Pacific Northwest writers flock to La Grande Lit Week, project hosted by Eastern's MFA Program in Creative Writing

·2 min read

Jul. 15—LA GRANDE — Eastern Oregon University kicks off the inaugural La Grande Lit Week, July 17-23, a project of the university's Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing that will celebrate writers of the Pacific Northwest.

Nick Neely, assistant professor of English and writing at Eastern, hopes the series of events and conversations will connect local residents with aspiring and established writers alike.

"We're trying to turn outward and make sure that we engage with the public," Neely said.

The week-long event gets underway Sunday, June 17, featuring readings and conversations with faculty and visiting writers in La Grande eateries, coffee shops, bars and landmarks — all free and open to the public. Locals can even attend an evening poetry reading at Morgan Lake.

The week's lineup includes winners of the Oregon Book Awards, the Washington State Book Awards and the Pacific Northwest Book Awards as well as authors touring newly released books and EOU's MFA students.

Faculty and writers will teach classes throughout the week that the public can sign up to participate in. These hour-long community classes cover a range of topics such as "Storytelling Science," "Writing Toward Joy" and "Demystifying Historical Fiction." Registration for each class is $20.

In order to host the week-long project, the MFA program received a grant from the Union County Chamber of Commerce. Neely is hopeful the project will become an annual event.

"I think it's going to be a great tradition for La Grande," he said.

The creative writing program is low residency, meaning students complete most of their degree remotely. This week, many of the two dozen MFA students gathered at Wallowa Lake — at the edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area — for the Summer Fishtrap Gathering of Writers.

As the students make their way back from Wallowa Lake, they will embark on a "Lit Trail," effectively kicking off the week of festivities. This Lit Trail will make four stops beginning at the Jewel Theatre in Elgin and ending at La Grande's Side A Brewing. Award-winning authors and EOU faculty members will share their expertise on "writing about animals" throughout the afternoon.

The MFA staff didn't want Lit Week to occur exclusively on campus. Instead, they hope to highlight the many dimensions of La Grande, by hosting events all around town.

The La Grande community can expect to encounter stories of all kinds throughout the week, from myths about jackalopes to poetry on the complex relationship between grief and happiness.

"We want Lit Week to have a little edge," Neely noted, "but for it to also be family-friendly and open to everyone."

Shannon Golden is a reporter for The Observer. Contact her at 541-624-6015