In the long run, often it is eloquent writers who keep a place memorable. Where would Troy be without its Homer? In this crackerjack anthology, Peter Anderson has assembled passages from writers who have put places on Colorado’s literary map. Your favorites are probably here, but Anderson also introduces us to lesser-known writers and poets.
Just skimming these literary locales should leave you looking forward to more from authors who have elevated the highest state with their words. Native American voices like Linda Hogan (Chickasaw) and Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk (Ute) are found in these pages as are so many of the place names inherited from this region’s earlier inhabitants. George Bird Grinnell, one of the first to write sympathetically about Colorado’s Native Americans, explores Bent’s Fort (now reconstructed by the National Park Service) as that relatively harmonious gathering place for Indians and palefaces alike. But we are reminded too, by way of powerful eye-witness accounts from Captain Silas Soule and Lieutenant Joseph Kramer, of the unprovoked early morning raid on a peaceful settlement of Cheyenne and Arapaho that took place at Sand Creek in nearby Kiowa County.
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.
Hispanic voices — including Luis Alberto Urrea, philosopher Reyes Garcia, and Antonito mayor Aaron Abeyta — are represented here, as is San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado, in Fred Baca’s “Little Bethlehem.” Featured women include Isabella Bird, a strong seller to this day, with her ascent of Long’s Peak in A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains. Helen Hunt Jackson, that great defender of Native Americans, shows up here scrutinizing and praising her beloved Colorado Springs. Under Leadville, newspaper editor Carlyle Channing Davis is followed by Victorian artist and writer, Mary Hallock Foote. An excerpt from Wallace Stegner’s novel Angle of Repose, which was based on Foote’s letters and won a Pulitzer Prize, describes a harrowing journey up the Mosquito Pass road between Fairplay and Leadville.
Mother Jones, shows up in Trinidad to support striking coal miners. Upton Sinclair explores coal mining around Walsenburg in his novel King Coal. Rare insight into the underground world of mining men comes from Harriett Fish Backus’s coverage of Telluride, whose mining trams have evolved into ski lifts. Despite a humble self-assessment in the title of her book, Life of an Ordinary Woman, Anne Ellis was an extraordinary Colorado author who describes turn-of-the-century life in the mining town of Bonanza. Nearby, Cy Warman edited the Creede Candle newspaper and immortalized that mining town with a poem whose first stanza is:
Here’s a land where all are equal—
Of high or lowly birth—
A land where men make millions,
Dug from the dreary earth.
Here the meek and mild-eyed burro
On mineral mountains feed—
It’s day all day, in the day-time,
And there is no night in Creede.
Baca County in the state’s southeastern corner is covered by Sanora Babb, who gives us a little girl’s perspective of growing up on a harsh, windblown, and sand-blasted prairie farm. Colorado’s High Plains have also inspired fine work from Kent Haruf, represented here with an excerpt from his acclaimed novel Plainsong, and Hal Borland, the pioneer environmental writer for the New York Times, who writes about his hometown of Flagler. Novelist and historian Sandra Dallas, who has also reviewed Colorado fiction and nonfiction in The Denver Post since 1961, portrays a woman homesteader in an entry from The Diary of Mattie Spenser. In that book (and some of her other novels) Sandra covers incest, rape, and the abuse women have long suffered—horrors that historians have not thoroughly explored.
>> READ AN INTERVIEW WITH THE EDITOR
Where to find it:
- Prospector: Search the combined catalogs of 23 Colorado libraries
- Libby: E-books and audio books
- NewPages Guide: List of Colorado independent bookstores
- Bookshop.org: Searchable database of bookstores nationwide
SunLit present new excerpts from some of the best Colorado authors that not only spin engaging narratives but also illuminate who we are as a community. Read more.
Bayard Taylor, one of the first (1866) nationally noted authors to tour Colorado, described Hot Sulphur Springs, helping to make it one of the state’s first tourist targets. Walt Whitman, an early celebrity tourist in Colorado, writes about its landscape wonders on a railroad trip to Kenosha Pass. Colorado’s former poet laureate, Thomas Hornsby Ferrill, shows up in these pages with his poem—“Here is a Land Where Life is Written in Water”—that welcomes visitors to the State Capitol rotunda.
Among the recently departed included herein is Hunter Thompson, the legendary gonzo journalist from Woody Creek, as well as Ed Quillen, the sage of Salida. Voices representing the Western Slope include Willa Cather on Mesa Verde, David Lavender on Paradox, and Peter Decker on Ridgway, where this former Colorado Secretary of Agriculture ran his ranch. On the eastern side of the Divide, John Fante writes about Boulder and John Williams describes the historic Smoky River route into Colorado. Author and New York Times columnist Timothy Egan recreates the Dust Bowl hardships of the “dirty thirties” around Springfield.
Some of these writers made history as well as writing it. Enos Mills, the great naturalist, wrote about the Rocky Mountains and did more than anyone to celebrate them with a national park. In Georgetown, James Grafton Rogers wrote My Mountain Valley and spearheaded creation of the Georgetown Loop Historic Mining and Railroad Park which today carries some 170,000 passengers a year into the past. Dalton Trumbo, who fictionalized Grand Junction in his novel Eclipse, and whose career survived the blacklists of the 1940s and 50s, now sits on Main Street in a life-size sculpture soaking in his bathtub while writing Hollywood scripts. Vail is described by Peter Seibert, the founding father of what now claims to be North America’s largest ski resort. Poets Corky Gonzales and Lalo Delgado not only wrote as Chicano activists in Denver, they also spearheaded the movement.
Offbeat writers also await you. Jack Kerouac takes a memorable nap on the grass fronting a Longmont gas station in On the Road. Neil Cassady recalls a down-and-out childhood in Denver. Ken Kesey revisits his Eastern Colorado stomping ground in Sometimes a Great Notion. Anne Waldman and Allen Ginsberg bring words of protest to Rocky Flats.
The best seller of all Colorado authors is James Michener, whose novel, Centennial, remains a fine, fictional overview of our state’s history starting with the dinosaurs. Here he reminisces about the area around Greeley and the High Plains town of Keota.
In an excerpt from Roughing It, the greatest American writer of them all, Mark Twain, is on the road to California when he passes through the crossroads town of Julesberg. In these pages you will find a wonderful range of writers to accompany any road trip as you explore Colorado communities and the words they have inspired.
—Tom “Dr. Colorado” Noel
Tom Noel is the co-author or author of 53 books on Colorado.
Peter Anderson, editor of ” Reading Colorado,” has written “Heading Home: Field Notes,” a collection of flash prose and prose poems exploring rural life and the modern day eccentricities of the American West and “First Church of the Higher Elevations,” a collection of essays on wildness, mountain places, and the life of the spirit. He lives with his family on the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado, where he launched the Crestone Poetry Festival, an annual gathering of southwestern poets.