Staking a Utah literary claim, word by word

A literary quilt: Maybe that’s the best metaphor to consider the Utah@125 nonfiction collection. It’s stitched together in six chapters, essay by essay, poem by poem, showcasing works by 125 Utah writers, each true story 125 words long, each word representing a year of official statehood.

Forty-seven writers read their Utah@125 true stories on Indie Bookstore Day on April 30, 2022, in what might be considered Utah’s first simultaneous reading series. Poets, essayists, playwrights and journalists short pieces and talked about their inspiration in nine readings taking place in Logan, Ogden, Salt Lake City, Park City, Sandy, and Provo, with an additional Zoom online reading, sponsored by Torrey House Press. (Click here for a recording of Salt Lake City’s Weller Book Works reading.)

The series showcased the range of Utah writers, as well as the strength of Utah’s independent bookstores. Crowds ranged from “small, but enthusiastic,” claimed writer Sydney Salter (read: “25th Street”) of the reading at Ogden’s Queen Bee Giftery to AA meeting-sized. “Great fun,” one Logan attendee reported. The readings displayed “talent and humor and insight and thoughtfulness,” offered Rob Eckman, marketing manager of The King’s English Bookshop.

“I was proud to participate with some ├╝ber-talented people,” said playwright Tim Slover (read “Horeb, Utah”) of the Pioneer Books reading. “Lots of laughter and admiration,” agreed writer Julie Nichols (read “Family History”) of the Provo lineup.

In addition to in-person appearances, the virtual reading spotlighted Vernal’s Erica Soon Olsen (read “Dark Sky as Verb”), Cedar City’s Todd Robert Petersen (read “Metamorphosists”), Castle Valley’s Brooke Williams (read “My Utah Jacket”), as well as Utah writer Marilyn Abildskov, now transplanted to California (read “Both”), and Logan’s Taylor Fang (read “Nesting”), now in Massachusetts.

The Utah@125 Indie Bookstore reading series was sponsored by the Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement and Torrey House Press. The collection will be published in book format later this year.