The Sopris Sun

Karen Chamberlain Poetry Festival returns to TRTC

Western Slope poet laureate will be featured

Barbara Dills

Sopris Sun Correspondent

Poet, writer and naturalist Karen Chamberlain, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 68, was many things to many people in the Roaring Fork Valley. To fledgling local writers who were lucky enough to meet her, she was a mentor, coach and most of all, cheerleader. 

Mention Chamberlain at any gathering of poets or writers in Aspen, Basalt, Glenwood Springs or Carbondale and you will hear of her encouragement and support and what that meant to someone’s writing life.

It’s not surprising then, that those closest to her were moved to establish a poetry festival here in her honor. Since it’s beginning in 2011, the festival’s reputation has spread. It now attracts workshop instructors and participants from outside Colorado, including a teacher this year, Judyth Hill, who hails from far to the south in the mountains of Mexico. In recent years, the festival has attracted over 200 people, many from out of town.

This year’s festival opens on March 28, with an evening of featured performances and open mic opportunities and runs through noon on March 30. Featured visiting performers include festival favorite and Western Slope Poet Laureate, Aaron Abeyta, as well as Judyth Hill, Rich Broderick, Katherine Seluja, Micah Franz, Jared Smith, Lenny Chernilia, Barbara Ford and spoken word artist Don McIver.

Western Slope Poet Laureate Abeyta is a Colorado native and professor of English at Adams State College. For his previous poetry collection, “Colcha,” Abeyta received an American Book Award and the Colorado Book Award. He is also the recipient of a Colorado Council on the Arts fellowship for poetry. He lives in Southern Colorado.

Saturday programming at the upcoming festival includes three sessions of writing workshops, one in the morning and two in the afternoon, with four workshops to choose from in each session. Writers of all levels, including high school students, are welcome to sign up. In addition to some of the featured performers, workshop leaders will include poets Stewart Warren, Alicia Parker, F. Reetz. Mark Todd, Debbi Brody, Art Goodtimes, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, Luis Lopez, and Carbondale’s own Bill Kight and Kim Nuzzo.

Saturday’s program culminates with more featured evening performances and open mic opportunities.

Sunday wraps up with a continental breakfast and one final open mic session. The detailed festival schedule and full workshop descriptions are available online at thunderrivertheater.com/karenchamberlainpoetryfestival.

The theme of this year’s event is “Beneath the Surface.” All activities are open to the public and will convene at Thunder River Theater, the event’s main sponsor and host.

A full festival pass ($65) covers the entire weekend of activities, including three workshops and the continental breakfast. Individual tickets for Friday and Saturday night are $10 each; open mic participants will be asked to contribute an additional $10. Workshops and the Sunday morning session, including breakfast, are $15 each. Many workshops will fill ahead of the event, so early registration is encouraged. Financial assistance is available for a limited number of college and high school students; contact Lon Winston at lonw@sopris.net for scholarship details.

A published author herself, Karen Chamberlain not only offered kind words to the emerging writers she encountered; in 1981 she helped found the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, whose first office was at her kitchen table. She co-founded “Nature Within,” a summer outdoor writers’ program; served as literary coordinator for the Canyonlands Field Institute Desert Writers Workshop near Moab, Utah, for 10 years; co-founded the Glenwood Springs Writers’ Workshop; and was poetry editor for the Mountain Gazette for five years. Other accolades include a 1983 Discovery/The Nation Prize, a 1989 Fellowship in Poetry from the Colorado Council on the Arts, a 1993 Poetry Program Award from Poets and Writers Magazine and the Poetry Society of America, and a 2004 Contribution-To-Poetry Award from Sparrows Poetry Festival in Salida. Chamberlain’s autobiographical book, “The Desert of the Heart,” which chronicles her experiences living as a caretaker at Horsethief Ranch in the Utah desert for more than four years, was a finalist for the 2007 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award. Her collection of poetry, “Ephedra,” was published posthumously by People’s Press of Aspen.