Paul Lindholdt has done what relatively few East Side writers have done. He’s won a Washington State Book Award.
Lindholdt, an English professor at Eastern Washington University, won in the Biography/Memoir category for his 2011 book “In Earshot of Water: Notes from The Columbia Plateau” (University of Iowa Press). It’s a book his publisher characterizes this way: “Exploring both the literal and literary sense of place, with particular emphasis on environmental issues and politics in the far Northwest, Lindholdt weds passages from the journals of Lewis and Clark, the log of Captain James Cook, the novelized memoir of Theodore Winthrop, and Bureau of Reclamation records growing from the paintings that the agency commissioned to publicize its dams in the 1960s and 1970s, to tell ecological and personal histories of the region he knows and loves.”
The win puts Lindholdt in some rarified company. Since the awards transitioned from the Governor’s Writers Awards in 2001, only handful of east-siders have won, among them Jack Nisbet in 2004 for “Visible Bones: Journey Across Time in the Columbia River Country” and Chris Crutcher in 2002 for “Whale Talk.” Former east-siders Jim Lynch (“Border Songs,” 2010), Sherman Alexie (“The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” 2008) and Timothy Egan (“The Big Burn,” 2010, and “The Worst Hard Time,” 2006) have won. Spokane’s Jess Walter has been a finalist three times.
This year’s winners will receive a $300 honorarium and will be honored with a celebration on Oct. 3 at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle. Lindholdt took some time to answer email question about his win, his book, and what the future holds.
Q. What was your reaction to winning the Washington State Book Award in Biography/Memoir?
A. First I thought it might have been an obligatory nod to the dry side of the Cascades. Few people east of the mountains have won. On better reflection, though, I felt so honored by the judges. They hail from UW, WSU, Elliott Bay Books, Poetry Northwest magazine, the community colleges, and the King County Libraries. They had a tough job to do.
Q. What was your impetus for writing “In Earshot of Water”?
A. To effect social change vis-à-vis the environment. If you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, lyricism might sway more people away from trashing the planet. Also I wanted to celebrate our gorgeous corner of the nation and describe how it has leavened some heavy personal losses in my life.
Q. What do you hope people take away from the book?
A.That there is a certain allure to the Inland Northwest which pundits on the coast have overlooked. I came of age in Seattle and Vashon Island, but I treasure the Columbia Plateau. A couple years ago Karen (his wife) and I heard a Seattle DJ joke, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that Snoqualmie Pass is finally open. The bad news is that it still leads to Eastern Washington.”
Q. How has it been to see your name bandied about with the likes of John McPhee and Barry Lopez?
A. I admire them, but I’m not worthy to carry their lunch. Years ago I fell so hard under the influence of John McPhee that I had to stop reading him. Another less-evident presence is Annie Dillard. As an undergrad I studied with her, as did my good friend Dan Butterworth at Gonzaga University.
Q. What are you working on now?
A. Several projects are keeping me busy, when I have time away from more important work as a parent and a teacher of my fine students at EWU. One project is a collection of travel essays. Another is a study of environmental visual arts. Yet another is a book of original poetry set in 17th-century America.