Gunnison Valley Literary Festival features top literary names as well as locals

August 8 through Sunday, August 11

By Dawne Belloise

Writing happens in many forms; poetry, journalism, stories, novels, songwriting and so much more will be covered in the Gunnison Valley Literary Festival, running through Sunday, August 11, with a host of experienced and expert mentors who will be conducting workshops.

Brooke Harless MacMillan, literary arts director at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts, is excited for the festival and says, “The festival is a celebration of beautiful language and powerful stories featuring workshops, panel discussions, readings, storytelling and other dynamic and spontaneous literary activities to provide inspiration for writers and readers alike.”

Friday begins with a favorite, local Crested Butte creative non-fiction and place-based writer Molly Murfee. Her workshop, Rooting Into Place, is a relaxed start after initial festival registration, and caffeination, of course, as Molly takes you for an inspirational slow saunter into the woods. “We’ll initiate the day with a slow saunter in nature, sipping in the place, heightening our awareness and loosening up our creativity through readings of dreamy poetry and exploratory writing prompts. Root down in the forests and fields to discover this mountain environment’s both flagrant and nuanced personas. What is it trying to communicate? To teach? What metaphors lurk in its elements?,” Molly says. She adds to be sure to “Bring your coffee mug and small backpack to carry a journal, writing utensil, water and jacket.”

Molly holds bachelor and master of arts degrees in literature, creative writing and nature and environmental writing, specializing in the incorporation of outdoor experiential education into academic programs.

Her regional and national by-lines include The Mountain Gazette, Powder Magazine, Patagonia-Japan, Telemark Skier, Backcountry Magazine, Cross Country Skier Magazine, San Juan Horseshoe, ClimateEdu and Solar Today. Individual event passes for Molly’s workshop can be purchased online at the Crested Butte Center for the Art website, For more information about Molly, visit her website at

One of the big names in the literary world is best-selling author and journalist Helen Thorpe. Her Friday workshop at the Public House, Learn to Read Like a Writer, will guide attendees through examples of great writing by authors such as Dave Eggers, Susan Orlean and Alexis Okeowo. Thorpe will work with you to unpack what is most effective in your work, and how a writer can achieve the desired effects.

Thorpe was born in London to Irish parents. She is the author of three books, Just Like Us, Soldier Girls, and The Newcomers. Her books are works of narrative non-fiction that document in a human and intimate way the lives of immigrants, refugees and veterans of foreign conflicts. Thorpe’s magazine journalism has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Texas Monthly, Westword, Chalkbeat and 5280.

From the time humans first learned to write, poetry has been inspired by life, from love to hate, loneliness and isolation to the wonders of the natural world. Brian Calvert, poet, writer and managing editor at the award-winning High Country News, will lead the workshop Poetics of the Alpine Sublime, which, he says, “will highlight the ways that poetry has developed over the centuries to help humans contemplate their place in the natural world, from ancient Greek philosophers to modern American poets. Writers attending will learn how word choice and formal verse patterns can be combined with observations in nature to create deep, meaningful poetry.” The event will be held on the Outdoor Stage at the Center for the Arts Friday afternoon.

Calvert grew up in Wyoming, and graduated from the University of Northern Colorado in 1994 with a BA in English and minors in writing and media studies. He has worked as a foreign correspondent, writer, audio journalist and most recently, a Ted Scripps Fellow in environmental journalism at the University of Colorado. He also earned an MFA in poetry at Western Colorado University. After extensive time in Cambodia, China and Afghanistan, Calvert says he has a new appreciation for the West and is thrilled to be back and working to regain his mountain hardiness.

Finding your voice is a common theme in writing. Led by this year’s winner of the Karen Chamberlain Award for Lifetime Achievement in Colorado Poetry, Chris Ransick will present The Next Voice You Hear, a fast-paced, creative session that will address how to set loose your voice and then pursue it. Participants will move through a series of writing and critical exercises meant to generate new work and new insight into extending and developing initial drafts of poems.

