Words on the street
The Annual Literary Crawl highlights notable local and visiting authors, poets and storytellers.
It’s no secret that the citizens of Reno love a good “crawl.” Santa, Zombie, Pajama, Superhero—there’s no shortage of themed drinking fests to pack the streets and bars throughout the year. For the past three years, the nonprofit organization Nevada Humanities has staged its own crawl in the same spirit—minus the spirits. The annual Literary Crawl highlights notable local and visiting authors, poets and storytellers.
“When I was thinking about this literary crawl, I really wanted to make sure that all community members in Reno felt like this was a place for them, and that they were welcome to listen to these stories and listen to these poems and listen to these voices, and it’s not an intimidating thing—similar to how a pub crawl is not an intimidating thing,” said Stephanie Gibson, program manager for the event.
This year’s Literary Crawl will take place on Saturday, Sept. 16, from 2:30 to 8 p.m. The event begins and ends at Sundance Books and Music, 121 California Ave., but encourages participants to visit more than a dozen venues around California Avenue and midtown to hear writers speak on a variety of curated topics ranging from romance novels to translation, and life in the West to Basque heritage. Writing workshops and family activities will also be offered throughout the day.
“We have new writers and new voices that have never published before,” Gibson said. “We have people that probably haven’t published in quite a while but are senior voices in our community, and we wanted to hear their perspective on things. And we have a journalist this year—Mike Higdon. I think our focus this year was to really expand the notion of what the written word is and how we all contend with it.”
Dozens of authors will be participating in this year’s event. Here, a few of them share what participants in this year’s crawl can expect:
A novelist and fiction writer currently working in Los Angeles, Sean Bernard, has deep familial ties to Nevada. Growing up, the work of his great uncle, Robert Laxalt, was a source of inspiration in both subject matter and career orientation.
“I grew up in Arizona, but my family is very much Nevadan, through and through,” Bernard said. “I was very aware of having a writer in the family and knowing that that was a very possible career to embark on.”
Sean’s 2015 novel Studies in the Hereafter touches heavily on Basque culture in Nevada. During the Literary Crawl, he will be sharing the stage with his cousin, Gabriel Urza, whose own work All That Followed also comments on Basque heritage.
“Since the two of us incorporated Basqueness in our books so much, we’ve been asked to speak to that, and to talk about how and why we incorporated it into our works,” Bernard said. “We’re going to be speaking to the concerns we had as authors in terms of representing cultural backgrounds.”
Spoken word artist Olivia Romo is a native of Taos, New Mexico. Romo currently works with the New Mexico Acequia Association—using her poetry and experience with oral traditions to advocate for water rights and ancestral agricultural communities in her home state.
“My work really roots from a strong oral history,” Romo said. “My angle has always been using my poetry and my art as a way to document, to preserve and to celebrate not just the struggles—because, yes, we have struggles—but here there are so many beautiful things happening. So that needs to be celebrated as well.”
When she was 17, Romo wrote a poem about acequias—traditional irrigation ditches—and recited it to the statewide Acequia Association. Last year, the Western Folklife Center in Elko commissioned that same poem to be turned into a video. It will give Romo, who was approached to present at the Literary Crawl after attending this year’s Cowboy Poetry Festival in Elko, the chance to publicize her work to a broader audience.
“I’m excited; I’m going to be on some amazing panels,” she said. “I’m still very excited to see what it’s all going to unravel to be about—this love of place, the love of the land.”
Romo is currently working on a spoken word CD, which she hopes to release in the near future. Raíces (Roots) will feature Romo’s poetry, as well as traditional New Mexican ceremonial songs.
Lindsay Wilson has been Reno’s poet laureate—since April. He has worked as an English professor at Truckee Meadows Community College since 2006 and has published poetry in literary journals around the country over the past decade. His award-winning first collection, No Elegies, was published in 2015.
“My life wasn’t always the easiest life, at times,” Wilson said. “It wasn’t the hardest either—don’t get me wrong—but there were other things I wanted to write about, things I felt compelled to write about. I just kind of love playing around with language. It just snowballed, really.”
Wilson has been involved with the Literary Crawl in years past and will be offering a poetry workshop during this year’s event. He will also present original poetry readings at Sundance before and after the event.
“I actually think of the [poet laureate’s] office as being there for things just like Nevada Humanities,” Wilson said. “If I can use the office like that—if they can say, ’Oh, the poet laureate’s going to be there’—hopefully it helps.”
Wilson also believes the informal setting of the Literary Crawl will make narrative art forms more visible to a wider audience.
“It’s a crawl,” he said. “It’s not like, ’Come to Governor’s Mansion and read poetry about Nevada’s history,’ which is cool, too, but a certain type of audience is going to come out for each one.”
Virginia Castleman is a TMCC professor who has lived in Nevada off and on since 2000. A product of the foster care system, she credits her adoptive parents with instilling in her a lifelong passion for literature through the stories they chose to read her as a child.
“Before adoption, I didn’t have those experiences,” Castleman said. “As a foster kid, it was important because the stories that they chose allowed me to see how healthy families lived.”
Her experiences with the pitfalls of the foster care system inspired the events of her 2016 Young Adult novel, Sara Lost and Found, which was published by Simon and Schuster, and from which she will be reading at this year’s crawl. The reading is in conjunction with a workshop geared toward young writers. “I think for teens … if they want to write poetry and novels and short stories—whatever they want to write—one of the challenges is finding one’s voice,” Castleman said.