod Marshall, along with an assortment of author-coaches.

The original HooPalousa proved a success last year when it attracted hundreds of spectators at the University of Idaho. It’s free, and it’s a benefit for the American Indian Graduate Fellowship in Creative Writing at the UI (donations will be requested).

This is actually a pre-festival event, 7 p.m. Monday at Whitworth University’s gym.

• Keith Boykin – Boykin is a commentator and writer on gay and minority issues and has been in demand recently for his perspective on the Trayvon Martin case. Boykin will appear at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Lair Auditorium at Spokane Community College, 1810 N. Greene St., and 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the Hagan Foundation Center for the Humanities, Building 16 at SCC. Both are free.

• Pie and Whiskey Reading – A number of festival authors and local authors will get together after the Orlean-Almond reading for “flash” readings of poetry, fiction and nonfiction – while eating pie and drinking whiskey.

Why pie? Because one of the poets is Seattle’s Kate Lebo, known for her pie-baking.

Why whiskey? Because they’re writers.

It happens at 9:30 p.m. Thursday at the Woman’s Club, 1428 W. Ninth Ave., and you must be over 21 to attend.

• An Evening With Jess Walter and Colson Whitehead – Whitehead will read from his latest novel, “Zone One,” described as a mix of “zombie gore and social satire.” Spokane novelist Walter will read from his upcoming novel, “Beautiful Ruins,” and might also throw in his own satirical foray into zombie fiction. They’ll read at 7 p.m. Friday at the Bing Crosby Theater, $15.

• Isabel Wilkerson – She’s the author of the acclaimed “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” about African-Americans moving north in the early decades of the 20th century. This reading is a free, non-ticketed event at noon Saturday at EWU Spokane’s Riverpoint campus, Phase 1 Building auditorium.

• Rick Bass and Stellarondo – Bass is the Montana author of “Nashville Chrome” and many books of nature writing. Stellarondo is a Montana string band with whom Bass has developed a collaboration. Bass will read his short stories while Stellarondo provides atmospheric music. Think of it as a reading with a live score. Saturday, 7 p.m., Spokane Masonic Center, 1108 W. Riverside Ave., $15.

• Lois Lowry and The American Place Theatre – Lowry is the beloved author of young adult novels, including “The Giver.” Her reading has generated more interest than anything on the Get Lit! calendar, Huggins said. That’s partly because her books have meant so much to entire generations and partly because schools are bringing entire classes of middle-schoolers.

The other half of the evening will be a one-person theater presentation of “The Giver,” produced by the American Place Theatre’s Literature to Life program, in which books are brought to life onstage. It all happens at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Bing Crosby Theater, $15, but free to all youth and students.

• In Conversation With Ted Kooser – He’s the former U.S. poet laureate and one of the best-known poets in America. You might be familiar with his weekly poetry column, published in these pages. Poet Russell Thorburn opens for Kooser, 11:30 a.m. April 15, at the Lincoln Center, 1216 N. Lincoln St., $15.

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