Heady Stuff

Festivals of the Mind 2019

A top-shelf literary gathering from Aspen Words, hot-button issues at Aspen Ideas, and renewable energy innovation at AREDAY drive summer's intellectual conversation.

June 6, 2019 Published in the Summer 2019 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Image above: Attendee Monica Prince reads at Summer Words 2018. Photograph courtesy Aspen Words

Summer Words Writers Conference & Literary Festival
June 16–21 

The major event of the year for Aspen Words, this six-day written-word extravaganza has earned a rep as a top literary gathering. Attendees from around the country draw inspiration from critically acclaimed authors—this year includes Laura Fraser, Meghan Daum, Nick Flynn, and Susan Minot—in juried workshops that span from poetry and fiction to book editing. Panel discussions open to the public include Aspen Words Literary Prize winner Tayari Jones (An American Marriage) in conversation with Aspen Words Executive Director Adrienne Brodeur (June 18, Belly Up Aspen). The Aspen Words Summer Benefit at the Hotel Jerome (June 19, public tickets available) will feature Susan Orlean, best-selling author of, most recently, The Library Book and, most notably, The Orchid Thief (which begat the hit Nicolas Cage movie Adaptation). The Gant

Delve deeper: Good travel writing can transport and inspire. Learn to better appreciate the craft at the three-day Summer Words Readers Retreat (June 17–19) led by Basalt resident Pete McBride, a National Geographic photographer, author, and filmmaker known most recently for documenting his 750-mile trek on foot, with journalist Kevin Fedarko, through the Grand Canyon.

Insider tip

The Pitkin County Library is giving away a few hundred copies of Jones’s book as part of its Community Read program. Pick up a book, then participate in the community-wide discussion at the library (June 13, 5:30–6:30 p.m.)

Aspen Ideas Festival
June 20–29

From heads of state to business leaders to academics to journalists to performers, the collective brainpower drawn to the Aspen Institute’s campus each June is incalculable. Billed as an “experience for the curious” (and, let’s be honest, at $3,800 a pass, the well-heeled), this high-powered annual festival, co-presented by the Atlantic, begins with the three-day forum Aspen Ideas: Health (June 20–23), where 10 program tracks include topics such as gut health, aging, and patients’ rights and responsibilities. Festival 1 (June 23–26) and Festival 2 (June 26–29) feature program tracks on the new world order, storytelling, design innovation, human performance limits, climate change, and more. The roster of 300-some speakers doesn’t fully come together until shortly before the festival, but presenters and programs already announced include New York Times op-ed columnist Bret Stephens interviewing Free Solo climber Alex Honnold, Tara Westover (Educated), environmental writer Bill McKibben, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, former president of Mexico Vicente Fox, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, International Monetary Fund chief economist Gita Gopinath, National Geographic Partners editorial director Susan Goldberg, NFL coach Katie Sowers, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love, and National Women’s Law Center President and CEO Fatima Goss Graves. Always anticipated is the Afternoon of Conversation at the Benedict Music Tent (June 26) with luminaries in business and politics; this year includes Pop-Up Magazine—a live, multimedia storytelling event—and rapper Common performing. Aspen Meadows campus and other venues around town

Insider tip

If you didn’t score an Ideas Fest pass, you can still buy tickets for some presentations at off-campus venues in Aspen (other than during the occasional publicly ticketed events, the Aspen Meadows is off limits to non-passholders during the festival). Bonus: public events that take place at the Hotel Jerome and St. Regis include breakfast or lunch. Tickets go on sale June 14 at the Wheeler Opera House box office

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle is a frequent guest at AREDAY.

August 15–17

The homegrown American Renewable Energy Institute’s annual summit leans toward the policy wonk end of the spectrum, with more than 100 speakers who delve into the nitty-gritty of developing clean-energy technology. This year’s theme: Creating the New Hydrogen-Carbon Economy: The Politics of Change. Nonetheless, the caliber of presenters is perennially world-class; this year brings noted oceanographer Sylvia Earle; Gen. Wesley Clark; former Colorado governor Bill Ritter, who now heads up the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University; and Rocky Mountain Institute founder Amory Lovins, among many others. The Viceroy hotel, Snowmass Village

Insider tip

Gain more accessible insight into the environmental challenges and solutions through Impact Film, a comprehensive series of documentaries screened during the summit, some of them followed by Q&As with the filmmakers. Admission to the films is free. 


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