Maclean Festival celebrates Public Lands

Prominent authors and conservationists gather June 24-26 in Missoula

Books & Writers

In the Footsteps of Norman Maclean Literary Festival, held June 24-26 at The Wilma in Missoula, has attracted around 1,000 registrants and will feature the auction of an original Kevin Red Star painting produced just for the event.

Timothy Egan is the keynote speaker during Saturday's Maclean Festival.
Timothy Egan is the keynote speaker during Saturday’s Maclean Festival.Photo © Ruth Fremson

The biennial gathering, the fourth to be hosted by the Maclean Literary Festival, is called Public Land & Sacred Ground: Western Writers Bear Witness. Speakers include a slew of prominent writers and conservationists, led by National Book Award winner Timothy Egan and educator and author Terry Tempest Williams.

Admission is free to the public but registration is required, and is available on the festival website:

“We’re so pleased to see this outpouring of interest for this great event, which shows the interest and appreciation that Montanans and westerners have in their land and landscapes,” said Festival Director Jenny Rohrer. “Participants will hear from a wide range of authors and speakers on the importance of our land to their and our history.” Earlier this year, festival planners moved the free event from the Missoula Public Library to a larger venue at The Wilma so more people could hear nationally prominent authors discuss the unique heritage of American wilderness, public lands and sacred grounds.

Rohrer urges those interested in attending to register online and take advantage of this rare opportunity to hear from, and engage with, accomplished literary talents.

Nationally recognized Crow artist Kevin Red Star has graciously contributed an original painting, titled “Sacred Ground, Crown Butte,” inspired by his family’s land in the Pryor Mountains. This special painting of the 6,880-foot Crown Butte, with four tipis and a band of horses in the foreground, will be auctioned at Saturday’s Gala Dinner.

“Sacred ground. It’s something that is respectful, something that we walk softly on,” Red Star said of his painting, which is portrayed in the festival’s poster. The renowned artist will contribute to Saturday’s presentations and be on hand for the gala dinner and auction.

Postponed in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s festival will include 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 the unique heritage of American wilderness and public lands.

Maclean Festival background

“The Maclean Festival was initially designed to celebrate the literature of the West,” Rohrer said. “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.

Speakers challenge us to find “sacred ground”

Terry Tempest Willaims is keynote speaker during Sunday's festival.
Terry Tempest Willaims is keynote speaker during Sunday’s festival.Photo © Debra Anderson

Maclean Festival speakers include well-known leaders of the conservation movement and literary talents across the country and in the West. Together, they 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.

Saturday’s speakers (from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.) include:

  • Timothy Egan, author of The Big Burn and National Book Award winner The Worst Hard Time. He’s also a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and opinion writer for the New York Times (Saturday keynote speaker).
  • Debra Magpie Earling, 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.
  • Mandy Smoker Broadus, an Assiniboine and Sioux who served as co-poet laureate for the state of Montana from 2019 to 2021. Her forthcoming graphic novel, Thunderous, will be published in the spring of 2022, co-written with Natalie Peeterse.
  • John Taliaferro, 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 who wrote Astoria, a New York Times bestseller, and who will release his new book, Tecumseh, in spring 2022.
  • Shane Doyle, 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.
  • Sally Thompson, the author of People Before the Park: The Kootenai and Blackfeet before Glacier National Park, has spent over 30 years working with the tribes of the Rocky Mountain West to tell history from their points of view.
  • Joe Wagner, Amskapi Pikuni, a Blackfeet storyteller and tribal sacred site preservationist, traditional society member, and high-altitude hiker.
  • Rosalyn LaPier, an award winning Indigenous writer, ethnobotanist and environmental activist.
  • Shane Morigeau, an attorney and a member of the Montana State Senate and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes whose persistent activism contributed to the successful repatriation of the National Bison Range to the CSKT in 2022.
  • Nate Schweber, a native Montanan whose conservation writings won awards from the Outdoor Writers Association of America in 2015 and 2018; in 2020 a ProPublica series he contributed to won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.
  • Michael Punke, novelist, professor, policy analyst, policy consultant, attorney, and former Deputy United States Trade Representative and U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

Sunday’s speakers (12:30-5 p.m.) include:

  • Terry Tempest Williams, educator, conservationist and author of The Hour of the Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks and Finding Beauty in a Broken World (Sunday keynote speaker).
  • Doug Peacock, author of Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness, a memoir of his experiences in the 1970s and 1980s observing grizzly bears in the western U.S.
  • Rick Bass, 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.
  • John Norman Maclean, son of festival namesake Norman Maclean, and a journalist and author who has written five books on fatal wildland fires and a recent memoir, Home Waters: A Chronicle of Family and a River.
  • Tracy Stone-Manning, director of the Bureau of Land Management in the Biden Administration and former director of the Clark Fork Coalition in Montana.
  • Rob Chaney, managing editor of the Missoulian, whose 2021 book The Grizzly in the Driveway won honors from the Society of Environmental Journalists, NPR’s Best Books of the Year and High Plains Book Awards.

Leading conservation advocates Peacock, Williams and Crow activist 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.

On Monday, the closing day of the festival, members of Wild Montana will lead a full-day field trip through the Blackfoot Valley near Missoula to discuss collaborative working-land conservation efforts in the watershed. A bus tour of Norman Maclean’s Favorite Fishing Holes is also available on Monday.

Most events will be held at The Wilma and will be free of charge to the public. A ticketed cocktail reception will be held at the Dana Art Gallery Friday evening ($20 at the door) and a ticketed gala dinner will be served Saturday evening at The Wilma for $125 a person. Dinner tickets are available now online.