Made in Aspen
Given the choice between cramming into a studio in Ventura, California, or spending a month on stage at the Wheeler Opera House, former Yes frontman Jon Anderson and jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, unsurprisingly, opted for the latter. The pair and their new Anderson Ponty Band were in residency at the Wheeler for September 2014.
Morning walks on the Rio Grande Trail preceded afternoon rehearsals in the historic Aspen theater for band members, together for their first live sessions after working on tracks remotely over the web. “We’re living the music here,” Ponty said at the time. “Just talking about music and playing it.” The residency culminated in two live performances at the Wheeler, which were recorded for a Kickstarter-funded album and DVD release. Anderson and Ponty were still mixing the album as of January; expected release is this spring.
The record is among a spate of works making their way to the marketplace with a little help from Aspen residencies and development programs. On the visual-arts front, Aspen Art Museum resident artist Gabriel Kuri spent December putting together a book on his career as a conceptual artist, to be published this summer, and three artists who spent the fall in Anderson Ranch Arts Center residencies have their locally made work in shows this spring: Jeremy Dean and Claudia Mastrobuono in Denver and John Procario in New York City.
But the undisputed leader in midwifing creative works is Aspen Words. Since revamping its writers-in-residence program in 2013, the nonprofit formerly known as the Aspen Writers’ Foundation has hosted novelists and poets semi-monthly at the Catto ranch in Woody Creek. (The property was sold in January and the residency is likely to relocate.) Stephanie Kallos spent August 2013 there finishing her final edit of Language Arts, a novel about a high school English teacher with an autistic son, due out in June. Adam Haslett, the Pulitzer Prize–nominated author of You Are Not a Stranger Here, moved in immediately after Kallos. The book he was working on—an excerpt of which he read at the Woody Creek Community Center—sold at auction to Little, Brown and is expected to be published this year or next.
Aspen Words’ editorial service, the Editing Room, even helped birth the debut novel of Snowmass Village resident and Aspen Words board member Mark Tompkins. Titled Last Days of Magic, the fantasy novel is the first in an envisioned series, to be published this year by Penguin Random House.
Perhaps most impressive of all for the organization, many of Aspen Words’ Emerging Writer Fellows, who are selected to take part in workshops at Summer Words, have books on the way, most of them debuts. At the nonprofit’s annual writers’ retreat, Detroit-based Kelly Fordon workshopped a story that will be included in Garden for the Blind, a novel-in-stories due out in April, and Marian Palaia workshopped her novel, The Given World, which will be published in June. Also at 2014’s Summer Words, Stephanie Danler, a New York City waitress with a novel about a New York City restaurant, fine-tuned her manuscript in a Summer Words novel-editing workshop.
In October, it was acquired by Alfred A. Knopf in a six-figure, two-book deal that drew wide attention in the publishing world. Sarah Hepola, a 2013 fellow and an editor at Salon.com, workshopped a memoir here titled Blackout that will be published in June.
Those authors join a roster of published creative products from Aspen Words programs that includes Allison Alsup’s O. Henry Award–winning story “Old Houses” and poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s “Measure for Measure,” which appeared in the Oct. 13 issue of The New Yorker.
“I could only have written ‘Measure for Measure’ while living in Woody Creek,” Phillips wrote to the then Writers’ Foundation upon the poem’s publication. “In fact, the first line is your motto: ‘Alone, in Woody Creek, Colorado.’”