The literary heritage of Colorado takes center stage in Salida next weekend, when the city celebrates the life and work of its most famous hometown writer, the late Kent Haruf.
The Kent Haruf Literary Celebration, hosted at the Salida SteamPlant Event Center, will honor the author's enduring legacy and his influential books, most famously including the novel Plainsong. The event is limited to only 200 attendees, and tickets are $150 for the weekend.
Haruf, who passed in 2014, was born in Pueblo in 1943, and enjoyed a career in writing that spanned three decades. He will be “remembered as a humble, generous, kind, and talented gentleman, always keenly interested in the lives of others,” the organizers wrote in a statement. So it makes sense that all proceeds from the celebration will benefit the Kent Haruf Memorial Writing Scholarship.
Westword spoke with Haruf’s wife, Cathy, about the upcoming Salida festivities, about her late husband and his work, and about how Colorado — fictional or not — was ever-present in his writing.
Westword: The second annual Kent Haruf Literary Celebration is coming up in Salida on the last weekend in September. Can you tell us how that event came about?
Cathy Haruf: The first Kent Haruf Literary Celebration was met with such enthusiasm that we decided we would make it a biannual event.
Tell us about the highlights of the weekend. What are the things you’re most enthused about for this second year?
I’m really excited about the speakers who are coming. This is a “Friends of Kent Haruf” event, and the people who are presenting have had a real connection with Kent over the years. Gregg Schwipps [English professor at DePauw University], Mark Spragg [author of Where Rivers Change Directions], Haruf collaborator Peter Brown, Sue Hodson [former curator of literary collections at the Huntington Library], Kent Thompson, Carol Samson…. These writers, former students, playwrights, theater and film directors all knew and loved Kent, and that is what makes this gathering so meaningful. I am also thrilled that Ritesh Batra, the director of the film Our Souls at Night [based on Haruf’s 2015 novel of the same name], will be coming, too.
Clearly, this is meant to further the impressive legacy of Kent Haruf the writer; what, specifically, do you think Kent would have loved about the way he’s remembered?
One of the things I hear over and over again is how Kent was such a good friend and listener. He found people fascinating. He found people and their stories fascinating. Kent would joke that, really, he was just a gossip and an eavesdropper.
Why do you think that Kent’s work — especially Plainsong — keeps resonating with readers after all these years?
I think Kent's work continues to resonate with readers because he deals with universal themes: people looking for love, the meaning of family, finding real connections in unexpected ways. All of Kent's characters are very human. He created them without judgment, even the “bad” ones. He saw those characters acting out of woundedness.
Of Plainsong, Kent often said, “There are old lonely men and women all over the world. There are pregnant teenagers on their own. There is estrangement in families everywhere.” I think these universal themes are why Plainsong has made such an impact all over the world.
What does Salida have in common with the fictitious Colorado town of Holt, do you think?
Holt, Colorado, is a composite of small towns everywhere. People know each other in a way people don't in big cities. Kent always saw the richness in small towns. He used to say that everything in life happens in a small town, but in a more intimate way. Kent never understood how anyone could find life in a small town boring.
Can you talk a little bit about the scholarship toward which all the proceeds of the event will go? What's the good that it’s already done and wants to continue?
This celebration is a fundraiser for the Kent Haruf Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship was established in 2015 for junior and senior creative writing students in Fremont and Chaffee counties. Kent always encouraged young writers, telling them to write every day without judgment.
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“Just get black on white,” he'd say.
Kent Haruf meant — and means — a lot to Colorado. What did Colorado mean to Kent Haruf?
Colorado was Kent's home. He was born in Pueblo, grew up in Cañon City, raised his kids in Yuma and lived his last twenty years in Chaffee County. He often said about the plains, “They are not pretty, but they are beautiful if you know how to look at them.” He loved the mountains. When we moved to the Salida area and lived in our cabin, he would wake up and say, “Another day in paradise.”
The Kent Haruf Literary Celebration will take place at the Salida Steamplant Event Center over the weekend of September 27 to September 29. See the event website for ticketing and other information.