Songs are essentially poetry set to music. Award-winning local singer-songwriter and chanteuse Rachel Van Slyke will explore the art of songwriting in this workshop. Whether you’re a complete novice or experienced performer or simply a singer in the shower, Rachel will share her expertise of the unique process and magic of songwriting, and how to use techniques of imagery and specificity, lyric-focused techniques, effective song structure and rhyming to allow the songwriter to unleash his or her unique potential. No prior experience or instruments are required and this event will be held Friday at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts. Afterwards, at 5:30 p.m., there will be a free concert (cocktails available) with Rachel and friends, at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts.

Saturday events in Gunnison start off with a breakfast bar at the Firebrand Delicatessen at 9 a.m. and move into what will be an enjoyable and fascinating workshop with Poet Laureate of the High Mountains Art Goodtimes, presenting Poetry & Storytelling Gourd Circle. Actor, director and playwright Steven Cole Hughes leads the workshop, Playwriting: Use Your Words. Moving Through Nature is the session presented by poet and Western Colorado University MFA director Tyson Hausdoerffer at 1 p.m.

Writer’s block is a frustrating reality. Winter Ross will teach Beating the Beast of Block: A Workshop for Creatives Who Need to Nudge the Muse. The day will culminate with Open Mic Readings at Black Stock Bistro at 5:30 p.m., and at 6:45 p.m. there will be Evening Readings and Karen Chamberlain Award Ceremony featuring Chris Ransick, Art Goodtimes and Tyson Hausdoerffer.

Oftentimes, creatives are their own worst critics and Sunday’s only event deals with that very issue in Write in the Now: A Liberating Workshop Centered on Silencing Your Inner Critic So Your Writing Can Speak Freely. Led by award-winning visiting writer Daniel Will Harries, the event is from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
There’s really something for everyone at this valley-wide literary festival, so don’t hesitate to find your inner writer, your style, your voice and your creativity.

Literary Festival schedule of events

Please note all events are included in the full Festival Pass with Friday Only or Saturday Only Day passes including all events for just that day. Prices given below are for attending that single event only.

Thursday, August 8 (Gunnison)

5:30 p.m. Kick off happy hour. High Alpine Brewery. Meet and mingle with other festival-goers and enjoy locally crafted brews and bites. Free. Food and drink purchases on your own.

Friday, August 9 (Crested Butte)

8 to 10 a.m. “Rooting Into Place” Poetry Breakfast & Coffee Saunter. Initiate the day with a slow saunter in nature, heightening your awareness and loosening up your creativity with readings and writing prompts. Register, pick up breakfast and coffee and set out for the woods. Led by creative non-fiction place-based author Molly Murfee. Meet at Three Ladies Park on Butte Avenue. $20.

10:15 to 11:15 a.m. Putting the “Creative” in Non-fiction. Tell the wildest, funniest or most captivating stories. Construct a rich narrative lifting your characters and setting off the page. Create realistic dialogue, and bring the five senses to life. Led by Colorado Book Award finalist Susan Devan Harness. At the Public House. $35.

11:20 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. Reading Like a Writer. Learn to read like a writer. Explore great authors such as Dave Eggers, Susan Orlean and Alexis Okeowo, unpack their effectiveness and how they achieved the desired effects. Led by best-selling author and journalist Helen Thorpe. At the Public House. $20.

12:30 to 1:15 p.m. Shakespeare & Streetfood. Shakespeare’s audiences historically noshed on street food during the play. This Elizabethan lunch-hour of Shakespearean monologues features actor, director, playwright and Western Colorado Theater director Steven Cole Hughes, award-winning actress Heather Nicolson Hughes and local thespians Sam and Jillian Liebl. At Tin Cup Pasty Company. Free to drop in. Food for purchase on your own.

1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Poetics of the Alpine Sublime. From ancient Greek philosophers to modern Americans, poetry helps humans contemplate their place in the natural world. Experience how word choice and formal verse patterns combine with observations in nature to create deep, meaningful poetry. Led by poet and writer Brian Calvert. On the Center’s Outdoor Stage. $20.

1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Songwriting Workshop with Rachel VanSlyke. Get inspired and unleash your own unique potential in songwriting with tools and techniques such as imagery, specificity, structure and rhyming. All levels welcome. Led by award-winning singer-songwriter Rachel VanSlyke. At the Center for the Arts. $40.

