P O W E L L, W y o. - After a successful first year, the Writers Series at Northwest College is back with a new lineup of writers, starting with Renee Dechert who will launch the series Thursday, Sept. 21, with a 7:30 p.m. program in the Orendorff Building Lounge at Northwest College in Powell. The public is invited to peek into the writing process and hear the outcome as local and regional authors share their experiences and their works.
Dechert, an associate professor of English at NWC, will begin with an overview of creative nonfiction, introducing the genre which brings many of this year's writers to the series. Memoir writing, a popular form of creative nonfiction in contemporary literature, is a specialty of three authors featured in the 2006-07 lineup.
She'll conclude the program by reading her essay about pickups titled "My Place." Dechert began the piece in June while attending a writers' workshop at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. Her assignment was to write about a place she found interesting or significant. A self-described "farm girl," Dechert immediately thought of her parents' farm near Shoshoni. As she narrowed her focus to a smaller, more specific place, she was surprised to end up in her father's pickup, realizing how important that pickup was to the farm and eventually to her own identity.
"The pickup is just part of the West," Dechert said, "It's become an extension of the horse." As she explored this notion further, she began to understand how the old phrase "You can tell a lot about a man by his horse" is relevant in today's West where a pickup has taken the horse's place as an indicator of personal character.
"Sociologists say we select the vehicle we drive to help us identify with the subculture, to show that we are part of a group," Dechert said, "I wondered what that said about me and other people."
She chased that thought through the summer as she rode with a friend's teenage son in his first car and again in her own pickup when she drove her niece to work in the fields on her family's farm. She also tripped back to her own teenage past, realizing how the pickups her fellow male classmates drove had a pretty direct correlation to their boyfriend potential in her mind (explaining why the guy who drove the Honda Civic never made the cut).
In her essay, she also looks at how pickups reveal the changing identity of the driver. "I came to understand a long time ago that my father had entered a new phase of his life when he stopped driving his big pickup and started driving a little Ford Ranger," Dechert said. Through the process of writing about this observation, she began to better understand how life had shifted gears when that big pickup became just another piece of farm equipment.
Dechert and fellow NWC English faculty member Rob Stothart created the nonprofit Northwest Writers Series last year to bring a diverse variety of regional authors to Powell to discuss their experiences, process and inspiration, as well as offer advice to other writers.
"We want to include writers in various stages of development," Dechert said, "Our focus is more on process that publication, although the majority of our guest writers are published professionals."
Three more writers are lined up for the fall semester series. Award winning detective fiction writer and Wyoming native C. J. Box will talk about Joe Picket, his Wyoming game warden character and others on Thursday, Nov. 30. Travel writer Jeff Biggers, another award winning author, shares the roots and fruits of his life experiences in the United States, Europe, India and Mexico on Thursday, Nov. 2.
Coming up next in the series is Lawson Inada, a poet who writes about his experience as a Japanese American held at the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center during World War II. Inada will present a program that fuses poetry with jazz music on Tuesday, Oct. 10.
Admission to all of the Writers Series programs is free of charge. More information about upcoming programs is available online.