I was excited about the weekend, because I’d been asked to lead a day of hiking and writing with Elizabeth Austen, who is the Washington State Poet Laureate. Unfortunately, there are horrible forest fires in the area, so we had to adjust our plans.
We formulated a backup plan: Elizabeth and I would host a literary reading at the Mineral School. Our audience would be the visiting writers-in-residence, the local community — and the inmates who were camped out in the Mineral School’s backyard while they helped fight the nearby fires.
They weren’t technically allowed inside the building, but we opened the windows, shouted our introductions, and read really loudly.
Elizabeth Austen (below) is an incredible woman — as the state’s poet laureate, she travels around to all the communities in Washington to read poetry, lead workshops, and generally promote the arts. She’s also gracious, thoughtful, and incredibly well-spoken. She read poems about fire, I read an essay about a mountain, and we had a great Q&A session.
The inmates were thrilled to be included, and they were a very supportive and engaged audience. We gave them a round of applause for fighting the fires, and they listened intently to everything we read. There were smiles all around.
It was a quirky evening, but wonderful, too. There was no electricity. Elizabeth Austen inspired everybody in the room. The inmates were lovely, and it was really neat to see how much they enjoyed being involved in our evening. And nobody even groaned when local writer Diane Mapes played “Folsom Prison Blues” on the piano.
Photos courtesy of Amanda Castleman.