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Guest Blog: Literary Guide to Summer in Aspen

Guest Blog: Literary Guide to Summer in Aspen

By Caroline Tory, Program Associate at Aspen Words

Nestled in the Rockies hundreds of miles from the nearest Barnes and Noble, many visitors are surprised to learn that Aspen is a flourishing literary hub.  In 1976, Brooklyn poet and editor Kurt Brown launched the Aspen Writers’ Conference, which morphed into Colorado’s oldest nonprofit literary center, Aspen Words. From there, famous writers like James Salter and Hunter S. Thompson put down roots in Aspen, and other writers followed, inspired as much by the mountain scenery as the growing creative community in the area. That tradition has only become stronger, with Aspen Words hosting top contemporary writers for year-round events, not to mention the thriving independent bookstore, newly renovated public library, and countless other opportunities for lovers of literature. Here are some of the top landmarks and events to explore in this literary guide to summer in Aspen.

Belly Up, Aspen’s legendary music venue, will be transformed into a literary lounge during Summer Words, the weeklong writers conference and literary festival hosted by Aspen Words in June. The not-to-be-missed event on the line-up: “Writing with Wit + Whimsy” featuring Where’d You Go Bernadette author Maria Semple alongside the equally funny Dean Bakopoulos.

Aspiring poets should visit the John Denver Sanctuary for inspiration. The idyllic spot is located just across the park from the Rio Grande Visitors Center and commemorates the acclaimed singer-songwriter and former Poet Laureate of Colorado. The lyrics to Denver’s famous “Rocky Mountain High” song are etched into a rock by the Roaring Fork River and next to the town’s largest perennial flower garden. What better inspiration than nature and poetry!

Wine makes the perfect pairing for literature at the Aspen Words Annual Benefit on June 22. Try a selection of wines from around the world paired with unique tasting notes crafted by award-winning authors. It all takes place at the Hotel Jerome, Aspen’s “crown jewel” with a strong literary tradition of its own.

The Hotel’s J-Bar was author and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s former de facto office. Attracted by its counter culture reputation and natural beauty, Thompson moved to Aspen in 1968 and went on to run a wild campaign for sheriff. The Hell’s Angels and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas author was rumored to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the J-Bar. The Hotel Jerome ballroom later hosted Thompson’s memorial service.

Another one of Thompson’s favorite hangouts was the Woody Creek Tavern, located 8 miles down valley from Aspen. Rumor has it that to avoid gawking fans, he asked the Tavern to be kept open late for him-and him alone. Today you will still find many nods to the author in the photos and posters plastering the restaurant’s walls.

Next door to the Tavern, you’ll find the Woody Creek Community Center, which hosts Aspen Words events with Writers in Residence throughout the summer. These intimate gatherings are a chance to discover new authors, and get a sneak peak at the creative process and never-before-seen writing. To familiarize the community with the resident authors’ work, Aspen Words distributes free books in advance of each event.

Few second-hand shops have a more sophisticated selection of books than the Aspen Thrift Store. There’s something extra intriguing about reading a dog-eared, lovingly underlined, hand-me-down novel.

For the perfect gift to a bookworm friend, look no further than Explore Booksellers, Aspen’s beloved independent bookstore for nearly 40 years. The knowledgeable staff can recommend a range of literature, old and new, obscure and popular. Housed in a historic Victorian home, the shop opens its doors for regular, free book talks including the monthly Local Writers Read events, highlighting homegrown literary talent.

For an excuse to visit Aspen in all of its best seasons—summer, fall, and winter—sign up for the Aspen Words Readers’ Retreat, a series of three workshops led by experts in the book world. The first session takes place during Summer Words (June 19-22) and will be led by Leigh Haber, Books Editor at O, The Oprah Magazine. Haber has curated a selection of readings featuring strong female voices discussing fresh-off-your Twitter-feed issues.

For a quiet place to read all your new books, check out the poolside lounge chairs at the Aspen Meadows Resort. With views of Red Mountain to the North and Mt. Sopris to the West, this hideaway is almost always deserted, so you can read in peace while enjoying the pristine mountain air.

After a lengthy renovation process, Aspen’s Pitkin County Library will open its doors on June 19th. Not only will the new space house a large selection of books for check-out, but it has also been expanded to include a café on the main floor, an outdoor reading deck, a community meeting room, and new areas to support digital learning and craft creativity.

Join us for a literature-rich summer in Aspen!