Missoula, Montana – a writing community

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David Allan Cates

The other night I went to a reading by Missoula author David Allan Cates, who was launching his new novel, his fifth, Tom Connor’s Gift, due out Oct. 15.

It was a lovely, warm  evening with lots of things going on around Missoula, but Cates packed the house at Shakespeare and Company. The crowd included fellow authors Pete Fromm (whose own new novel, If Not For This, was published last month), Peter Stark (Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire) and Victoria Jenkins (An Unattended Death), among others. In Cates’ remarks after the reading, people around the room nodded as he made much of the benefits of living in a community with such strong support for writers. Truly, sometimes I pinch myself in wonder at having landed in such a writerly place.

There is, of course, the University of Montana’s vaunted creative writing program. I’ve taken Cates’ novel-writing class at 406 Writers Workshop, a group that also holds sessions in short fiction, memoir, poetry, screenwriting and creative nonfiction. The booksellers here are wonderfully supportive of local authors. And the annual Humanities Montana Festival of the Book (Oct. 9-11 this year) packs venues around town.

More than anything, I’ve found the authors here to be unstintingly generous with newbies like me in terms of advice and mentoring. I’ve heard horror stories about the cutthroat competition in other paces and writing programs. I’m so glad I’m here instead.


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