Award-winning writer Timothy Egan will be in Wenatchee on Thursday to talk about books, wildfires, and the early days of the U.S. Forest Service and preservation of public lands in America.
Egan will talk at 7p.m. Thursday at the Numerica Performing Arts Center. Starting at 6p.m., several community organizations will have booths presenting information on fire-related topics. They include:
- The U.S. Forest Service
- Entiat Hot Shots
- Cascadia Conservation District
- John Marshall Photography
- Columbia Breaks Fire Interpretive Center
- Chelan County Fire District #1
- Community Wildfire Planning Assistance Grant
- American Red Cross
- Plain Firewise
- Master Gardeners of Chelan & Douglas Counties
- State Department of Natural Resources
- Chelan-Douglas Land Trust
Egan's book, The Big Burn, details the events leading up to the destructive 1910 wildfire that blackened more than 3 million acres in Washington, Idaho, and Montana. In light of the fires that touch so many communities and lives in our region each summer - and in particular the last two summers, North Central Regional Library is encouraging everyone to read the book this spring as part of its Columbia River Reads program.
"Timothy Egan is among Washington State's most celebrated writers," said NCRL Executive Director Dan Howard. "In The Big Burn, he tells a great story about the largest fire in American history. After the devastating fires we faced in recent years, this is a timely read."
Egan won the 2006 National Book Award for his nonfiction account of the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time. He also shared a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 with a team of reporters for a newspaper series on race issues in America. The Northwest native is a columnist and formerly an enterprise reporter for the New York Times.
Here's how he answered some questions we asked about his life and work:
Can you tell us about your connection with the Northwest and with our central region in Washington?
I'm a third generation Northwesterner, born in Seattle, raised in Spokane.
What is your favorite place to visit in North Central Washington?
Spent my summers in the Cascades and Lake Chelan, and still do, so a tough question. To this day we count Chelan County as a sort of second home (though we don't have a second home there), and I set my novel, The Winemaker's Daughter, in a fictional coulee just above the Columbia River. Always loved the area, from the Enchantments to floating down the Wenatchee River. And the view from the top of Mount Stuart is unbeatable.
Why did you decide to write about the 1910 fire?
I always knew something of this fire growing up. Smokejumpers were my heroes as a little kid. The fire had a mythic status. And then, as a writer, when I looked into it, I got fascinated by the back story - Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot and the founding of the Forest Service.
What surprised you the most in doing your research for the book?
That these kinds of tragedies still repeat themselves. Not wildfires. They'll always be with us, and with increased frequency with climate change. But the loss of human life. We should learn from past mistakes
This happened more than 100 years ago. How did you hear your main subjects' voices?
Yes, indeed! The Forest Service has done a terrific job of collecting the "early memories of the Forest Service,' as they call it, in oral and written histories. As well, Roosevelt and Pinchot were prodigious diary-keepers and letter writers. All those voices came to life when I wrote this book, and some are with me still
Given the back-to-back, record setting fires we've had the last two summers, what can people take away from the book?
That we can, in fact, learn great lessons from the past. That the past is not dead. That a careful reading of this time a hundred plus years ago can inform our decisions now.
What do you like to read?
I'm finishing the epic Winston Churchill trilogy by William Manchester. Riveting. My tastes range from history to memoir to good fiction. The last novel that I truly loved was All the Light We Cannot See.
Are you currently working on a new novel?
Yes! My story of the Irish-American experience, as told through the life of one extraordinary man, is coming out March 1 -- called Immortal Irishmen. It gave me a chance to connect to my heritage.