Peace Prayer

Author Maxine Hong Kingston returns with a fiery passion

TUES, 9/16

Maxine Hong Kingston was born into war in 1940; her refugee mother, a doctor who had run a hospital in a cave in China before joining her husband in Stockton, California, talked about it all the time, in firsthand detail. Even then, Kingston felt an overwhelming responsibility to promote peace; she used up all her childhood wishes, the ones usually reserved for a special doll or new pair of skates, on the notion. "Later," she adds, "I learned to make the wish longer, into a story." On the heels of two acclaimed books, China Men and Woman Warrior, and the subsequent novel Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book, Kingston set out to write a work of fiction promoting peace, but it was lost, the draft turned to ash when a 1991 wildfire raged through the Oakland Hills, destroying her home. Ironically, after the fire, Kingston suffered from something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder: She lost her ability to read for several months, and worse, her writing suffered what seemed an insurmountable blow. "The book that burned was fiction," she says. "Now I realize fiction is a very high, compassionate art where the writer cares about people, even imagined people. After the fire, I lost my ability for fiction. I didn't want to care about other people; I just wanted to take care of myself, to sit and whimper in a corner. Any writing I did, I would just use for self-expression. It's the way writing was when we were children -- there was no thought of writing for a public audience."

What turned her around? She sought out a community whose members lived under similar stresses -- veterans of war -- and sent out a call inviting them to come write with her. The response was enthusiastic. "Many people came," she says. "We'd sit all day and write and read and respond to one another's writing, and it really worked. Knowing that other people want to hear what you have to say will draw it out of you."

The result is The Fifth Book of Peace, a blended "fiction/non-fiction sandwich" that's equal parts rewrite, memoir and activist's call to disarm -- a book Kingston thinks is a step in the right direction. But her work, she acknowledges, isn't over: "I hope the book will live, so that its ideas will reverberate out in the world even after I'm gone. But I still need to work on peace. I still need to keep writing about it. I need to keep standing out there in front of the White House and in the street making peace happen. It's an endless job."

Kingston reads from the book tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Tattered Cover Book Store, 2955 East First Avenue; for details, call 303-322-7727. -- Susan Froyd

Cutting-edge Posters
FRI, 9/12

The poster occupies a wildly diverse niche as an artform; whether promoting high-minded activism or plain old crass consumerism, it serves as an artist's single best visual shot at the populace. The form is packed explosively into a flat rectangle on a wall. The graphic designers who create posters work on the cutting edge of their times and trends, and any show focusing on their recent efforts promises to be an in-the-moment viewing experience. That's undoubtedly the case at the biannual Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibitionat Colorado State University. The show officially opens today with a reception and poster sale from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Hatton and Curfman galleries.

CSU's Phil Risbeck, an exhibition founder, says the idea for the show took root in Fort Collins after he visited the International Poster Biennale in Warsaw, perhaps the most important poster exhibit in the world. Energized by the experience, yet lacking the staff and resources of the Warsaw event, Risbeck and fellow CSU organizers decided to stage a similar show in Fort Collins as an invitational. "The first Colorado show opened in 1979 with posters by sixty artists," he says; since then, it's both grown and been cut back, settling this year into a showcase of nearly 200 eye-catching works. "We think it's a unique opportunity to see some of best graphic design done in the world in the last two years," Risbeck notes.

CIIPE continues through October 24; for information on the show and satellite exhibits, call 1-970-491-7643. Visit colostate.edu to view the artwork online. -- Susan Froyd

Back in the Saddle Again
SAT, 9/13

To make a saddle, you start with a saddle tree: a plain wooden frame covered with rawhide. You then smooth on four or five layers of leather to shape the seat, and in the best of all worlds, it's a seat designed not only to fit someone's specific rear end like a glove, but a particular pony's back, as well. The fancy stuff -- floral tooling and detailed stamping of the polished leather -- is purely for show. It takes about forty hours, give or take, to put the whole thing together, though that count doesn't include drying time required between steps. Precious few folks still go to the trouble these days, and that's what makes Art of the Saddle Makerso special, whether you ride or not: The exhibit, opening today at the ProRodeo Hall of Fame/Museum of the American Cowboy, 101 Pro Rodeo Drive, Colorado Springs, honors a dying tradition. The exhibit trots out prize-winning wares handcrafted by saddle-makers from all over the West, including such Colorado leatherwork luminaries as Lisa and Loren Skyhorse of Durango, whose collaborations have won prizes and cushioned high-profile riders' posteriors around the world.

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