P O W E L L, W y o. - Idaho memoirist and Montana native Mary Clearman Blew will talk about her writing and its influences at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20, in Room 70 of the Fagerberg Building at Northwest College in Powell. She is the second guest this semester in the NWC Writers Series.
Blew, who grew up in "pre-television Montana on an isolated ranch," said she took to reading and writing naturally.
"Writing is my life. I teach writing, I think about writing, I hang out with writers - and I write, I'm happiest when I'm writing," Blew said in response to a personal interview by an Idaho high school student featured on the Exxon Mobil Masterpiece Theatre's American Collection Educators' Site.
For Blew, time spent writing or thinking about writing has often been time spent thinking about family. The Montana native and now teacher at the University of Idaho is known for her creative nonfiction work, especially "All but the Waltz," a memoir in which Blew describes growing up in rural Montana.
When asked in that same student interview how writing has contributed to her life, Blew said the most difficult of her works to write was "All but the Waltz" because she was breaking new ground with the personal essay.
"The topics themselves were at times painful," she said, "and I wasn't sure the reading public would want to read about my family, although my editor assured me otherwise." In this interview and others, Blew said her family's code was "Never speak aloud of what you feel deeply." When asked how that played a part in her writing, she said writing has been a way for her to explore her own feelings and try to understand all those feelings that were never spoken of. In "All but the Waltz" and "Balsamroot," she concentrated on uncovering secrets and hidden layers in family and feelings and told her interviewer, "Now that I've done it, I've become more interested in other topics."
Renee Dechert, one of the NWC English faculty responsible for bringing Blew to Powell, said she thinks Blew is a particularly relevant author for this area.
"Mary Clearman Blew grew up on a fifth-generation ranch in northern Montana and has a very strong sense of life in the West," Dechert said. "Even though this part of her life is closed, she continues to explore what the West means in a very profound, insightful way." Dechert classifies Blew in a "league with the really fine western writers" like Larry McMurtry and Wallace Stegner.
"Blew writes a lot about her family and often works from photographs - they document where she's from but she uses them to imagine what's going on. Her books always have family photos in them," Dechert said.
One of the family traditions Blew continues is quilting. "She's an avid quilter," Dechert said. "In one essay, she briefly describes how to make a quilt - you save your pieces of fabric from valuable things, place them in a way that you find interesting and create something beautiful from fragments. That's a metaphor for her writing."
Other popular works by Blew include "Bone Deep in Landscape," Lambing Out and Other Stories" and "Sister Coyote," among others.In addition to her own writing, Blew has published criticism, novels, memoirs, and books of essays. She has also edited essay and story collections. Blew co-edited "Circle of Women: An Anthology of Contemporary Western Women Writers" with Kim Barnes, who happens to be the NWC Writers Series' March 29 guest author.
Blew is often called on in the midwest and western states to speak about writing and those who practice the craft. In 2002, she participated in the White House Symposium on Western Women Writers. Three years earlier, she was in Heidelberg, Germany, as a panelist and reader at the Symposium on the Big Sky. She holds a doctoral degree from the University of Missouri. Her master's and bachelor's degrees were earned at the University of Montana in Missoula.
Books written by Blew will be available for purchase and signing after her presentation.
Blew's appearance in Powell is sponsored by the NWC Writers Series and Friends of the Powell Branch Library. Admission is free.