Venn book launch reception scheduled

By Observer Upload November 14, 2012 03:05 pm

“Keeping the Swarm,” Venn’s latest book
“Keeping the Swarm,” Venn’s latest book

Wordcraft of Oregon has scheduled a book launch reception to celebrate the publication of “Keeping the Swarm: New and Selected Essays” by George Venn. 

From 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday afternoon, the public is invited to a drop-in reception at the Colleen Johnson Room, Cook Memorial Library.

Friends and readers new and old may examine Venn’s latest — his seventh — book, and meet and greet the author — a prize-winning poet, editor, educator and EOU Writer-in-Residence emeritus. 

“We’ll have copies of George’s new book available for anyone,” said David Memmott, Wordcraft editor and publisher. “We’ll also have copies of his two previous books — his best-selling monograph on C. E. S. Wood and Chief Joseph and West of Paradise, his collection of poems.”  

A premier literary publisher since 1988, Wordcraft  has served those writers of exceptional merit whose work is of lasting value but falls outside the commercial norm. 

In 224 pages, “Keeping the Swarm” includes 20 photos and eleven personal essays--six previously published, five published for the first time. Charged with sweetness and stinging, they create a memorable collage.

George Venn
George Venn

“Grandpa’s Gift” tells the story of a surprise Christmas present from a man who never went shopping. “Faith of Our Fathers” tells the story of a boy who hears unforgettable singing by Upper Skagit Indians.  In “Winter Tales: Spirit Lake,” the poet meditates on winter traditions in a welcoming small town. “You Wanta Go to Town?” tells the story of the poet–as a college kid– being fired from his truck-driving job.  “Singing the Silver Valley Cannonball” traces the evolution of the poet as singer–from hymns to musicals to secular folk song.  The title essay “Keeping the Swarm” tells the story of the poet’s parents and grandparents’ contrasting lives, roles, and forces.  “Eulogy for George L. Mayo” is the poet’s tribute to his grandfather. “Leaving Salamanca” tells the student  poet’s story of  traveling to study at a famous  university. Set in La Grande, “The Red Weasel Dream” narrates the poet’s writing and presenting a funeral eulogy for his neighbor Jean Cram Haufle.  “The More We Get Together” narrates the writer’s adventures while teaching in China in 1981-1982. In the final essay  “Barn,” the poet meditates on the images, stories, traditions, and  significance of the farm structure.

 “Keeping the Swarm” appears with genial praise by reviewers throughout  the Pacific northwest. From Montana, Robert Stubblefield notes that “Venn provides a guidebook for us to examine our own piece of the world, to recognize the beauty, grace, and peril, until we see it “solid and clear.” From Idaho, Jennifer Attebery writes, “George Venn is a gentle radical: In lyrical prose he enchants us with the closely observed words and acts of ordinary people--from the Pacific Northwest’s mid-20th century small towns to classrooms in post-Cultural Revolution Hunan.”  From Washington, Nicholas O’Connell says, this book is “absolutely brimming with the rich and vivid detail of a life lived close to the land in the Pacific Northwest.” From Oregon, Craig Lesley observes, “ This welcome essay collection by the sharpest-eyed Northwest writer conjures the region he knows so intimately. His careful portraits of mining towns, wheat harvest, bee keeping, snowland wonders ring clean and true.”

This wide and eclectic range of places, people, and events is based in Venn’s life experience.  Born George Fyfe in rural Western Washington in October, 1943, the death of his father forced  his mother, Beth, to leave her infant second son to be raised by her parents Hazel and George Mayo on their farm and apiary near Mt. Rainier. Eventually Beth remarried Rev. Frank Venn, a Tacoma minister and George and his brother Douglas became stepsons of a strict, musical, dogmatizing Presbyterian.

Between 1947 and 1957, the Venn household  moved four times in the Northwest, but each summer, the Fyfe-Venn brothers returned to work on the Mayo apiary and farm. 

Graduating from Spirit Lake High School in 1961 with honors , George accepted an athletic scholarship to The College of Idaho, but eventually chose international liberal arts. In 1964, he studied and worked in Quito, Ecuador; in 1965, he spent the fall and winter studying and working in Spain, then spent the spring in London. In 1966, he married and completed a BA. In 1970, he completed an MFA at the University of Montana, and began teaching at Eastern Oregon University.

A Grande Ronde Valley resident for 42 years, Venn has contributed to the community in multiple roles. He served as chair of the Mt. Emily Food Co-op, leader of the Committee for Catherine Creek’s successful opposition to dams,  supervisor for the Solar Water Heater project, chair of the Agriculture Subcommittee for Union County Economic Development, advocate for free-flowing rivers, wilderness, and land-use planning,  member of the state-wide Folk Arts Advisory board, board member and president of the Oregon Council of Teachers of English, judge for the first Oregon Book Awards, and a founding advisor to both Literary Arts and the Fishtrap Gathering.

In 2002, he received the EOU “Distinguished Teaching Faculty Award” and retired to write full-time.

On the EOU campus, he served ten years on the Indian Education Institute Board, advised the Ars Poetica reading series and Oregon East magazine for 18 years, directed the Creative Writing program, co-wrote with Lois Barry the Writing track for the English degree, instigated the creation of the Writing Lab,  began the English as a Second Language program, brought the National Writing Project to EOU, and taught the first courses in Western,  Northwestern,  and Native American Literatures.

His first two books were widely praised. In 1980, his poetry received a national Pushcart Prize. In 1981-1982, he was among the first American writers to teach English in post-Cultural Revolution China. In 1988, the Oregon Institute of Literary Arts awarded his third book “Marking the Magic Circle”a silver medal. From 1989 to 1994, he designed and directed the six volume “Oregon Literature Series” for which he received the Stewart Holbrook Award for “outstanding contributions to Oregon’s literary life.”

 In 2005, the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission again recognized “Marking the Magic Circle” as “one of the 100 best Oregon books in the two centuries.” More recently, his poetry collection “West of Paradise” (1999) was a finalist for an Oregon Book Award. His C.E.S. Wood monograph “Soldier to Advocate” (2006) and his World War II Fred Hill collection “Darkroom Soldier” (2008) have earned high praise.