This post originally appeared on the Aspen Institute blog on November 21, 2017
Aspen Words will welcome some of America’s leading authors — including Pulitzer Prize winners, New York Times best-sellers, and the US Poet Laureate — to the 21st Winter Words series, taking place January to April 2018. From a coming-of-age surf memoir to a new novel on the immigrant experience, their work represents distinctive voices and storytelling at its finest. If you can’t make it to Winter Words to hear them speak, you can still enjoy their writing.
Notable book:Barbarian Days chronicles Finnegan’s lifelong love of surfing, which began during his childhood in California and Hawaii in the 1950s and 1960s and eventually took him around the globe in search of perfect waves. The book topped President Barack Obama’s 2016 summer reading list.
On writing about surfing for non-surfers:Barbarian Days is for “the general reader, who’s usually not a surfer,” Finnegan told Outside Online. “I try to ease people into the water, keep them oriented, introduce the terms of art without dumbing things down. Give readers a stake in every surf scene, not necessarily through the action, but through the characters, or through the character of the break — every spot is different…and some are Shakespearean, worth a book in themselves.”
CHRISTINA BAKER KLINE
Literary cred: Kline is the author of seven novels, including Orphan Train, a No. 1 New York Times best-seller that was published in 40 countries.
Notable book:A Piece of the World, published this year, is a fictionalized portrait of Christina Olson, the real-life inspiration for artist Andrew Wyeth’s famous 1948 painting “Christina’s World.”
On her Maine roots: Kline grew up in Maine, like Christina Olson, with parents who were “sort of counterculture in the 60s and 70s,” she told The Montclair Local. Her family lived on a small island there without running water, heat, or electricity. “We lived like she did, in this primitive way that was actually pretty livable,” Kline told the paper.
Literary cred: McDermott is the author of eight novels, including Charming Billy, winner of the National Book Award, and After This, At Weddings and Wakes, and That Night, all finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.
Notable book: Her latest novel, The Ninth Hour, published in 2017, is the story of an order of nuns and the people they serve in Irish-Catholic Brooklyn in the early 20th Century. The Boston Globe called the book “a tour de force.”
On nuns: In McDermott’s view, nuns have gotten a bad rap. “A lot of the stereotypes…[come] from writers looking at the nuns from 6-year-old eyes and from their childhood memories–that they were mean, they were scary, they screamed at us, that they said stupid things about not wearing patent leather shoes,” the author told The Baltimore Sun. “That childish point of view has corrupted our understanding of the good the nuns did– tremendous good–and of what an opportunity entering the convent presented for women at a certain time. The nuns weren’t all sadists. … They were ambitious women.”
TRACY K. SMITH
Literary cred: Smith began her tenure as the 22nd U.S. Poet Laureate in fall 2017, and is the author of three books of poetry, including Life on Mars, which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize.
Notable book: Her memoir, Ordinary Light, was published in 2015. Smith told Poets & Writers Magazine: “In writing this book, I was forced to speak about and into many of the silences that ran through my life: silence about race, silence about the painful features of African American history, silence about my own choice to turn away from or re-envision the religious faith I was raised in.”
Next up: Her latest collection of poems, Wade in the Water, will be released in April 2018.
LUIS ALBERTO URREA
Literary cred: Urrea was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his work of nonfiction, The Devil’s Highway, and is the best-selling author of the novels The Hummingbird’s Daughter, Into the Beautiful North, and Queen of America, as well as the short story collection The Water Museum, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist.
Notable Book:The Devil’s Highway is the true story of 26 men who tried to cross into the U.S. from Mexico. Only 12 of them survived. The Boston Globe said Urrea, who was born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and an American mother, “writes about US-Mexican border culture with a tragic and beautiful intimacy that has no equal.”