By Marit Gookin, Staff Writer
Amy Vincent was working at the Fremont County Public Library in Lander when a long-time Lander resident and frequent library visitor came in with news: she had published a book. Did the library, she wondered, have any kind of event that could help her spread the word? Vincent explained that unfortunately book release parties weren’t really something the library did – but it got her thinking. “I was pretty intrigued – how could we celebrate our writers?” she pondered. “We have so many writers, and they’re kind of in the shadows … Let’s create an event that connects local readers to local writers.”
Pretty soon, Vincent was armed with a vision and a list of 60 writers who lived in Fremont County. And thus, in 2020 – “what a year to start anything,” Vincent laughed – the Bookmarked Literary Arts Festival was born. The first year, 12 writers signed up; the next year, there were more; and more still in 2022; this year, Vincent said, as of the weekend before the festival there were 34 writers from 10 communities across Wyoming signed up to participate.
“It’s an art show for writers,” she explained. Writers of all ages participate in a variety of activities throughout the weekend, including a special Youth Flash Fiction Contest for Fremont County students in grades four through 12. “I have been astounded every time … They are enthusiastically raising their hands,” Vincent commented about the youth writers. “These kids, and the stories they write, are incredibly inspiring.”
Older writers have plenty of opportunities to shine, too, regardless of whether they’re an officially published writer or not. “Just because you aren’t published, doesn’t mean you don’t have something worth sharing,” Vincent remarked. Some of the people who bring their works to the event and read snippets may also introduce audiences to something they wouldn’t have picked up for themselves; maybe the cover wouldn’t have appealed, or the genre, but hearing the words can make you want to read more of the story. “They’re such good stories, we have such good storytellers,” Vincent said.
Writing isn’t always something that immediately comes to mind in association with Wyoming. Pottery, quilting, painting, leatherwork and other forms of art are commonly seen at shows and in shops across Fremont County, but the literary arts aren’t the first thing that come to mind when people think of the Cowboy State – but maybe they should be, if Vincent has anything to say about it. From famed lyricists like Chris Ledoux to cowboys telling each other tall tales as they sit around the campfire to the legends and songs of the Native American tribes who have inhabited this area for centuries, storytelling is just a much a part of the landscape of Wyoming as any other art form.
“We as a state have an identity, how the rest of the country sees us,” Vincent described. “When you come and hear the community members tell their stories – we are that, and we are so much more … people don’t realize the talent that lives in Wyoming.”
The Bookmarked Literary Arts Festival highlights this talent and brings together people who love stories, whether it’s creating them or reading them. It also has been inviting in a keynote speaker over the past few years; this year’s keynote speaker, who will be speaking at the Inn at Lander at 5 p.m. on Saturday, September 30, is bestselling author Chris Bohjalian.
“We submitted to his agency on a Friday night, and by Monday morning we had a ‘yes,’” Vincent said. “It’s a unique thing that we’re doing,” she added, and she thinks Bohjalian and his agent were probably drawn to this uniqueness.
The choice of Bohjalian was inspired by one of the volunteers who helps organize the Bookmarked festival every year, who had read one of his books and was excited about his writing. They suggested that it would be amazing if he could come; a highly successful author based out of New York, with books recommended by Oprah Winfrey and adapted into films, it was probably not immediately obvious that he would consider coming to somewhere as remote as Lander, Wyoming. But they tried regardless, and now Bohjalian will be here later this week, speaking to Fremont County residents and offering a book signing afterward. This event, like all other events associated with Bookmarked, is entirely free and open to the public.
“It takes tremendous community support to put this on,” Vincent noted. Bookmarked is not only free to attend for the public, but is also free for writers to participate in. It doesn’t even require any registration; people can wander in and out as they like. This is made possible, Vincent said, by the huge amount of support the event receives from the community. Volunteers give up their free time to make the event happen; local businesses help sponsor the event; Bookmarked has also received several grants, including one this year from Wyoming Humanities. The library has also been incredibly supportive of the event over the years, helping Vincent get it started and hosting events.
Bookmarked will kick off at 5:30 p.m. this Friday, September 29, with the Youth Flash Fiction awards ceremony at the Lander Library’s Carnegie Room; snacks will be provided by a Riverton culinary class. The whole community is invited to come celebrate the participants and listen to them read portions of their works. For a full calendar of Bookmarked’s events, visit www.bookmarkedfestival.com.