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Film Premiere: A Journey of Understanding in Mississippi Queen

“When I first fell in love I was 17, and it happened to be with a girl. The news hit hard. They’d pray and pray and pray over me. There was a lot of anger and fear. And even a gun. In the South I was taught to love God first and then you love your family second, and I did. And I was really good at it.” So begins the heartfelt and gripping documentary Mississippi Queen from Missoula filmmaker Paige Williams. The award-winning film, which follows Williams as she delves into her past and fits the jagged pieces into a livable whole, has its Montana premiere tonight as part of Pride Week activities. The event at the Wilma Theatre kicks off at 7 p.m. and includes live music by Mississippi Queen composer John Floridis and Jenn Adams, whose music is also featured in the film. The hour-long movie starts at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $5 and includes appetizers and talkback following the screening. The film will also be shown June 20 at the Red Lion Fireside Room in Kalispell, at noon. Proceeds will benefit Montana PRIDE 2009.

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“Colorado Abstract” Showcases State’s Contemporary Artists

Colorado Abstract: Painting and Sculpture by Michael Paglia and Mary Voelz Chandler Fresco Fine Art Publications, 319 pages, $85 One of my favorite places is the Kirkland Museum in Denver. It has the feel of a secret, tucked in an unassuming building you could miss if you weren't looking for it, and it's packed with treasures. It showcases not only Vance Kirkland's own art, which earned him a reputation as one of the premier painters working in this region in the 20th century, but also his generous collection of other people's paintings, drawings, furniture and decorative objects. Kirkland came to Colorado in 1929 to found the University of Denver School of Art, and he served as a teacher, mentor, and inspiration for a generation of Colorado's artists, particularly those working in abstraction. Kirkland's spirit seems to course through a new book of work by Colorado's contemporary abstract artists, Colorado Abstract: Painting and Sculpture, with essays by Westword art critic Michael Paglia and former Rocky Mountain News art and architecture critic Mary Voelz Chandler. In the introduction, Paglia considers Colorado's history as a hub of modernist art. Many of the artists who came to Colorado to paint over the last century were as drawn to the landscape as were predecessors like Albert Bierstadt, but more recent artists were less inclined to interpret what they saw literally. Charles Bunnell's 1936 watercolor "Pikes Peak," for example, is black and white, with cliffs looming like squared-off industrial colossi that Fritz Lang could have envisioned. Vance Kirkland painted some surrealist mountain scenes, such as his 1947 "Landscape with Root Forms," and then eventually blasted off into the universe with his nebula series.

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Land Art Rover: Erin Hogan’s “Spiral Jetta”

Spiral Jetta: A Road Trip Through the Land Art of the American West By Erin Hogan University of Chicago Press 180 pages, $20 My husband announced one day that he and my daughter had been out making "land art." The next time I walked out back I saw what he meant: they had gathered dozens of dandelions and arranged them in a yellow streak flowing down a channel in a boulder, the sort of thing artist Andy Goldsworthy did in Thomas Riedelsheimer's beautiful documentary Rivers & Tides. I'm a little hesitant to admit this, but we're land art junkies. We've been to see Goldsworthy's work at the Storm King Art Center in New York, and we've made a pilgrimage to Dia: Beacon, the New York museum that is the hub of the Dia Foundation, which funds and maintains much of the land art in the American West. But we haven't been to see Robert Smithson's famous "Spiral Jetty" in Utah, and we live only one state away from it, so we can't claim any real cred, unlike Erin Hogan, who braved endless miles, desert heat, poor directions, rutted roads, loneliness, and dubious bar company to take readers to the "Spiral Jetty" and beyond in her endearing first book, Spiral Jetta.

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Conversations with Missoula Artists: Meet Valentina LaPier

Missoula is home to a plethora of artists who express themselves in a variety of media. Alexia Beckerling is venturing into the studios and performance venues of a handful of local artists and bringing back multimedia glimpses into their creative worlds. This week, meet Valentina LaPier, an enrolled member of the Blackfoot tribe who sold her first painting at the age of 14 and is currently working and exhibiting at the Hanging Art Gallery in Arlee.

