Brautigan Library: Day that gets the word in

Brautigan Library at county historical museum welcomes unpublished writers

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

If you go

What: National Unpublished Writers’ Day, a tribute to Washington author Richard Brautigan and his ideas about giving a voice to all writers, published or not.

Where: Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St., Vancouver.

When: noon to 5 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 29.

Cost: Free.

Information: 360-993-5679 or http://www.cchmuseum.org/.

National Unpublished Writers’ Day Creative Stations and Workshops:

• Writing Revision for Fiction and Nonfiction, led by Judy Ware.

• Finding and Focusing on Your Audience, led by Brett Oppegaard.

• Salmon Creek Journal, led by Melody Jensen.

• Kerouac’s Rules for Less Ruled Writing: Method of Spontaneous Prose, led by Brian Schlosser.

Zines, led by Rick Yates.

Very, Very, Very Short Stories, led by Josh Erdahl.

Humor in Writing, led by Richard O’Brien.

Evoking an Emotion, led by Kandy Robertson.

Developing Characters, led by Theresa Phimister and Katherine Olson.

Genealogy and Family History Writing, led by Jan Jorgenson.

Writing for Role-Playing Games, led by Hunter Crawford and Margarette Strawn.

Get Ready to Publish Your Poetry, led by Christopher Luna and Toni Partington.

Writing Groups, led by Claire Wilkinson-Weber and Laurie Drapela.

Radio Writing, led by Sam Mowry, Jamie Lawson and Joe Medina.

You don’t have to be an award-winning author to get your work into the library that Washington writer Richard Brautigan dreamed up back in the 1960s -- in fact, you don’t even have to have talent.

Brautigan, a poet and novelist born in Tacoma in 1935, first explored the idea of a library that accepts the works of all comers in his book “The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966,” published in 1971.

He’d probably be happy to learn that his idea eventually became a reality, said John Barber, a friend of and expert on the late author, who died in 1984.

“Not everyone has the ability to be published, and Richard Brautigan thought it would be a good idea if they could be,” said Barber, a faculty member in the Washington State University Vancouver Creative Media & Digital Culture Program. “There’s never been any restrictions to the library based on content or quality of writing.”

Vermont fan Todd Lockwood created the Brautigan Library in 1990 as a tribute to the author. Due to space and financial problems, he had to shut it down in 2000.

In 2010, the Clark County Historical Museum took over the collection of about 400 works and moved it from Vermont to Brautigan’s home state of Washington, where it remains on permanent display available to visitors.

“It’s an interesting mix of things,” said Karen Washabaugh, visitor services coordinator at the museum. “There are even a few submissions from other countries, and the writing varies widely. A few of the authors became published eventually. Others, well, we have some cartoons and some other random things in the collection.”

Each year on the Sunday closest to Brautigan’s Jan. 30 birthday, the museum hosts a special event in the author’s honor: National Unpublished Writers’ Day.

The museum and the organizers of the event gave it the “national” title, but then again there’s no real overarching organization that controls all the random “national days” out there -- and “after all, writers are everywhere,” Barber argues.

The museum will open specifically for that event today -- it’s usually closed on Sundays -- and will offer budding writers a host of free workshops from noon to 5 p.m. Last year, at the first National Unpublished Writers’ Day, about 100 people showed up, Washabaugh said.

Visitors can also check out the library’s odd offerings, which include, among other things, a novel about the world ending in 2002, an adventure story about an evil grapevine named Pod Terebinth, a musical play about Vermont founding father Ethan Allen during the Revolutionary War, and a collection of poems about black holes and astronomy.

Abstracts of the works are available online at http://www.thebrautiganlibrary.org/, a site that Barber has been working on for the past few years.

Barber’s goal is to prepare an Internet version of the library, connected to the museum’s collection, so it can start taking new digital submissions. Because the work is being done by volunteers or by programmers that Barber is paying for out of his own pocket, it’s taking some time, he said.

“We hope very soon the Brautigan Library will be able to collect and distribute new materials,” Barber said. “We need to build the infrastructure to do that, but in the meantime we’ve already collected a few things that we’re holding onto.”

The website can only show abstracts from works already in the library because of copyright issues. Authors didn’t typically include permission for their works to be displayed on the Internet and so those managing the digital library have to get permission from each author before putting their work online, Washabaugh said.

“They’re dealing with all the legal issues of getting permission and getting those things on the Web, but it’s a long process,” she said.

Brautigan was probably best known for his 1967 book “Trout Fishing in America,” a social and cultural satire of the 1960s. He was a contemporary of beat writers and hippies, but considered himself more of an “observer of the 20th century,” Barber said.

“I see Brautigan as a bridge between the beat and the hippie movement,” Barber said. “But he said he wasn’t a beat writer and he never called himself a hippie. I believe he tried hard not to be classified.”

One could almost argue that Brautigan envisioned the Internet when he came up with the notion of a library that displays the works of all comers. He certainly would have enjoyed the notion of the online world, Barber said.

“I think he would be very excited about what the Internet and various forms of digital technologies would afford,” Barber said. “He would probably like Facebook, Twitter and other social media because of the ability for the audience to respond directly to the author.”

Still, Barber’s old friend had a bit of a love-hate relationship with some technologies, especially telephones.

“He would burn telephones and destroy them or he would call people and talk for hours on end about his manuscripts and writing,” Barber said. “I don’t think he would like the idea of being constantly available through mobile devices.”

Ironically, there’s no proof that Brautigan ever visited Clark County, even though he did grow up in Washington. But Barber said he still thinks it’s somehow fitting that the collection ended up here.

“If it wasn’t here where would it be?” Barber said. “It would be in a basement somewhere.”