Plein Air Rising

I wrote in a 2012 GYPO blog post about participating in a special writing event in the Columbia Gorge every fall, the Plein Air Writing Exhibition. In fact, I ran the event for a couple years and launched the first online anthology in 2008. Next to the Oregon Book Awards, it was my favorite literary event of the year. I liked that it was different writing from what I was usually doing, short fiction and essays. I liked that it was an excuse to sit outside for hours at a time, simply observing things and not feeling like I ought to be cleaning out the chicken coop or mending fence.

When I was invited to serve as the Harney County Writer-in-Residence in 2010, I based my curriculum for everyone I worked with—from kindergarteners to adults—on this experience of writing en plein air. We all bundled up and went outside, ignoring the springtime chill, and observed: What do we see? What do we hear? What do we feel? The younger kids dictated their thoughts to me; the older kids and adults wrote their own pieces. These, too, were collected in an anthology.

Students in Diamond laboring over their work

Students in Diamond laboring over their work

It was especially cold for this workshop in Burns!

It was especially cold for this workshop in Burns!

Over the years, I have accumulated a manuscript’s worth of pieces. I’ve published a few—in the Plein Air anthologies of course, but also in High Desert Journal and Eclectic Flash, and submitted them to Literary Arts’ Oregon Literary Fellowships program. This year, they appealed to judge Amy Leach, and I was awarded a fellowship!

Many years ago (1999 – 2006) I ran this very program myself, and so it means a great deal to me to be recognized by it. I know, intimately, how much work it is for program manager Susan Denning, so I want to take the opportunity to publicly recognize her efforts to keep the OLFs running smoothly.

I also want to thank the Columbia Center for the Arts (CCA) for keeping the Plein Air Writing Exhibition going for nine years. And Pat Case, whose idea it was originally to add a writing component to the painting competition, and who invited me to participate in the first event.

Plein Air writing on display in CCA gallery, 2010

Plein Air writing on display in CCA gallery, 2010

The nonfiction judge, Amy Leach, wrote this about the manuscript:

“In each of her short and radiant portraits of the Columbia River Gorge, Kristy Athens captures a distinct moment in a distinct place. Entering imaginatively into the disparate purposes of basalt, dahlias, spent strawberries and antiquated stairways, she writes with fellow feeling and wit about a remarkable range of lives, thrilling with the quiddity of each. A prosperous pear tree throws away perfect fruit; an obsolete tractor is revived by its own exploding boiler; solitary ponderosas leave the observer ‘pondering deep-rooted complexity.’ These encounters of a sympathetic, nimble mind with a marvelous place remind us of the limitlessness of life.”

Wow! You can view some of the pieces included in this collection via my website: scroll down to the Basalt Becomes You section.

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