#88: Jeff Lee
Life partners Jeff Lee and Ann Martin are book people to the core: They met working at the Tattered Cover Book Store in 1986 and remain on staff at the Denver landmark more than thirty years later. Over the decades, the couple’s shared love for our wild lands and the kind of socially engaged, place-based literature that argues for preserving natural spaces converged in a massive private book collection that’s grown to include more than 30,000 volumes. Long story short, they needed a place to house the library and dreamed of developing a nonprofit community program around it — something that’s slowly taking shape at the Rocky Mountain Land Library in South Park, near the headwaters of the South Platte River, with additional programs developing at the Puritan Pie Company building in Denver. Curious? Lee makes his case for the library here, via the 100CC questionnaire.
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?
Jeff Lee: My creative muse and the Land Library's is nature — the land and the sky. It's that simple. (And by nature, I mean you and me, too.)
Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?
Well first off, there would need to be someone to calm my party anxiety. That might be Wendell Berry, who is happily alive and living a wonderfully balanced life on his farm in Kentucky. He is the author of many works of fiction, poetry and essays, including one of the best place-based essays I've ever read, "A Native Hill."
With Wendell as an easy conversationalist, I would love imagining Aldo Leopold at the table. Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac, both loved the land and, even back in the 1930s, worried about its future.
And to add a perspective none of us have, it would be eye-opening to have an ancestral Puebloan join us — someone who knew a Colorado we can only try to imagine.
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?
I see the Land Library as a grassroots cheerleader for the literary and visual arts, especially the creative work that addresses our not-always-pretty relationship to the land. The good news for us is the exciting talent that we know is there. There are so many emerging artists and writers who will help tell the story of the land for the next generations.
The worst thing about the local creative community? Actually, I'm not sure I have an answer to that, other than the fact that creative people's work isn't valued enough in our society.
Are trends worth following? What’s one trend you love and one that you hate?
I love place-based work. People exploring, loving and caring about their home ground is a beautiful thing to see. I sure hope that's a trend.
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
I have a very simple bucket list, and this won't be good news to the travel industry. I would love to continue to work with the Rocky Mountain Land Library team on establishing a place-based learning network, from our residential library at South Park's Buffalo Peaks Ranch, to the Land Library's urban center at Curtis Park's Puritan Pie factory. To help tell the story of the land from both an urban and rural perspective is incredibly exciting to me.
What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as a creative?
If this is creative, my favorite accomplishment might be building the Land Library's collection. Over many years, it's grown to be a very rich and diverse resource — over 35,000 volumes, with so many surprising volumes emerging from each box we open.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
I think every city should be proud and eager to support the arts. I just learned that the Denver Municipal Band has been playing in city parks for the past 125 years. I think that's one of the coolest facts about our city! There's so much more we can do.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Impossible question! But I really appreciate the nurturing spirit of Sheila Sears and everyone involved with Colorado Creative Industries, our state organization supporting the arts. They get how important the arts are to a vibrant, resilient society. Really admirable work!
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
The Rocky Mountain Land Library will keep moving forward at both ends of the South Platte River (Buffalo Peaks Ranch and the Puritan Pie Factory). Personally, I keep eyeing the ranch's old bunkhouse. If we can get that back in shape, we will have lodgings for artists, writers and lifelong learners of all kinds. What an opportunity, so close at hand!
Who do you think will get noticed in the local literary community in the coming year?
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There are two groups that I've been watching make great strides over the past few years. The first is the online journal Garo, an independent forum self-described as the “literary outpost of the Rocky Mountain Land Library.” Garo has a terrific mix of art, photography, poetry, essays and interviews, and its editorial tone is incredibly smart.
Another Denver group we admire is the Colophon Center. They love books in almost the same way as the Land Library does. Their mission is to celebrate the creative industry of books in the Rocky Mountains. That's a vibrant niche that needs to be filled!
See the Rocky Mountain Land Library’s book-spiral installation as part of the exhibit Land Trust, on view through August 27 at RedLine. Learn more about the Rocky Mountain Land Library and its objectives, programs and ongoing workshops online. Donations can also be made at the website.