In the past, the Colorado Mountain College Common Reader program has explored books on topics ranging from the integration of Little Rock Central High School to the genocide in Darfur. This year's selection hits a little closer to home, with a verse novel based on a tragic event that took place in southern Colorado.
"Ludlow," written by Colorado Poet Laureate and Colorado College professor David Mason, explores the 1914 massacre of striking miners, women and children in a tent colony near the Ludlow coal mine. There, on a spring day, immigrants from Italy, Greece and Mexico died in the struggle to improve pay and working conditions for laborers.
Under orders from the Colorado National Guard, soldiers with machine guns fired on strikers in a tent village. A fire that began when the miners were forced to flee destroyed the encampment, and more than 20 people died, mostly women and children.
Initially, Mason questioned his decision to tell the story in the form of a verse novel. "They're not exactly common in our time," he said.
But for Mason, the form was suited to the content and ideas he wanted to explore.
"I did not want a documentary," he said. "I wanted the imaginative heft and flight of a poem and a novel - an epic, if you will. A story of our nation, of who we are."
'Ludlow' explores fundamental
questions about identity, belonging
When asked to describe the theme of his book, Mason said: "To me, theme is not what we read for. We read for life, for experience. I'm writing about people who have a very tentative sense of their own identity, who feel divided between one language and another, one self and another."
To Mason, the immigrant experience is central to the American experience.
"I do not believe in a homogenous American culture," he said. "The idea of such a thing is repugnant to me. Either we celebrate immigrants or we become a smug, self-righteous enclave. Todos somos immigrantes, eh?"
He added, "I do not think of this as a political book, though it has political issues and implications. I think of it as an existential book, asking the essential questions of American culture: What is a person? What makes a person? What makes us assume we know who has the right to be here? These are foundational questions for our country. If you are an American, you are involved in them."
To explore these questions, among others, Mason will visit seven Colorado Mountain College locations for public talks and visits with students Oct. 29 through Nov. 8.
In addition to "Ludlow," which won the Colorado Book Award, Mason has published two books of essays and a memoir. He also writes opera libretti, and "The Scarlet Letter," an opera he wrote with composer Lori Laitman, will have its professional premiere at Opera Colorado in Denver in May 2013.
Talks, film, writing contest
expand experience of reading
For six years, Colorado Mountain College's Common Reader program has offered a unique way to expand the reading horizons of the communities served by the college and to bring readers and authors together in conversations that extend beyond the pages of a book.
Mason will be at Colorado Mountain College in Rifle on Monday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m. Though his talk is free, there is a suggested donation of $5. Half of the proceeds will go to the college's No Barriers Fund (which assists students in need) and half to Friends of the Fairplay Library (to support efforts to rebuild the library there). More information is available at www.coloradomtn.edu/commonreader.
Along with the author's appearances this year, the Common Reader program will host showings of a mining documentary, "Way Down in the Hole," at the Rifle campus on Tuesday, Oct. 30.
The college is also sponsoring an art and creative writing contest, "Poetry in Everyday Life." All entries inspired by the book or the author's talks are due Nov. 26. The contest is open to students and community members and features cash prizes. More information on the contest is available at http://colomtn.me/commonreader12cmc.