The vibe is as tribal as all get out. It’s a cult, a clique, a clan – but open to all. We’re talking a gathering of bookish sorts, here — literary types, bookworms, as it were. Readers and writers, scribblers and scribes, playwrights and poets, and those who tend toward the cerebral by way of the written word. But it’s also for those among us who, like Jerzy Kosinski, just like to watch.
The second annual Park City Literary Festival is underway and will run through Sunday at various locations throughout our fair burg. It’s a powwow for the literate and somewhat cultured – sub-groupings that includes most all who are attracted to this landscape in the first place.
Park City has long lent itself as an environment in which those of an artistic bent can easily mix and mingle, circulate and consort, hang out and hobnob, compose and construe. Back in the day, prior to the advent of book clubs, both dogs and dog-eared paperbacks were required to gain entry to bars on Main Street.
Even the Alamo! Most especially the Alamo! Ski bums on whiskey could flat out talk books. Spirited takes on James Joyce or Kurt Vonnegut were not uncommon. And being able to pack-in your spirit of choice in a "brown bag" had much to do with both the overall decibel levels of the discussions and the highbrow, yet somewhat libidinous, graffiti on the restroom walls — high art in the low chakras, as it were.
That particular anecdotal dip into our misspent past has been offered solely as deep background into the collective mindset of an earlier expatriate scene hereabouts and should in no way reflect upon the intentions or lifestyles of those who are putting together or planning on attending the current "LitFest." Ain’t disclaimers a gas?
Actually, the group of writers assembled for the festival is quite impressive considering this is only its second go around. A number of interesting clusters and panels of authors are on tap along with opportunities for more intimate encounters at local restaurants.
One particular presentation jumped off the page during a perusal of the program guide. Scheduled as one of the 11:30 a.m. offerings on Saturday at the Prospector Square Lodge and Conference Center is a joint appearance by Jennifer Jordan and Andrew McLean – a couple of locals with international followings and interests in outdoor risk taking and extreme mountaineering.
It was Jordan’s "Savage Summit," a chronicle of five women who climbed K2, that led to her television documentary "Women on K2," produced by the National Geographic Society. The gripping non-fiction account of high adventure, fulfillment and tragedy upon the most feared mountain on Earth is one for the ages.
McLean, when he’s not off attempting to add to his over 200 skiing first descents upon the truly vertical mountainsides offered by Tibet, Anarctica, Baffin Island, Patagonia and the like, hangs his ice-ax in Park City. He is also the author of "The Chuting Gallery," an actual guidebook to such adventurous pursuits.
One of his most challenging expeditions proved the most ill-fated when, back in the late fall of 1999, McLean and his ski mountaineering buddies were blind-sided by an avalanche in the Himalayas. Attempting a descent of the 8,000-meter peak Shishapangma, the group was out innocently scouting the couloir they had chosen to climb and ski, when a random release from high above crashed down upon them.
Legendary climber and mountaineer Alex Lowe and filmmaker David Bridges were never found. Conrad Anker, who had discovered George Mallory’s body high on Mount Everest during an earlier expedition, was spared, along with McLean and the rest of the team. Their search for their mates proved futile. Such is life on the edge.
Another presentation, the "Mines to Medals" Panel, also features local authors and looks quite intriguing. Will Bagley, Alan Engen, Gary Kimball and Larry Warren will be holding forth Sunday at 2 p.m., also at the Prospector Square Lodge and Conference Center with videos and slide shows and, no doubt, out-of-the-box anecdotes from Park City’s past.
Bagley, a western historian of note, has authored and edited highly researched works on immigrant trails and, most recently, the Mountain Meadow Massacre. The latter work, titled "Blood of the Prophets," contains loads of circumstantial evidence tying Brigham Young to the 1857 killing of over 100 men, women and children members of an immigrant wagon train in a southern Utah meadow along the Old Spanish Trail.
Alan Engen, of course, is the son of Alf Engen of Alta fame and a ski historian in his own rite. His collection of archival ski photographs document much of the early days of Utah skiing when "bear-trap" bindings and "barrel-stave" skis were an actual part of the sports evolution.
Lifelong Parkite Gary Kimball is also a treasure trove of anecdotal history and humor and has been chronicling life in this old mining town turned ski resort for much of his life. He has seen and heard it all and taken care to incorporate those oral histories in both "Death and Dying in Old Park City" and, his latest, "Of Moths and Miners."
Freelance writer, longtime television newsman, and famed film documentarian, Park City resident Larry Warren rounds out the panel. His latest documentary, "Silver and Snow, The Park City Story," will show at the Sunday symposium. Larry also authored a history of the Park City Mountain Resort titled "Park City Mountain of Treasure."
This panel should be one of many highlights at this year’s Park City Literary Festival – an endeavor that could quite possibly join Sundance and the Arts Festival as defining annual events upon the local aesthetic landscape. Get in on it now! Those who involve themselves should very well become awash in what is so rewarding and healing about the literary arts. As has been said — it’s tribal!
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The skiing conditions are bad, the coronavirus is still raging and the news is frightening. So Tom Clyde went outside. He didn’t regret it.