Kamas-based author Richardson wins Utah Book Award
At the beginning of the Utah Humanities Council’s Utah Book Festival that is taking place through the end of October at the Salt Lake City Public Library, Kamas resident Barbara K. Richardson was one of two Utah-based authors that were announced as Utah Book Award winners.
Richardson’s historical novel, "Tributary," received the fiction award and Weber County-native Val Holley’s "25th Street Confidential: Drama, Decadence, and Dissipation along Ogden’s Rowdiest Road" was given the nonfiction award.
The award came as a shock to Richardson.
"My book came out in 2012 and there was no book award that year, so I didn’t think I had a chance," Richardson said during an interview with The Park Record. "But I received an invitation and the night was a beautiful and brief ceremony. They didn’t ask us to talk, which was good for me, and just showed the cover and invited me up. It was fantastic."
"Tributary" is about the history of Brigham City and the River Raft Valley found near the Utah and Idaho border and focuses on two main characters, Clair and Ada. Ada is a stoic member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Clair, while a member of the church, doesn’t want to conform to its teachings.
The novel was 20 years coming, according to its author.
"I originally wrote one book about Clair’s life and that book didn’t sell, and then I wrote a sequel, which was a crazy idea, and that also didn’t sell," Richardson said. "So, I fused the two novels together and that nearly sold, but after that, I threw the book in the closet in despair and worked on something else."
That something was another book called "Guest House."
"That was a contemporary story because I wasn’t about to write another historical novel," said Richardson, who cited George Eliot, Willa Cather, Jane Austen, E.M. Forster and John Hasler as her influences. "But after four years of avoiding ‘Tributary,’ I pulled it out and worked on it for another two years."
following the advice of her editor at Torrey House Press, Richardson wrote a different ending to "Tributary."
"That was something I wouldn’t have been able to write if I didn’t have the experiences I had in the past couple of years in my life at that time," she said.
When "Tributary" finally hit the presses, Mormons were in the news. Mitt Romney was running for president and "The Book of Mormon" musical was on Broadway.
"So, timing was perfect," Richardson said.
The idea of ‘Tributary" bubbled around Richardson’s mind since she was a child, living in Brigham City.
"I landed here when I was 10, and we moved here because my relatives had settled in the area," she said. "So I was plopped in the middle of the culture and I’m sure the seeds of the book were planted then."
Although raised in the Mormon Church, Richardson eventually took another road, which got her thinking about others who were in similar situations.
"I have always been curious about the ones who got away — the ones who didn’t fit in or hadn’t been devout Mormons," she said.
One night, literally seven days after earning a graduate degree in creative writing and poetry at the University of Utah, Richardson had a dream.
"The two main characters, Clair and Ada, showed up," she said. "They chatted and cavorted all night long, and I woke up taking notes."
Richardson took notes for another six weeks and decided to write the story.
"Ada is an insider and Clair is an outsider and the book was about how those two personalities survived in rural Utah in the 1860s and 1870s," Richardson said.
Writing the book was a multi-level experience for the author.
"Receiving the dream was the most exquisite experience I ever had in my life," she said. "It came from nowhere and was filled with life, vision and warmth, but after those six weeks, I had the next 20 years to struggle and strive to write the book.
"For two decades, I worked with my ego and killed my ego in an attempt to drop all the gatekeepers I faced in order to be true to all that came to me in that dream," Richardson said. "Some people have fun writing, but I don’t, however, it’s an exquisite experience and it’s really beautiful having something come through you from the void."
Adding to the turmoil was that Richardson wanted to write a good book that would be accurate and do the history justice.
"Having been Mormon and then not Mormon, I was longing for a novel that featured a broad history of Utah, because I love Utah," she said. "I’m so fascinated by the geography and the history of everyone who has ever lived in the Brigham City area."
To do that, Richardson delved into eight years of research.
"I did a little at the University of Utah’s special collections and a lot of time at Idaho State University’s special collections," she said. "Brigham City also has a lovely museum and I drove around and read as many books as I could about the Raft River Valley in Idaho, because I really wanted it to be accurate."
She also studied sheep herding, weaving and yarn making.
"That was quite fun, actually," she said with a smile. "In the writing life, you don’t often get thanked or recognized, but after working on the book, which is such a Utah book that is devoted to the native people and my ancestors, for 20 years is just beautiful."
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