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“There are careers that maintain the structures to life, and there are careers that give meaning to life,” said Aspen Words Writer in Residence Moira Crone to a library packed with high school students in Basalt, Colorado. Held in partnership with the Catto Shaw Foundation, the Writers in Residence program provides a space for authors to nourish their craft, while also exposing the community to working writers.
With many public schools around the country starving for arts education, visits like Crone’s are an important means of inspiring young people to pursue artistic careers. Being a young artist often means sharing the most intimate parts of yourself, explained Crone to her audience of students. “Despite all this, art can be the thing that makes you feel most alive.”
Crone weaves the history, culture and conflicts of the American South into much of her work. During a public talk and reading at the Woody Creek Community Center, Crone read from her most recent work, “The Ice Garden,” a novel set on the eve of the Civil Rights Movement. She tells the story of a family coping with mental illness, told from the perspective of an 11-year-old girl.
The audience of readers and writers learned that “The Ice Garden” was originally a short story, expanded into a novel. “In my novel, I had to give the characters a future,” Crone explained. “In my short story, I can abandon the character amidst chaos. The story is about a moment, the novel is about the journey.”
It was clear from her reading that for Crone, her characters are living, breathing people. Perhaps it is this approach — treating her novel’s stakes as reality — that makes her prose so heart-wrenching.
During her Aspen Words residency, Crone began a new novel placed in Greensboro, North Carolina, also set in the thick of the Civil Rights Movement. The book will explore the beginnings of school integration through the eyes of a young student. Crone herself was a young woman during the Civil Rights Movement, and experienced the hope and trauma that came alongside great change.
Crone explained to the audience her motivation for becoming a writer: “Art is really just an opportunity to organize your feelings,” she explained, “be it drama, journalism, painting, whatever, it all gives you a chance to make sense of what is going on in your head.” When asked if the young girls in her books are based on herself, Crone responded with a quick “no.” However, she did admit that much of the inspiration for her work comes from personal experience, and that her characters allow her to dive into parts of her past, and to reflect and expand upon them. Her current project is another example of how art can make sense of both an individual’s and a society’s experience of history.
Aspen Words will host professional oboist and interior designer-turned-debut memoirist Marcia Butler for the month of November. Her public reading and talk will be at the Woody Creek Community Center on November 18 at 6pm.
Nicole Stanton is program coordinator at Aspen Words.