Page by page, layer by layer: Grand Canyon authors gather at MNA for readings …

In the calendar of happenings so far this year, we have had the Grand Canyon Music Festival and the Grand Canyon Celebration of Art. And gaining steady momentum behind these two festivals that celebrate the great gorge and its inspiration is a growing annual gathering of Canyon authors.

On Saturday, Oct. 5, the Museum of Northern Arizona, in partnership with the Grand Canyon Association, will bring “Of Lines and Layers: The Third Annual Grand Canyon Author’s Symposium.” The event will run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Museum admission applies. Learn more at or by calling 774-5213. 

This symposium is also one of several scheduled events listed with Colorado River Days, a series of happenings to inspire people to protect and celebrate the Colorado River. It runs from this Tuesday through Oct. 8. It is hosted by the Sierra Club, Museum of Northern Arizona and Grand Canyon Trust. Learn more at

“On the one hand, the Canyon defies description,” noted Rick Kempa, a poet and editor who is presenting at the event. “As the poet Amil Quayle says, ‘Language falters and dies before the fact.’” 

He continued: “On the other hand, the Canyon compels us to respond, to make something of it in whatever ways we can. The ‘we’ is everyone who truly encounters it, and this symposium is a wonderful chance to hear to a wealth of ways that the Canyon has been conjured with words.”

Naseem Rakha, who was a Grand Canyon Artist-in-Residence and who will return to the area from her Oregon home, will present a piece on Kaitlin Kenney, who passed away in the Grand Canyon earlier this year. She also will share how the Canyon has inspired her.

“Formations like Zoroaster Granite, Vishnu Schist and Cremation Pegmatite must have been named by poets — people who understood the magic and influence of words and who wanted others to understand that, when we speak of the forces that shape the canyon, we speak of greater powers,” Rakha shared.

The Saturday author event begins at 9 a.m. with “Canyon Kids” events that include children’s book authors Lori Rome and Midji Stephenson. Also, Grand Canyon board game creator Bronze Black will be on hand. Children’s activities run until noon.

At 11 a.m., visiting poet and poetry collection editor Kempa will join essayist Naseem Rakha in kicking off the day of author presentations. They will be followed by presentations from Christa Sadler, Tom Martin, Seth Muller and Stephen Hirst. 

At 2:15 p.m., four Colorado Plateau poets — Heidi Blankenship, Danny Rosen, Jean Rukkila and Ann Weiler Walka — will share their Canyon-centered words in this session. Their work is part of the recently completed manuscript, “A Distance Far Too Deep: Poems from the Grand Canyon,” edited by Peter Anderson and Kempa.

The final reading is by headlining author Margaret Erhart, who will read from her novel, “Butterflies of Grand Canyon.” She also shares the background about how she came to write this novel.

“This event highlights a fascinating cross-section of authors, essayists and poets who, in part or whole, dedicate time to understanding the Grand Canyon and its stories,” said Muller, who has participated in the past two years of Grand Canyon Author Symposium events. “Oftentimes, visual art and photography from the Grand Canyon receive notable attention through exhibitions, but the writings from the Canyon also are deserving of special events and gatherings.”

Rakha added that the festival promises to inspire with the gathering of “people who have made it their life work to try to define the undefinable experience of falling in love with rock, rim and river.”

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