Thunder, lighting, hail, wind, rain, sunshine, heat, more thunder and lightning — this summer in Wyoming is a showcase of Mother Nature’s power and splendor. At Ucross, besides the epic storms, life has been filled with literary, visual and musical arts.
We kicked off the summer solstice with a gallery reception honoring the first two Ucross Fellowships in Native American Visual Arts, Brenda Mallory and Sydney Pursel. Their exhibition, Intricate Form, is on view through the end of September, so there is still much time to come out and see it. While in Wyoming, Mallory and Pursel taught a class at the Wyoming Girls School and made time for a long drive through the beautiful Bighorn Mountains.
That week, we were thrilled to learn that poet and musician Joy Harjo was named Poet Laureate of the United States — the first Native American writer to receive that honor. No one is more deserving. Harjo was in residence at Ucross in 2013 with the Sundance Institute Playwrights Retreat group. She remarked of her time at Ucross, “The imagination finds refreshment in lands rich with plants and creatures of all kinds…Ucross is rich in spirit food.” I recently heard from my Montana colleague Corby Skinner that Harjo will be coming to Billings in November. Her poetry book, “How We Became Human,” is the focus of the community’s Big Read program this year.
Also in June, we were glad to welcome writer Steve Paul for a special residency. Steve is the author of the recently published “Hemingway at Eighteen” and will be back in Wyoming next summer for the Hemingway Society’s international conference in Sheridan. A long-time resident of Kansas City, Steve was for many years the book editor at the Kansas City Star, the newspaper where Hemingway began his writing career in 1917. He is currently at work on a biography of Evan Connell, author of “Son of the Morning Star,” and he made a trip up to the Little Bighorn battlefield while he was here in the West. We’re excited that Steve is going to help curate an exhibition of Hemingway photographs at Ucross next summer.
We have recently begun hosting special events around the country, called Ucross Spotlights, to help raise awareness of the amazing artists who come here to focus on creative work. The first Ucross Spotlight took place in New York on June 19, in connection with Michael R. Jackson’s new play “A Strange Loop” at Playwrights Horizons. A number of other Ucross artists joined in for a panel discussion, including award-winning playwrights Billy Porter and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.
Our next Ucross Spotlight is being planned for Jackson Hole in September. We’re delighted that composer and past Ucross resident Ricky Ian Gordon will be there, with world-renowned opera baritone Nathan Gunn. Those of us in the northern Rockies region will soon have a chance to hear one of Ricky’s works, “27,” inspired by the Paris salons held by Gertrude Stein. It will be performed at Intermountain Opera Bozeman in October.
Recently, we’ve had the great privilege of hosting a residency for an amazing group of artists led by Toshi Reagon — a world-class musician, singer, composer, producer and curator. Toshi’s mother is Bernice Johnson Reagon, one of the founders of the acclaimed group Sweet Honey in the Rock, and I understand that Toshi was named after Toshi Seeger, Pete Seeger’s wife. Toshi’s group is working on an opera based on Octavia Butler’s book Parable of the Sower. The project came to our attention through UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, which will present the work next year in Los Angeles.
We were also glad to welcome a special chef this summer, Suzanne Podhaizer, and her colleague Lucas Auger, both based in Vermont. Their company, Sel de la Terre, focuses on sustainability, the use of local ingredients and supporting local farmers. While here, Podhaizer took the time to teach a couple of sold-out cooking classes at Verdello in Sheridan. Artists and food — those are two things we cherish at Ucross.
Sharon Dynak is president of the Ucross Foundation.