Pros of prose: 3 local authors are nominated for Colorado Book Awards

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LAST HEIRWhat do Ed Abbey’s outdoor legacy, 13 weeds for human survival, and a Napa Valley winery mystery have in common? These are the subjects of three books by Four Corners authors who have been nominated for a Colorado Book Award.

The awards – given annually to writers, editors, illustrators and photographers who live and work in Colorado – are sponsored by Colorado Humanities, an organization devoted to promoting an appreciation of Colorado’s cultural heritage since 1874.

The Colorado Book Awards began in 1991 and are a program of the Colorado Center for the Book, affiliated with the Library of Congress Center of the Book, both of which have the mission of inspiring a love of reading and books. In Colorado this means a wide range of subject matter is covered, as evidenced by the categories of awards: anthology/ collection, biography, children’s, creative nonfiction, fiction, history, nonfiction, pictorial, poetry and young adult.

Three books in each category are nominated, and the winners of this year’s competition will be announced at a ceremony on Sunday, June 21, at Aspen Meadows Resort in Aspen.

Chuck Greaves of Cortez is no stranger to awards. Originally from New York and educated as a lawyer, he spent 25 years trying cases in Los Angeles. In 2009 he left this successful career to write, and it was his first mystery novel, “Hush Money,” published in 2012, that brought him literary recognition, winning the South West Writers’ International Writing Contest. The book also was a finalist for the 2013 Rocky Award, Shamus Award, the 2012 RT Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award and New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards- Best Mystery/Suspense.

This year’s nomination for the 2015 Colorado Book Award mystery category, “The Last Heir,” is the third in Greaves’ Jack MacTaggart series. The MacTaggart books take place in California, the current nominee an informative adventure in Napa Valley’s wine country. If you want an insider’s peek into the lux wine industry, this is the book for you.

MacTaggart is a lawyer-detective-man about town, whose escapades (following leads, driving fancy cars, romancing gorgeous women, throwing balls for his dog, and bantering with his partner, Mayday Suarez) are highly entertaining. All three mysteries are perfect summer reading, and there’s no need to read them in order, as each book stands alone.

“Authors spend a year or more with their noses pressed to a computer screen, so it’s always gratifying to have the effort recognized,” Greaves said. “As a relatively new Coloradoan, this nomination is doubly special, and I’m looking forward to attending the ceremony in Aspen on June 21 and meeting some of my fellow Colorado authors.” Another award-winning local author is Andrew Gulliford, who first received a Colorado Book Award in 2004 for “Boomtown Blues,” a revision of his Ph.D. dissertation examining the ups and downs of oil-shale development in Colorado. This year his newest book, “Outdoors in the Southwest: An Adventure Anthology,” has received the CBA nomination for best anthology.

OUTDOORS IN THE SOUTHWESTGulliford, a history professor at Fort Lewis College in Durango, is especially proud of this edited volume, noting that it was not easy to get published. The anthology contains excerpts from some of his favorite writers, such as Ed Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams and Craig Childs, and is organized around themes including “Why We Need Wilderness,” “Running Western Rivers,” “Canyons and Deserts,” and “Animal Encounters.”

Gulliford teaches a course on wilderness at Fort Lewis and through his association with students enrolled in the Outdoor Adventure program, he realized there was a need for more than what was offered in the texts. “I specifically wanted to reach out to a younger generation and come up with stories that they would be interested in reading; cautionary tales about things that can happen in the outdoors, so they can be prepared,” he told the Free Press.

Gulliford was concerned that “the greens are graying.” He noticed the younger generation had a different relationship with nature, being drawn to the outdoors through a desire to experience something extreme – with kayaks, mountain bikes, rafts, climbing gear – and then documenting their exploits with live gopro feeds or Instagram posts.

“They treat the outdoors like a dirty gym,” he said, and his concern was that the depth of experience that nature requires was being lost. Each section of the book concludes with study questions prepared by Fort Lewis students, which is one way Gulliford hopes to encourage readers to develop a deeper engagement with the ideas about the outdoors presented in the volume.

As an educator, Gulliford wanted to provide stories to illustrate the deeper connections between humans and the landscape: “What do we do around archaeological sites that is safe and ethical? What do we do when we find cowboy artifacts? We can’t take them, since they are protected – but you are out on the public lands, so what are the rules? What are the deeper ways of understanding surrounding how a gate was made? What does it tell you about how the workman understood his world?”

Most importantly, Gulliford believes the idea of giving back is the key thing his book contributes to outdoor literature. “We ‘take’ a hike, but what do we give back?” he asks.

In the last section, “Wilderness Tithing: Giving Back to Public Lands,” readers will find examples of people volunteering in the outdoors. The work of the Southwest Conservation Corps, the Adopt a Beach program in the Grand Canyon, and suggestions on how to advocate for wild lands in the context of global climate change are addressed.

Perhaps one of the most devoted local advocates for wild lands is Katrina Blair, whose entire life is a deep engagement with nature. Blair, a Durango native, founded Turtle Lake Refuge, an “organic farm school,” and engages in regular “walkabouts” in which she spends days in the wilderness eating only raw wild foods and drinking “wild” water. She leads plant walks, speaks at conferences around the country, teaches people how to prepare wild food, and is a living example of the grace and beauty of the natural world.

THE WILD WISDOM OF WEEDSHer book “The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival” is nominated in the General Nonfiction category. Blair self-published a recipe book in 2009, “Local Wild Life: Turtle Lake Refuge’s Recipes for Living Deep,” which also provides a history of the Local Wild Life Café in Durango, a living food restaurant she established.

Blair had an idea for another book, which had to do with the important role some neglected plants play in facilitating human health. While she was mulling the idea, an editor from Chelsea Green Publishing contacted her. They specialize in sustainable-living books, publishing popular titles such as “The Straw Bale House” (Bainbridge & Steen) and “The Man Who Planted Trees” (Giono).

Blair was offered an advance, which she used to travel to the Arctic to see if the plants she was considering could be found there. “Which plants are most easily found in all countries?” she wondered. “They had to be edible first, and medicinal second.” She narrowed her choices to the 13 in the book, then spent over a year researching each plant.

“I was already in love with the plants,” she smiled, “but then I found myself becoming even more deeply engaged with each one.”

The book was a family effort. Her mother helped her edit, staying up all night with her during the week before the manuscript was due. Her father, the late Rob Blair, a long-time geosciences professor at Fort Lewis College and founder of the Mountain Studies Institute in Silverton, helped with the research.

The book has received rave reviews, ending up in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, and as one of Mother Earth News’ Notable New Books. Blair is somewhat surprised by all this attention.

But she’s happy for the support, because she believes in bridging perspectives. She’s talking about human survival, and how simple weeds have the capacity to help people become healthier and happier. “We’re a resource for each other. I love to interconnect, and open doors,” she said.

The book has taken on a life of its own, bringing her new opportunities to teach and be of service. “I’m in awe of it,” she said of the book. “It’s like a dandelion seed, going out into the world, doing its work.”

Blair plans to attend the awards ceremony in Aspen on June 21, mentioning that “it’s an honor to be a finalist.”

Guilliford agrees. “The whole idea that our corner of the state is generating high-quality writing and literature and the type of material that will engage people from all over the state and the country is exciting,” he said.

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