The literary arts have held a longtime presence in Flagstaff. A sturdy annual book festival, the presence of top-tier authors and the ongoing passion to keep literature as performance in play have helped the bookish side of creativity keep a foothold in the town’s cultural scene.
However, 2015 turned into a kind of Year of the Book for Flagstaff, as it saw the resurrection (and return to downtown) of one of its famed annual literary events, the arrival of an international book conference, a new independent bookstore, and some appearances in town by major-league wordsmiths. Here are a handful of the many highlights.
Flagstaff picked up big recognition on the international literary map when Northern Arizona University hosted the NonfictioNOW conference at the end of October. More than 400 creative and literary nonfiction authors attended a conference with global notoriety (2012 was held in Melbourne, Australia) and stirred up the passion and inspiration for the written word.
Among the conference attendees were Maggie Nelson, Brian Doyle, Michael Martone and Ander Monson and Tim Flannery. The conference itself put the spotlight on the various and creative forms of nonfiction, from graphic essays to memoirs to lyric essays and literary journalism. The conference also opened up with passes for locals to attend and get some highlights.
Northern Arizona Book Festival
After a two-year hiatus, the Northern Arizona Book Festival returned to the scene. At one time, the festival brought some of the biggest names in the literary world, from Russell Banks to Lemony Snicket to E. Annie Proulx. It also pulled in some of the greatest living poets, such as Robert Bly.
However, the book festival needed to take a break and regroup. The rebooted version became a near-week-long event of literary goings on in September — with a headlining night that brought Arizona Poet Laureate Alberto Rios. The renewed event put emphasis on a number of local and regional authors and poets who also have a strong national recognition, such as Eddie Chuculate and Monica Brown.
Narrow Chimney Reading Series
Flagstaff has played host a number of great literary series, from Barley Rhymes to Poet’s Den and the longstanding Flagstaff Poetry Slam. Among these is Narrow Chimney Reading Series, which had a breakout year this year on multiple levels.
The series — hosted by Uptown Pubhouse on Monday nights during the semester — earned the 2015 Viola Award for Excellence in Storytelling. It also brought in a number of great visiting poets and authors such as Kyle McCoy and Nick Courtright, as well as some literary voices on the rise like Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow.
Locally well-known authors such as Ann Cummins and Jill Divine also joined the mix, and established writers have been—most nights—paired with an MFA in Creative Writing student from Northern Arizona University.
New Bookseller in Town
Another sign of a revitalized literary scene came with the arrival of Barefoot Cowgirl Books on North San Francisco Street. The new indie bookstore opened its doors at the end of October and became the first new local book purveyor to open in a number of years.
Barefoot Cowgirl, which was started by local book lover Nancy Nelson, has brought in a variety of top-notch regional authors and has already become a landing site for a number of great authors passing through.
Mark Rozema, a former Flagstaffian and author, had the first event on opening weekend. Another big highlight was Southwest author Craig Childs bringing his signature work to the space in early December. The bookstore is also working on launching a number of book clubs and growing excitement and momentum around literature.
The Big Names
The Flagstaff literary calendar also received a number of big boosts in 2015 with renowned visiting authors and poets outside the fests and conferences. Among the big names that came through was Luis Alberto Urrea, who appeared at Prochnow Auditorium as part of NAU’s Immigration Awareness Series in March. Urrea wrote The Devil’s Highway, one of the most well-known books about the U.S.-Mexico border issue, as well as award-winning fiction like The Hummingbird’s Daughter.
A few months later in May at Firecreek Coffee, spoken-word master Buddy Wakefield made a celebrated Flagstaff appearance. Wakefield is a two-time world champion slam poet who, in many ways, is a founding father of modern performance poetry.
Another great literary performer similar to Wakefield is Andrea Gibson, who brought her signature lyrical style to the Green Room in July. Gibson shared her evocative and potent poetry, with its focus on political activism and exploration of sexuality and gender norms.