Literary Boroughs #30: Denver, CO

The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the thirtieth post on Denver, Colorado, by Maggie Ferguson. -Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor

Denver boasts 300 sunny days a year, some of Jack Kerouac’s choice bars and bookstores, and a thriving Literary Borough. Last March, Denver hosted the 2012 Woman of the World Poetry Slam with Denver’s own Slam Nuba’s Dominique Ashaheed claiming the title.

Denver’s proximity to the Rocky Mountains and ski resorts enables locals to indulge in Winter Sports and hiking addictions. As a result, Denverites are athletic, and living at high altitude has quelled the average Denverite’s need for oxygen.

What the City is known for/what makes it unique:

The Mile High City offers sunny days without the pesky humidity and a Western horizon spiked with Rocky Mountain peaks. One tenth of a one percent metro Denver sales tax funds Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). SCFD then distributes the funds to local arts and sciences cultural facilities.

Resident writers (an incomplete list):

Michael J. Henry, Andrea Dupree, William Haywood Henderson, Nick Arvin, Eleanor Brown, Sarah Ockler, Linda Ashman, Paula Younger, Jake Adam York, Amanda Rea, Laura Pritchett, Alexandre O. Philippe, Shane Oshetski, Megan Nix, David Mulholland, Cort McMeel, Cara McDonald, Vicki Lindner, Doug Kurtz, Erika Krouse, Marie Kaufman, Cara Lopez Lee, Jenny Itell, Catherine Hope, Jason Heller, Victoria Hanley, Elisa Gabbert, Janis Hallowell, J. Diego Frey, Richard Froude, Matt Ferner, Kathryn Eastburn, Terry Dodd, John Cotter, Michael Catlin, Phyllis Barber, Mario Acevedo, Rebecca Berg, Shari Caudron, Jenny Shank, Erin Blakemore, David Wroblewski, Jay Kenney, Emily Sinclair, Carleen Brice, Margaret Coel, Jacqueline St. Joan, Laird Hunt, Nicky Beer, Selah Saterstrom, Teague Bohlen, Avi, Rex Burns, Mary Coyle Chase, Brian Barker, John Williams

Literary references:

Many readers know Denver from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road as the place where the beatniks got off the road. Writer and editor Jenny Shank set her debut, baseball-infused novel The Ringer in Denver. Annie Proulx’s protagonist in That Old Ace in the Hole hails from Denver. In Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, Denver is the place Jack Twist tells Ennis people might go to when they’re trying to cope with what they can’t fix. Kent Haruf set his Plainsong on the plains east of Denver.

Where to learn:

Denver University ranked first in Poets and Writers 2012 Creative Writing Doctorial Programs. The University of Colorado at Denver offers a BA in Creative Writing and produces the journal The Copper Nickel.

By word of mouth, most Denver writers will send you to Lighthouse Writers Workshop (@lighthousewrite). Combining humor with a love of all things literary, Lighthouse sits at the heart of Denver’s literary scene. They team up with Stories on Stage to produce jaw-dropping readings, with Ballet Nouveau Colorado to express poetry through dance, with the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs to create a city-wide book club One Book, One Denver, and with schools throughout metro Denver to bring writing to inner-city teens.

Where to find reading material:

The independent bookstore The Tattered Cover (@tatteredcover) hosts hundreds of writers every year and has an enviable guest list, including President Barack Obama, Margaret Atwood, and Amy Tan.

Located in Cherry Creek North, ABAA member The Hermitage Bookshop (@hermitagebooks) specializes in first editions and Western Americana.

If you’re looking to research in Denver, hit up the Denver Public Library (@denverlibrary), which is housed in a building designed by Michael Graves. Next door to the Denver Art Museum, the library also has its own art collection, including an impressive Albert Bierstadt.

Where to get published:

Publishing thrives in Denver. The independent publishing house Ghost Road Press has given page to authors Teague Bolen, Shari Caudron, Marilyn Krysl, Kent Haruf, and more.

In addition to publishing literary writing, Counterpath Press hosts readings and performances in their home on 22nd street.

Fulcrum Books takes the writer/reader relationship to new levels by focusing on books that inspire readers.

The Bloomsbury Review showcases book reviews of overlooked writing.

Wazee Journal is an online Denver-based journal of independent literary writing.

Shadowbox Magazine assembles creative non-fiction.

The University of Colorado at Denver’s Copper Nickel combines the work of faculty and students to create a mix of art and literature, while, the University of Denver has published the Denver Quarterly since 1966.

Where to write:

Need to be surrounded by strangers and coffee in order to write? Look no farther than St. Marks, where I have spotted more than one Lighthouse Writers Workshop instructor. It also comes recommended by Lighthouse’s Fly-By Writers Guest Alexi Zentner.

Speaking of Lighthouse, Lighthouse Writers Workshop hosts a bi-weekly writing series on Friday afternoons for members. Show up and they’ll keep you writing for two hours.

For more comfortable seating, Stella’s Coffeehaus gets a mix of old and young. Hooked on Colfax—serving both alcohol and caffeine to meet all your writerly drinking needs—is expanding to offer even more room to write. You can also get your laptop out at Paris on the Platte, Kaladi Brother’s, or Wash Perk; all are great places to eye strangers’ Macs with envy.

You’ll have to elbow students out of the way for a place at either Rooster & Moon Coffee Pub or The Market, but bring a large stack of printed paper from your manuscript and you’ll at least elicit sympathetic shudders.

Of course, if you’re looking for the best coffee, head over to Aviano Coffee in Cherry Creek North. On Sunday, the meters are free.


Denver’s citywide book club, One Book, One Denver, happens every fall and offers free events to foster reading in September and October. The youth edition packs the summer with events centered on the young adult book club choice.

Throughout the year, Lighthouse Writers Workshop hosts events: the Fly-By Writer’s Project (past guests include Steve Almond, Robin Black, and Cheryl Strayed), Inside the Writer’s Studio (past guests include Colson Whitehead, Mary Karr, and Junot Diaz), and the Draft, featuring readings from local writers. In the summer, Lit Fest in June and the Grand Lake Retreat for a week in July heat up writers and motivate attendees to draft, rewrite, and polish their pieces.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers packs an annual weekend conference in early September with workshops, writers, agents, and editors. They also offer the Colorado Gold Writing Contest for unpublished writers of commercial novel-length fiction.

Starting in the fall and wrapping around to the spring, local paper The Denver Post hosts it’s Pen and Podium lecture series at Denver University. In 2011-2012, the program has scheduled visits from Margaret Atwood, Terry Tempest Williams, Jeffrey Eugenides, Billy Collins, and Ann Patchett. Each lecture has a complementing Pen and Podium book club meeting at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Maggie Ferguson travels Denver with her trusty laptop at her side and writes stories very slowly. She tweets for Lighthouse Writers Workshop and sips lattes for fuel. 

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