On the second full day of the inaugural Santa Fe Literary Festival, a host of author talks, historical walking tours and energetic lessons on New Mexico’s vibrant cuisine were offered.
Without forgetting the important distinction between tequila and mezcal demonstrated during an exclusive tasting.
Although the day’s schedule was later dominated by lively debates and discussions, it began serenely with a meditation session guided by renowned Buddhist teacher Roshi Joan Halifax. This was followed by an appearance by Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The looming tower and The year of the plague, his memorable account of the impact of Covid-19. “I think Covid-19 is like an x-ray of our society,” he told his attentive audience. “It allows us to see in all the broken places… If Covid-19 has shown us anything, it’s that we need to be more cohesive as a society.”
Wright was followed onto the festival’s main stage by local resident George RR Martin, the award-winning creator of The iron Throne. He talked about his recent work restoring the nearby Santa Fe Sky Railway and recalled how his acclaimed fantasy series A song of ice and fire was first sold to HBO by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss. “Their pitch was: ‘The Sopranos in Middle-earth’,” Martin recalls. “You have to be able to say it in one sentence!”
Martin was one of many big names in the literary world who took part in this year’s event. Editor and publisher Mark Bryant, the festival’s chief curator, said The Independent how he went about getting the incredible line-up. “The first call I made was to Margaret Atwood and she said, ‘Oh, this is going to be glorious,'” he recalled. “The next day I contacted Lawrence Wright. Santa Fe was a real draw. The diversity here and the fact that there are three cultures counts for most authors. We really wanted to tackle the pillars of modern literature.
As for what’s next, Bryant said he has many ambitions for how the festival might grow after this year’s success. “I have ideas of how I would like this to happen,” he said, “and I definitely want to make sure we continue to explore and expand the theme of diversity.”
This broad and inclusive sense of diversity was on display later in the afternoon, as author Lynn Cline led a walking tour of the historic sites of the Santa Fe Writers’ Colony that flourished from 1917 to 1950 while Lost Children Archive author Valeria Luiselli presented an exclusive first excerpt from her next sound essay Echoes from border regions. The 12-minute clip, created from field recordings made in and around the town of Bisbee, Arizona, will be part of a planned 24-hour soundscape documenting the reality of life on the frontier.
Another busy crowd gathered for N Scott Momaday, who became the first Native American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature with his 1968 novel House made of dawn. He talked about the impact the local environment has had on him and his work. “New Mexico is a place where the imagination can flourish,” he explained. “Imagination is what allows us to see beyond reality. If you see a mountain, it’s real, but you imagine the valley on the other side. A lot of creative writing comes from this distinction, this separation of ideas and attitudes… I would not like to be confined to reality.
Along with the nourishing insights, there was also a plethora of distinctive New Mexico foods and drinks to satiate the audience. Award-winning Navajo chef Freddie Bitsoie gave attendees a taste of his innovative take on Indigenous cuisine, while mustachioed chef Fernando Olea, dressed in a cowboy hat and snakeskin boots, hosted visitors to its famous Sazón bar and restaurant for a lightly drunken shift through its unbeatable selection of tequilas and mezcal.
The festival was closed by Sandra Cisneros and Joy Harjo, writers who have been friends since they first met 50 years ago. They traded memories of being silenced and ignored by classmates and teachers while students together at Iowa’s prestigious Writers’ Workshop. Cisneros has since become the bestselling author of books like The Mango Street Housewhile Harjo will soon complete his third stint as America’s Poet Laureate.
“I don’t know how many people get three-time Poet Laureate,” Cisneros remarked admiringly. “I want you to know how proud that made us. You did this for all of us. It was poetic justice after what happened in Iowa. Their touching friendship and stories of resilience provided a poignant note to a festival that served up a feast of ideas and left those who attended happily intoxicated with the power of stories.
The Independent, as the event’s international media partner, provides coverage of each day of the festival with exclusive interviews with some of the key writers. To learn more about the festival, visit our Santa Fe Literary Festival Chapter or visit the the festival website.