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Boulder Book Store’s Buyer Blogs, Columnist Arouses Ire, and Vegas Gets the Literary Treatment

Lately the Boulder Book Store's website has been pointing to the blog of its head book buyer, Arsen Kashkashian. I started reading Kash's Book Corner and am now addicted—he doesn't update as frequently as some literary bloggers, but each post is a carefully reasoned, well-written essay, packed with interesting tidbits and insights into the world of independent book stores. For example, in his recent post "Hachette Takes a Hatchet to Indies," he wrote about his attempt to order six copies of Ron Patterson's new novel Sail. "My rep informed me that if I ordered six copies of the Patterson book," he writes, "I wouldn't get them in time for the national laydown date. The only books that Hachette will send out on time are those that are ordered in carton quantities." Also in the Roundup: David Milofsky shares his hate mail, and two new Las Vegas novels bask in the light of the New York Times.

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“Plainsong” Sings at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts

Eric Schmiedl's excellent stage adaptation of Kent Haruf's beloved 1999 novel Plainsong premiered last week at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, opening with townspeople introducing the high school teacher Tom Guthrie against a 65-foot backdrop of the eastern Colorado plains. "Plainsong" brings the fictional town of Holt to life, with 21 actors performing 36 roles, and the set changes seamlessly between 46 scenes, from the high school to The Chute bar to the American Legion to the kitchens and ranches where Holt's individual dramas take place. The play's elemental themes, rich humor, nuanced characters, and appeal to a wide audience should give it a long life beyond its Denver opening.

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Western Writers Are Not Scrubs

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with another mother at the Parenting Place in Boulder. I mentioned that I wrote book reviews, and she asked if I could read anything I wanted. I said that for some newspapers I was assigned books, and for NewWest.Net/Books, I got to choose anything I liked that was written about the West or by a Western writer. She wrinkled her nose. "That must be hard." I wonder how many people who live in this region--especially those who have moved here from elsewhere--still think that culture must be imported from other parts of the country.

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“A Highly Placed Source” Aims Low

A Highly Placed Source by Michelle Dally Ghost Road Press 260 pages, $19.95 Denver's Ghost Road Press recently published A Highly Placed Source, the debut novel by Michelle Dally, a former reporter for the Denver Post who shared a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the Columbine shootings. The novel is a melodrama and, as such, the characters are there to serve the story, a formula that often works for a gripping narrative trip. Unfortunately, in spite of a fast read, this ride stalls.

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Western Book Roundup

La Bloga, a lively blog focused on "Chicano Literature, Chicano Writers, Chicano Fiction, Children's Literature, News, Views & Reviews" recently took note of El Centro Su Teatro's 35th anniversary. According to the Denver theater's website, "Su Teatro is the third oldest Teatro Chicano in the country; only El Teatro Campesino, the original Chicano theater, and El Teatro Esperanza, are older." I've found that attending a play at Su Teatro is a genuine community theater experience--the theater is small enough for the audience to engage with the actors, everyone in the lobby seems to know everyone else, and they tend to feature plays that are hard to come by anywhere else in the region. So happy birthday, El Centro Su Teatro! Boulder's Steven Wingate, who has been an instructor in the University of Colorado's Program for Writing and Rhetoric in the College of Arts and Sciences since 2001, recently won the 2007 Bakeless Fiction Prize, sponsored by the Bread Loaf Writers Conference at Middlebury College in Vermont. Wingate's winning short story collection, Wifeshopping, will be published by Houghton Mifflin as a Mariner Original Paperback next spring.

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Martelle’s “Blood Passion” Uncovers the 1914 Ludlow Mining Massacre

Los Angeles Times journalist Scott Martelle gave a presentation last night at the Boulder Book Store about his new book, Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West. (Martelle will speak tonight at the Tattered Cover in LoDo as a part of the Rocky Mountain Land Series at 7:30). Martelle explained that he had been interested in labor history since he read John Dos Passos' USA Trilogy many years ago, and that he became further interested in the subject of labor when he spent over a year on the picket line during the Detroit newspaper strike that began in 1995. Martelle writes, "A few years back I was reading a now-forgotten American history book and stumbled across a footnote reference to 100 men, women and children killed in a months-long war between striking coal miners and the Colorado National Guard. My first thought: Why didn't I know about that? I knew about the April 1914 Ludlow Massacre, when two mothers and eleven children died after marauding Guardsmen torched a striker's tent colony. But the broader war came as a revelation."

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