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Think Out Loud

Live from Enterprise: Fishtrap

Pete Springer/OPB

Each July, writers gather at Wallowa Lake to read, write, and talk. It’s the Fishtrap Summer Gathering. Fishtrap is a non-profit organization with this mission:

To promote clear thinking and good writing in and about the West.

Writer Pamela Steele initially attended Fishtrap as a cook. She is now a published poet (and a former board member of the organization.) Author Bette Husted went to the very first summer workshop. She says Fishtrap gave her the courage to try to tell her stories. 

Husted’s memoir, Above the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Land, documents her life growing up on a perch of land in Idaho her grandfather had homesteaded. The home was built on land taken from the Nez Perce, and that shadow infused Bette’s childhood.

So did joy, love, violence, illness, and isolation — many experiences that could not be voiced aloud. In the memoir, Husted writes:

Struggling to understand it, I realized that our family story is only a very small part of a much larger one. The American West, America itself, the colonizing of four continents. It’s easy to get trapped in this bigger story where human bodies and the earth they stand on can become expendable resources, some parts to be grubbed out to make room for others.

Steele’s family also homesteaded. Her parents came from West Virginia to join relatives in Wallowa County after her father collapsed his first day working in a coal mine. Despite leaving the mining life, he died when Steele was just six years old. Her mother moved the family back to West Virginia, then Tennessee. Steele says she returned to Oregon as an adult because it was the place she remembered being happy.

Like Husted, Steele has written since childhood. She says being camp cook at Fistrap was a thrill.

I remember seeing writers and thinking, ‘Holy cow, that’s Kim Stafford!’ But they ate like ordinary people. I loved being around them.

Steele and Husted join us at Fishtrap’s Gwen and Gladys Coffin House in Enterprise. It’s part of our Northwest Passages series, conversations with regional writers.

Have you been to Fishtrap? What did you learn there? What “good writing in and about the West” do you admire? Are there stories, novels or poetry from Eastern Oregon you particularly value?

If you’re in Enterprise and would like to join us for the show, you’re welcome to come! Please be at the Fishtrap’s Coffin House, 400 East Grant Street, by 8:40 Wednesday morning.

books eastern oregon fishtrap literature northwest passages writing

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