Conference History and Archives
Conference History and Archives
The Founding and Early Years of Writing the Rockies, by Corinne Brown
I was a member of the Denver Woman's Press Club back in 1998 when I met a PR girl at a holiday party there who lived in La Veta. Gunnison was one of her accounts. She was hoping to round up 10 freelance journalists to come to Gunnison during the summer to write about it for various magazines—I opted in. On a two-day junket that took us all over the valley that next June, we finally settled down at the Italian restaurant on the edge of town and she asked the big question; what could anyone suggest that might bring a more diverse clientele to the area besides the usual hook and bullet crowd?
I suggested a writer's conference capitalizing on the region's heritage and history. "Who would do that?" she asked. Since I was also a member of Western Writers of America, a literary organization, I thought it might make a nice marketing event for us, too—gathering in more people interested in contemporary Western literature. I got voted in.
Later that year I met Larry at a WWA conference and suggested we collaborate. He liked the idea. The WWA board agreed and said: Go ahead, do it. So I dove in, with no knowledge at all really how to go about it. But Larry and I succeeded, and with the help of numerous WWA colleagues, we pulled off the first summer with 25 students, only slightly in the red.
Each year averaged about the same number of registrants but, lesson learned, I succeeded in getting donations from various sources to underwrite the expenses. We never made money but we always broke even. I paid my faculty an honorarium and gave them free room and board (the dorms). I myself never took a penny.
We tried to create a total immersion in the Western landscape and experience at first, with local poet and outfitter John Nelson's help. We offered trail rides, a ranch barbecue, the rodeo, the annual chuck wagon cook-off, and Western music, the latter being the one element that stuck and grew. The final year I was in charge, we had over 1,000 people gathered in the town's skating rink. We borrowed chairs from everywhere!! Tourists actually planned their vacations to return in time for this event, they loved it so much.
The keynote speakers were all individuals who excelled in their craft; somehow I have lost the files of the final year under my leadership. I feel badly about this. Our final keynote was the brilliant professor and writer from Montana, Dan Flores. He was wonderful.
At this conference, lifelong friendships were made, romances struck. I met a young cowboy who signed up for one day with whom I later wrote a book, Sanctuary Ranch. As you probably know, Laurie Wagner Buyer and WC Jameson fell in love and got married. In all, I discovered a wonderful community, a beautiful college and made wonderful friends. I look back on it all as my special cowboy camp and literary fiesta. I am grateful to have been a part of something so wonderful and so long lived!
I have to close by telling you that the woman in charge of the local Gunnison Chamber of Commerce told me that I succeeded in four years what the town had not been able to do in 20—she was in awe that a "housewife from Denver" could see what they couldn't.
Writing the Rockies: A Brief History, by Larry K. Meredith
Way back before the turn of the century, in late 1999, I was serving as Assistant to the President and Director of Public Relations for Western Colorado University (then Western State College). Corinne Brown, a freelance writer from Denver, visited Gunnison as part of a group of travel writers and quickly fell in love with the area.
Corinne came to my office to say she thought the area and especially the university would be a perfect location for a writer's conference. She wanted to know if I would be interested in helping get one established. I considered the idea for at least a full second before telling her I thought it was a wonderful idea.
Both Corinne and I were members of Western Writers of America (WWA) and we approached the group’s leadership about endorsing such a workshop. When they enthusiastically agreed, we decided to call the workshop “Writing the West: The Gunnison Creative Writers Workshop.”
In the summer of 2000 the first workshop convened with about 15 participants and a faculty of noted writers of Western literature that included Elmer Kelton, named in 2009 the “All-Time Best Western Author” by the WWA; Don Coldsmith, author of dozens of books (notably “The Spanish Bit” series) with more than 6 million books in print; and others including Jon Chandler, W. J. Jameson and Mike Blakely.
Over the next two years we added a concert of Western music called “Singing the West” and even joined forces with a massive chuck wagon cook-off ramrodded by Cliff Goss that helped attract a crowd of 800 people to the concert after the evening meal.
As interest in the workshop grew and attendance increased, respected authors in a number of genres from throughout the U.S. agreed to serve as faculty members. Published writers and those hoping to join their ranks came to Gunnison from across the country and even from abroad.
The university embraced the workshop and gave it its wholehearted support, helping it earn even more respect and leading to a move of venue from one campus building to a larger facility for general sessions and to additional buildings for small group meetings.
Beginning in 2010, with the advent of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Western and with the leadership of Dr. Mark Todd (founder of that program), the workshop has come under the umbrella of that academic program and has grown even more quickly. Dr. Todd brought in faculty members with world-class credentials who also became faculty members for Writing the Rockies, giving the workshop even more prestige.
In 2014, Dr. David J. Rothman, a nationally recognized poet, assumed the role of Director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing and has used his national persona to attract additional faculty members with notable credentials and substantial publications and awards. As of 2015, Writing the Rockies has become a major literary event not only in the region, but also the entire West. I am honored to have had the opportunity to set it in motion—long may it thrive.