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SunLit Interviews

Colorado author Karen Auvinen was often asked why she chose to live alone in the mountains. She wrote the answer.

The experience of writing about her time in the mountains helped her see how she was "rooted in landscape" and "to see that I have a place after all"

Karen Auvinen and her dog, Elvis. (Photo by Rowan Turner)

A former Artist-in-Residence for the State of Colorado, Karen Auvinen has won two Academy of American Poets awards and has been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes in fiction.

Her work has appeared in The New York Times and numerous literary journals. She earned her M.A. in poetry from the University of Colorado Boulder under the mentorship of Lucia Berlin, and went on to earn her Ph.D. in fiction writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Auvinen currently teaches film and popular culture at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The following is an interview with Auvinen.

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit


What inspired you to write this book?

When people found out I lived alone in the mountains in a wood-stove-heated cabin at nearly 9,000 feet, they first asked, “Why?”  and then “Aren’t you scared?”  This book is the answer. We need more narratives about women who go it alone in the wild, whether it’s on the trail or in how they live their lives.  

“Rough Beauty” by Karen Auvinen.

Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?

Well Gretel Ehrlich, Terry Tempest Williams and Anne LaBastille inspire me and are everywhere in these pages.  Also, writers Rick Bass and Doug Peacock.

Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?

I’ve had so many people write to tell me how much they loved Elvis in the book. It was a profound moment for me to accept that he would not live forever and learn to be grateful for him every day.  

What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?

Stories have the power to change lives.  The telling of this one changed mine—it gave me perspective, it put pieces in place, and it allowed me to really root myself in landscape, to see that I have a place after all.  

What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?

The three chapters about my childhood were hard—it was such a sad time for me–but I probably struggled the most with trying to get the ebullience of Elvis on the page.  He was larger than life, a trickster, and hard to write.

What project are you working on next?

I am collecting stories for “Flood Stories: A Memoir of One Community’s Journey through Wreckage and Ruin to Recovery,” a book that will depict the thousand-year flood event in Jamestown from the perspective of six community members whose interwoven narratives recount the first dramatic thirty-six-hour period without EMS or power when a third of the homes in town were lost and we lost Joey, through the heartbreaking process of recovery and rebuilding. The voices of the book represent what true community looks like: disparate people and experiences, sharing both memory and place, who come together to heal their ties to the land and each other.


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— Buy “Rough Beauty” at BookBar

Excerpt from “Rough Beauty” by Karen Auvinen

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