Imagine walking through the stacks at a bookstore and picking up a new title from one of your favorite authors. You touch the spine, and the author asks if you have any questions. Yes, you tell her, you would like to know the story behind the story. You want to know what inspired her last, and her most famous book. Are the characters based on real people and events? And if they’re not, how could they seem so real?

She answers your questions, not directly, but poetically, and then she begins to read to you in the voice of her favorite characters the way she intended them to be spoken.

That’s pretty close to the experience of hanging out for the public events this month and next at the Squaw Valley Community of Writer’s Workshop. This is where Pulitzer prize winners, poet laureates, authors so famous that their books have been translated into more languages than you knew existed, and authors yet to be discovered assemble for discussions of craft, readings, and insights into the business of book publishing.


Admissions are competitive, and those who have been offered a spot spend their mornings in small group discussions of craft. But in the spirit of generosity that has imbued the workshop since its inception more than 40 years ago, afternoons and evenings are open to the general public.

A small donation is requested at some events, such as the poetry reading on Thursday, June 27 featuring former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass and Pulitzer-prize winner Sharon Olds, among other poets. But many of the public events are free (with the donation jar at the front door for those so moved).

A week of poetry is followed by the fiction workshop. Highlights of the public lectures include writers like Lynn Freed, a professor of English at U.C. Davis who on Tuesday, July 9, will discuss, “When Enough is Enough: Age and the Creative Impulse.” For those who have never heard Freed speak, her delightful South African accent alone is worth the trip, but her dry, smart sense of humor usually has an audience laughing out loud. The same is reflected in her fiction such as “The Curse of the Appropriate Man,” a short story that became the title of her 2004 collection. “Half a lifetime of appropriate men can leave a woman parched for adventure,” she begins the story of a woman in search of “a man with a few bad habits” who chances upon a “bearded Bavarian in the seventeenth year of his doctoral dissertation.” I won’t spoil it by saying more.

Gill Dennis, who wrote the script for “Walk the Line,” the Johnny Cash story with Joaquin Phoenix in the role of the famous singer, is another writer not to be missed. On Wednesday, July 10 he is slated to offer a lecture on “finding the story,” his approach to plumbing the most powerful personal emotions as a key for unlocking stories.

Many of the well known writers who speak at Squaw also got their start there under the mentoring of the late Oakley Hall, who co-founded the workshop with “Paris Review” Editor Blair Fuller and their wives in 1969. Among them will be Richard Ford, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for “Independence Day.” Ford will be talking on Sunday, July 14 about his new novel, “Canada,” the story of a boy who must fend for himself after his parents are arrested for robbing a bank.

Moonshine Ink will get up close and personal with three Northern California writers speaking at this year’s workshops in our upcoming edition of The Brew. Sign up to receive this free electronic edition monthly at


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