Writers Pam Houston and Amy Irvine had never met – though each had read the other’s books. But when the pandemic hit and the state of Colorado issued shelter-in-place orders, Houston and Irvine began an old-fashioned snail mail correspondence from their homes on opposite sides of the Continental Divide. Their letters and the friendship that was born from them evolved into a book titled “Air Mail: Letters of Politics, Pandemics and Place.”
The book was recently published by Torrey House Press which seeks to “create conversations about issues that concern the American West, landscape, literature, and the future of our ever-changing planet, inspiring action toward a more just world.”
The Moab Museum and Back of Beyond Books will host a conversation with Irvine and Houston on Oct. 27. The event is part of the Moab Museum’s Tuesdays with the Museum series. It will be held on Zoom and simultaneously broadcast on Facebook Live, and recordings of the presentations will be available on the museum’s website. It begins at 6:30 p.m. and is open to the public at no charge.
Moab Museum contributor Christy Williams Dunton said she knows both the authors personally and feels the conversation fits with the museum’s goal of fostering an understanding of the region’s natural and cultural history. Dunton will be facilitating the conversation along with Shari Zollinger of Back of Beyond Books.
“We’ll go where the title leads, covering elements of air, mail, letters, politics, pandemics and my personal fave, place,” Dunton said.
According to the author bios on the Torrey House Press website, Houston is the author of the memoir “Deep Creek: Finding Hope In The High Country” as well as two novels, “Contents May Have Shifted” and “Sight Hound.” She has also authored two collections of short stories, “Cowboys Are My Weakness” and “Waltzing the Cat,” and a collection of essays, “A Little More About Me.” She teaches in the Low Rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, is a professor of English at UC Davis and co-founder and creative director of the literary nonprofit Writing By Writers. She lives at 9,000 feet above sea level, near the headwaters of the Rio Grande.
Irvine is a sixth-generation Utahn and longtime public lands activist. She is the author of “Desert Cabal: A New Season in the Wilderness,” a response to Edward Abbey's “Desert Solitaire.” Her memoir “Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land” received the Orion Book Award, the Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Award, and the Colorado Book Award. Irvine teaches in the MFA program of Southern New Hampshire University. She lives and writes in Southwest Colorado.
“We live on opposite sides of the Continental Divide, on opposite sides of the San Juan Mountain Range,” the authors write in “Air Mail.”
“The rain that falls onto Pam’s high mountain meadow will make its way eventually to the Atlantic Ocean, while the rain that falls onto Amy’s high desert mesa will run toward the Pacific. The land between our houses, much of it over 10,000 feet in elevation, is arguably the most beautiful and wildest country in the lower 48.
“In a culture defined by Twitter and the twenty-four-hour news cycle, writing letters felt like ritual—intimate, ancient—two barn owls calling to each other across a starry sky. As the reality of COVID set in, our letters became a life raft of clarity in days filled with increasing numbers of the dead and the incessant dismantling of our government from within.”
Dunton said the event will include opportunities for the audience to comment and ask questions.
“With the kinds of readers they draw, I'm looking forward to that, too!” she said.
Copies of “Air Mail: Letters of Politics, Pandemics and Place” are available at Back of Beyond Books (83 N. Main, Moab). For more information on the event, go to www.moabmuseum.org or call the museum at 435-259-7985.