The Inaugural James Welch Native Lit Festival launched in Missoula in July, focus on contemporary Indigenous writers and celebrating the work of author James Welch. Welch was a key figure in the Native American Renaissance of the late 1960s and ’70s, which marked an era when writers of Indigenous descent became more broadly published and acknowledged. The three-day event brought together nearly 20 writers from Indigenous communities across the United States for panel discussions, Q&As, readings and artist talks at the Wilma Theatre and the Missoula Public Library.
I had the opportunity to interview festival founder and executive director Sterling HolyWhiteMountain, who told me he created the event for fellow Indigenous writers to come together and talk publicly about their work with one another. HolyWhiteMountain is a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University and graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop who grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation.
I was also able to visit with James Welch’s widow, Lois Welch, an English and literature professor. The couple were married for 35 years before Welch died in 2003 at age 62 after a nearly year-long struggle with lung cancer.
Lois Welch, of German descent, said the captivating characteristic of her husband’s work was its honesty and point of view.
“There is just a simple, profound humanity in the tone of his writing,” she said in a phone interview with Montana Free Press. “He spoke the truth as he saw it, and he found himself with a subject matter he understood profoundly and that nobody could question him about.”
More at montanafreepress.org.