In the Footsteps of Norman Maclean Festival

Literary festival returns June 24-26 with roster of nationally known authors

Books & Writers

In the Footsteps of Norman Maclean Literary Festival will feature nationally prominent authors at the biennial gathering June 24-26 in Missoula. With keynotes by Timothy Egan and Terry Tempest Williams, writers will lead discussions about the unique heritage of American wilderness, public lands and sacred grounds.

The event, the fourth to be hosted by the Maclean Literary Festival, is called Public Land and Sacred Ground: Western Writers Bear Witness, and will be headquartered at the new Missoula Public Library. Admission will be free to the public.

The festival was postponed in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s event showcases nationally known Western writers and literary talents – native and non-native – who will present their work and share ideas on the evolution of national parks, decolonization of American literature and history, and the literary inspiration that comes from wilderness and public lands.

“The Maclean Festival was initially designed to celebrate the literature of the West,” said Festival Director Jenny Rohrer. “Our 2022 festival is moving beyond that mission to respond to conservation issues – specifically the global climate crisis and the need to protect public lands and native ground – because they should be sacred to all of us. We truly believe that literature can educate, motivate, and initiate a call to action.”

The literary festival was launched in 2015 to celebrate the life and work of author, scholar and teacher Norman Maclean, who was noted for his books A River Runs Through It and Other Stories and Young Men and Fire, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1992 for its account of the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire north of Helena. Maclean lived in Missoula when he was a child, worked for the U.S. Forest Service in western Montana, and spent time fishing on the Blackfoot River near his family’s Seeley Lake cabin, which still stands today.

Maclean Festival Roster of Writers

Timothy Egan, author of The Big Burn and National Book Award winner for The Worst Hard Time, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and opinion writer for The New York Times. .
Timothy Egan, author of The Big Burn and National Book Award winner for The Worst Hard Time, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and opinion writer for The New York Times. (Photo by Ruth Fremson/New York Times)Photo © Ruth Fremson/ The New York Times

The Maclean Festival, led by Egan and Williams, includes well-known leaders of the conservation movement and literary talents in the country and across the West:

  • Egan, author of The Big Burn and National Book Award winner for The Worst Hard Time, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and opinion writer for The New York Times (Saturday keynote speaker).
  • Williams, an educator and conservationist, is the author of 14 books including The Hour of the Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks, Erosion: Essays of Undoing, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, and When Women Were Birds (Sunday keynote speaker).
  • Shane Doyle is a Montana-based scholar, teacher, musician and community advocate whose work focuses on the history and heritage of Native American tribes of the Northern Great Plains. He is an enrolled member of the Apsáalooke Nation (also known as the Crow Tribe), and holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Montana State University.
  • Doug Peacock wrote Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness, a memoir of his experiences in the 1970s and 1980s, much of which was spent alone in the wilderness of the western U.S. observing grizzly bears.
  • Gretel Ehrlich wrote The Solace of Open Spaces and, more recently, Unsolaced, Along the Way to All That Is, which merges intense, vivid, factual observations of nature with a wryly mystical personal voice.
  • Rick Bass is an award-winning author and activist known for his celebration of the natural world and his defense of the wilderness in his many novels and memoirs, including Why I Came West and The Yaak.
  • Debra Magpie Earling is the Salish author of The Lost Journals of Sacajawea and Perma Red, which won the American Book Award and the 2003 Spur Award for the Best Novel of the West.
  • John Taliaferro is a former senior editor at Newsweek and the author of Grinnell: America’s Environmental Pioneer and his Relentless Drive to Save the West, which won the America Outdoor Book Award and the 2019 Montana Book Award.
  • Peter Stark, an adventure and exploration writer, wrote The New York Times bestseller Astoria, and his latest, Tecumseh, due spring 2022.
  • Sterling HolyWhiteMountain grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation. His work has appeared in Off the Path: An Anthology of 21st Century American Indian and Indigenous Writers, The Atlantic and The New Yorker.

These accomplished writers will challenge public policy on wilderness, address the history of indigenous people and their land, and brainstorm to create individual and collaborative means to better ensure a positive future for our public lands and sacred places.

Leading conservation advocates and activists Peacock, Williams and Doyle will end the presentations on Sunday with a discussion on current activities in the Bears Ears National Monument and Crazy Mountains (sacred ground to the Crow Tribe) and discuss such measures as the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, a U.S. Senate measure designed to protect working landscapes in Montana for future generations.

Nationally recognized Crow artist Kevin Red Star is contributing an original painting featuring the Sacred Ground of his family in the Pryor Mountains. This painting will be auctioned at the festival’s Gala Dinner, Saturday evening at The Wilma.

Most events will be held at the Missoula Public Library and will be free of charge to the public, except for the ticketed gala and a cocktail reception at the Dana Art Gallery Friday evening.

Field Excursions

The festival’s outdoor field excursions planned for Monday, June 27, 2022, include:

  • The Blackfoot-Clearwater – A Special Native Trout Fishery: Visit Norman Maclean’s fishing holes
  • Protecting the Blackfoot-Clearwater Watersheds: Hike to Clearwater Lake
  • Forests of the Blackfoot-Clearwater: Walk the Girard Larch Grove
  • Where the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project Started
  • Wildlife of the Blackfoot Clearwater: Hike the West Fork Clearwater
  • Connecting Wilderness with New Wilderness: Hike to Sunday Mountain

“Our goal is to challenge our audiences to think outside of the book – to leave the festival with not only a greater understanding of the threats to our environment, but with a commitment to actively support local environmental solutions, to participate in climate change activities, and to commit to the protection of our sacred lands,” Rohrer said.

Festival organizers, Rohrer noted, also are seeking business, corporate, nonprofit and individual sponsors for the free event.

For more information and sponsorship opportunities, visit Alpineartisans.org or macleanfootsteps.com, or contact Rohrer at 406-754-0034 or 406-531-3354, jenny@alpineartisans.org or rohrervid@gmail.com.