4 to 5:30 p.m. The Next Voice You Hear: A Voice-Shifting Workshop. This fast-paced, creative session shows you how to set your voice loose and then pursue it. Move through writing and critical exercises generating new work and insights. Led by the 2019 Karen Chamberlain Award Winner for Lifetime Achievement in Colorado Poetry Chris Ransick. At the Public House. $20.

5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Cocktail Hour & Music with Rachel VanSlyke & Friends. Commune with fellow writers and festival-goers over drinks and bites and enjoy the musical stylings of Rachel VanSlyke and participants of her songwriting workshop. In the Center Lobby. Free.

6:45 p.m. Evening Readings & Karen Chamberlain Award Ceremony. With Colorado Book Award finalist Susan Harness; High Country News editor in chief Brian Calvert; and a keynote address from bestselling writer and journalist Helen Thorpe. Cash bar available. At the Center Stage. $10

7:30 p.m. Dinner at Bonez. Head to the Bonez back room for dinner. All are welcome and folks pay on their own.

Saturday, August 10 (Gunnison)

9 to 9:30 a.m. Breakfast Bar by The Firebrand Delicatessen. Enjoy breakfast and coffee at the Gunnison Arts Center while wandering its beautiful galleries filled with local art.

9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Poetry & Storytelling Gourd Circle with Art Goodtimes. Explore Dolores LaChapelle’s bardic poetry insights and her Way of the Mountain practice. Bring a short poem by you or someone else. Led by Poet Laureate of the High Mountains Art Goodtimes. At the Gunnison Arts Center.

11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Lunch on your own. Take in the views and explore Gunnison’s fine array of independent restaurants and coffee shops.

1 to 3 p.m. Playwriting: Use Your Words. Learn the basics of the art of dramatic storytelling and practice writing active dialogue. No experience necessary. Led by Steven Cole Hughes. At the Gunnison Arts Center.

1 to 3 p.m. Moving Through Nature. How does movement affect our awareness of our environment, of ourselves and of our relation to our environment? Look at great writing examples about motion, then convey your most powerful experiences of moving through nature. Open to all experiences and genres. Led by Tyson Hausdoerffer, director of WCU’s Graduate Creative Writing Program. At the Gunnison Arts Center.

3:15 to 5:15 p.m. Beating the Beast of Block: A workshop for creatives who need to nudge the Muse. Writer and artist Winter Ross offers insights into the causes and cures of the common Creative Block through discussion, presentation, participation, handouts and unusual writing exercises. At the Gunnison Arts Center.

5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Open Mic Readings. Come together for cocktails, appetizers and poetry and prose readings in an open and supportive atmosphere. Bring a polished piece, or something you’ve crafted over the festival. Five- to 10-minute limit. At Blackstock Bistro. Free.

6:45 p.m. Evening Readings. Emceed by poet-laureate-of-the-high-mountains Art Goodtimes, enjoy readings with short-story writer and essayist Winter Ross; poet and director of the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Western Colorado University Tyson Hausdoerffer; and poet and Karen Chamberlain Award winner Chris Ransick. At the Gunnison Arts Center. Cash bar available. $10.

Sunday, August 11 (Crested Butte)

9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Write in the Now. A liberating workshop centered on silencing your inner critic so your characters can speak freely. Find deeper, more compelling stories, discover emotionally rich new works and create surprisingly detailed stories. Led by best-selling author, teacher, designer and performer Daniel Will-Harris. At Evolve Co-Working Space at 111 Elk Avenue. $35.

Festival passes and individual event tickets. Multiple pass opportunities are available. Full Festival Pass: $100; Friday or Saturday Only Day Pass: $55; Evening Readings: $10; Students: $25 per day. Individual event passes for some events also available. For a full schedule, pricing and tickets visit

The Gunnison Valley Literary Festival is presented by partnerships with the Center for the Arts in Crested Butte, Western Colorado University Graduate Program in Creative Writing, the Gunnison Arts Center, Townie Books and the Telluride Institute.

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