Erika T. Wurth, now a creative writing professor at the Western Illinois University, went to school in Idaho Springs. She already has one book of poetry under her belt and now a novel, Crazy Horse's Girlfriend, set in the mountain town. She'll be back in Colorado on Monday, September 29 for a reading/signing at the Tattered Cover at 2526 East Colfax Avenue. In advance of that appearance, we chatted with Wurth about how her experience in Idaho Springs shaped the novel and her thoughts on penning what could be the first Native American literature set in Denver.
See also: Author Cheryl Strayed Is Ready to Get Wild in Denver
Westword: I lived in Evergreen for a while -- did you live in Idaho Springs?
Erika T. Wurth: I'm from in between. Evergreen West, it's not technically an incorporated town. I was bused to school in Idaho Springs from junior high to high school. I went to King-Murphy Elementary School.
What do you remember about growing up there?
I just wanted out of there. I didn't have a mullet or a baby and I had a lot of teeth, and at the time, those were not standard things. I did Google images on it the other day and it looks like Aspen now, it's fancy-looking. But when I was there, there was a lot of poverty, and it was a rough place. There were families in Idaho Springs that were working-middle class, so I don't mean to paint a horrifying picture of it -- there were some lovely parts of it. The people were tough and mean, but funny as hell. A lot of them were really smart.
But I was just super dorky, I was a big loner, I didn't do the social things that dorks do, like comic books or bands, and with the lack of a mullet, that was a problem. I just wanted out -- and I actually thought I would write what I loved to read at the time, which was horror and sci-fi and fantasy, and it was such a wonderful escape.
It sounds like your experience was a lot different from that of your main character -- Margaritte, a teenager who sells drugs and becomes pregnant by her unfaithful boyfriend -- although you both have the same desire for something better. So how much of the novel would you say is based on your personal experience, and how much is constructed vicariously?
Well, there are parts of it that are autobiographical, there are parts that are not. Margaritte has friends in high school, and she has sex, and I didn't have those things. Occasionally, another loner would try to make friends and I wouldn't get it. What I tell my students is, 'Do whatever you want and do what you're good at -- for me, I like to write in a 500-mile radius about myself. I'm not going to write about France in the 1800s because I don't know about that shit and I don't find it that interesting. And if it were autobiographical, it'd be like, 'I ate peas and then watched The Simpsons.' Maybe that would make a great novel for someone else, but not for me.
I will say that as far as the drugs go -- someone I'm very close with, that particular aspect of the novel, that was part of their lives, and I did see them while I was tremendously loner-y, it was around me so much, you could not avoid it. So it was around me so much that ultimately I understood it. And to me, there's something important -- and I've noticed a lot of writers are like this -- in being removed and watching. I'm not sure if you can call it objectivity, but you certainly garner a lot of information when you're not in the midst of the situation.
Is there anything else you want to talk about?
My publicist would like me to mention that I have a number of meetings across the country -- I got into the Brooklyn and Texas Book Festivals, which are super cool things. And I really thought about this, and I could be wrong, but I don't think so -- I can't think of any other novels about Native American life in Denver and the surrounding areas. I'm not a scholar, but I read like one, and I read Native literature. I have read and personally know a lot of authors and literature, and it's insane because Native life is a part of the perception of Colorado, even by its residents.
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Erika Wurth will be at the Tattered Cover at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, September 29. Find more information here.