Logging, fishing, construction work. These are the jobs that Peter Heller’s characters tend to have, because they’re the jobs that Heller himself held early in his work life. Heller might have grown up in the northeastern United States and collected an MFA from the legendary Iowa Writers' Workshop, but it makes sense that he’s adopted Denver as his home: There’s a ruggedness to his prose, a love for the outdoors – and a life truly lived within it — that comes through in his writing, no matter the genre.
And some of his nationally notable fiction shows a real Colorado streak, from the unique post-apocalyptic world of The Dog Stars to the award-winning novel The Painter to his new book, The River. But Heller doesn’t just write novels that become bestsellers; he’s also a poet, an author of nonfiction (he has just as many nonfiction books to his credit as he does fiction), a frequent contributor to NPR, and a former contributing editor for magazines like Outside, Men’s Journal, National Geographic and more.
In short, if Colorado didn’t already have a Peter Heller, this state surely would want to invent him.
Andrea Gibson eschews labels, including those of gender. Gibson, who uses they/them pronouns, not only identifies as neither of the binary gender options, but has largely made a poetic career out of writing and talking about exactly that.
Much of Gibson's poetry, which has won four Denver Grand Slam titles and top prize at the inaugural Women of the World Poetry Slam, focuses on gender norms, social issues, politics and the cultural challenges of LGBTQ life. Gibson's books, the most recent of which are the collection Lord of the Butterflies and the pro-poetry primer How Poetry Can Change Your Heart, are just as striking as their spoken-word performances. Gibson is equal parts poet and activist, and their career started right here in Denver, at a spoken-word open mic after a move to Boulder in 1999.
So while Gibson may not have been born in Colorado…it’s fair to say that Gibson’s remarkable career was.
Kevin J. Anderson
Science fiction and fantasy can be a demanding business; the sheer output expected from a writer of those genres can be extreme. But Colorado author Kevin J. Anderson has proven that he can handle it, and then some. He’s published more than 140 books, 56 of which became bestsellers. That alone proves that he’s something of a workhorse, no matter the genre.
But genre is important to Anderson, who shows his commitment to sci-fi and its ravenous fans with constant appearances at conventions both small and large, here at home and across the country. Adding to his fan base is the fact that some of his written work has been an important addition to established properties: Star Wars; the world of Frank Herbert’s Dune; The X-Files; and related work with Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and other comics companies.
His latest venture is all his own, though: a return to epic fantasy in a new series, the first book of which is Spine of the Dragon.
“Every day, I drink in the West,” Margaret Coel says on her website. And she's not just drinking in the scenery from her writing space at her Boulder home, which looks out upon the mountains and the sky and the animals that share it. It’s also about the state of Colorado, which the Coel family helped to pioneer and where generations have made their home.
The West and its history and the people who have lived here over the years are exactly what inhabit Coel’s many novels, five of which have won a Colorado Book Award, several of which have appeared on bestseller lists. Her Wind River mystery series (the most recent of which was 2016’s Winter’s Child) is beloved by readers, but by no means does it represent all of Coel's accomplishments. Her award-winning nonfiction book Chief Left Hand, a biography of the legendary Arapaho chief, was first published in the early 1980s and has never gone out of print. That shows the longstanding effect that Margaret Coel has had on both the state and its literary scene.
Joseph Hutchison was born on the western edge of the Great Plains and has built a career in Denver as a poet of note. He has seventeen books to his well-established credit, including his most recent, Eyes of the Cuervo/Ojos del Crow, and a collection named for a local Colfax Avenue institution, The Satire Lounge.
Hutchison directs several programs at the University of Denver — Professional Creative Writing, Arts & Culture Management, and Global Community Engagement — and is just about to conclude his tenure as the Poet Laureate of Colorado; in that role, he's the designated “active advocate for poetry, literacy, and literature,” according to Colorado Humanities & Center for the Book, and serves “by participating in readings and other events at schools, libraries, literary festivals, and the State Capitol.”
Not every state in the Union can boast that it has a poet laureate, but Colorado loves its literature, and this is just one of the many ways that we show it. The next poet laureate will be chosen by Governor Jared Polis (with advice from an esteemed review panel) later this summer, to serve for the next four years.