Together for the first time

Renowned writers Natalie Goldberg and John Nichols share the bill for SOMOS Summer Writers Series event

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Authors Natalie Goldberg and John Nichols have been involved with the Society of the Muse of the Southwest (SOMOS) since its inception in 1983. Even as their books gained prominence on the world stage, Goldberg and Nichols have continued to read at SOMOS events year after year. Except, in all of this time, they have never read together.

For the first time, the authors will read from their work at the same event, the next installment of the SOMOS Summer Writers Series. The event will take place Wednesday (July 26) at 7 p.m. in the Arthur Bell Auditorium at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St. 

Jan Smith, the executive director of SOMOS, said, “I specifically chose to have John and Natalie read together because they are two iconic Taos writers who both have a long history in Taos. Natalie had expressed a wish to read with John and I thought this would be a good summer to arrange for the two of them together at the Harwood. They both admire and respect each other’s work, although their styles are vastly different. It will be interesting to hear the mix of Zen, free writes, meditation and John’s quick repartee and wit blend together.”

Goldberg is the author of 16 books, one of which is “Writing Down the Bones,” an international best-seller. Known as the book that taught wannabe, novice and advanced writers the importance of a daily writing practice, “Bones” recently celebrated its 30th anniversary of continuously being in print – a feat in the publishing industry.

For this Summer Writers Series event, Goldberg will read from her newly finished manuscript, “Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home: A Memoir,” to be published in June 2018.

“It’s about my experience with cancer and how Zen, writing and painting carried me through,” she said. “My partner simultaneously got cancer one month later.”

When Tempo asked how she handled such challenges, Goldberg said, “I got furious. The rage that went through me was unbelievable. You know you’re going to die, but you don’t really believe it.”

Goldberg explains that she wasn’t planning to write a book. But even while she had cancer, she continued her daily writing practice and page by page, a book took shape. “I noticed that when I showed up, I began to add on. It was taking on a narrative drive,” she said.

For years, Goldberg has made it a practice to visit the graves of writers and artists. (Goldberg is a also a prolific painter whose works can be seen online at nataliegoldberg.com.) “I’ve been to the graves of Carson McCullers, Simone de Beauvoir, Richard Hugo and the painters Bonnard and Chagall. I was just saying, ‘Thank you. Your work meant a lot to me.’”

She said she considers it an honor to be reading with Nichols. Also, Goldberg has invited author Cecil Dawkins, who turns 90 in October, to come to the reading because she has always wanted to meet Nichols. “Cecil is a great Southern author who quietly lives in Taos. I quote her in ‘Wild Minds’: ‘Natalie, you can do anything you want – as long as it works.’”

With such a long history reading for SOMOS, Goldberg explains that in the early years, the Writers Series would be held at cafes and galleries. “I am thrilled to be able to read one more summer. I don’t take my life so lightly.”

Nichols has literally penned and typewritten more than 20 books (he hates computers). He is best known for his 1974 novel, “The Milagro Beanfield War,” which Robert Redford made into a film in 1988.

When Tempo caught up with Nichols, he had just come indoors from battling a skunk infestation at his backyard shed.

“I’m 77 years old. I’ve been fighting Taos for 48 years,” he begins. After having a good chuckle, he says, “I think SOMOS is a great organization. It’s amazing and remarkable that people had the dedication to keep it running all this time.”

At this event, Nichols plans to read from his recently published photo essay book, “My Heart Belongs to Nature” (University of New Mexico Press, March 2017).

“This book is set in Taos County, from the bottom of the Río Grande Gorge to the top of the high mountains. This is the county where I have wandered from the Colorado border to the Río Arriba county line, but I have never crossed those lines,” Nichols said.

The book begins with an 11,000-word essay and includes 110 photographs with two to three paragraphs each. The images were taken over the last 48 years with a Nikon film camera. Nichols credits Jack Leustig Imaging/Fine Art New Mexico with scanning his transparencies. “I never got into digital photography,” Nichols said.

Talking about the book, Nichols points out that “it is quite beautiful and simple. I’m not Ansel Adams. The photos and the words are more like a memoir. There are not a lot of people in the photos.”

Nichols also plans to read from two works in progress: a memoir about his parents (“Good-bye, Monique”) and a novel (“Once in a Lifetime”). The novel manuscript is a sequel to his published novel, “On Top of Spoon Mountain” (UNM Press, 2012).

“I open ‘Once in a Lifetime’ with a quote I created: ‘Death is a once in a lifetime experience.’ I have the character (Jonathan Kepler) incubated in a hospital, ranting, talking about his kids and grandkids. I want to finish it quickly. Who knows how much time I have left? The clock is ticking,” Nichols said.

Tickets to the Nichols-Goldberg reading are $25, $20 for SOMOS and Harwood Alliance members, free for youth under 18. For more information, contact SOMOS at (575) 758-0081 or the Harwood Museum at (575) 758-9826. Also, visit the websites somostaos.org and harwoodmuseum.org.

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