A writer for the ages
Ryan Summerlin February 4, 2014
I distinctly remember when I first came to know Stewart Oksenhorn’s name.
The time frame was about nine years ago, when I was new to my arts and entertainment position at the Post Independent. I had spent several months prior heading up the community desk, writing obituaries and making sure our paper was publishing all the memories and milestones in our readers’ lives. A position opened up for the A&E editor, and I felt like my time had arrived. I was excited to write about the valley’s arts scene. I anticipated the interviews with the valley’s creative types — the artists, musicians, dancers, writers, directors and more.
They thrive in this environment.
I was still fairly new to the valley, having moved to Carbondale not even two years prior. There was so much to learn and so many people to meet. I soon discovered the arts community would make me feel as welcome as Aunt Bea did with guests to her home in Mayberry on the “Andy Griffith Show.”
I was a lot like Opie in my younger years.
Since we have a sister paper upvalley, the Aspen Times, the Aspen A&E coverage was under Stewart’s jurisdiction. But there were often times we wrote stories that one or the other would pick up. Sometimes we would write on the same topic, say about a concert or community theater production, approaching the story with completely different angles. I was always intrigued to read Stewart’s take on the same story because of his distinctive style.
As writers we all have our own voice.
Stewart’s was always raw and passionate to me. In reading his work, there was never a question that he didn’t love music and the people who make it. His voice always spoke to me from a place of experience I just had not visited yet. I imagine that had a lot to do with the sheer number of concerts he had been to in his life.
Whether it’s been Blondie or Sam Bush, the performers I’ve seen live have taught me something about life.
Just by his T-shirts alone, I knew Stewart was a passionate Grateful Dead fan. He followed the band for decades. I’ve heard he attended more than 200 Dead shows in his time.
Someday I may say that about Def Leppard.
I have an inclination Stewart probably didn’t share my affection for ’80s hair bands. But we did relate in our love of the mountains and passion for music and writing. Sometimes that’s all colleagues need, a few things in common to earn each other’s mutual respect.
I hope I we had mutual admiration.
I respected Stewart’s work for many reasons, mostly because he wrote with a level of depth I don’t see on the countless number of bland blogs and pop Internet drivel out there online. Stewart was a true craftsman of words. Just by reading his stories, I could tell he respected his sources and they trusted him with their words.
That in itself is a gift.
Stewart was the working artist’s journalist, penning stories from a place that demands creative prowess and editorial responsibility. Not every writer has a natural ability to not only report the facts correctly but also communicate the feelings and thoughts of the person interviewed in a way that really tells why they love playing music or being on a stage.
Stewart had that.
Writing seemed to be a natural process for him, and his choice of words and story structure reflected it. He may have intended to be a lawyer in his younger years, but writing was Stewart’s true calling. I will always be thankful to the universe that he brought so much entertainment to the world through his own words and photography. He was gifted with the ability to really tell a story, and not just any story about a band or a play. He told a really good one that read like he was sitting right next to me, recounting the passion and dedication that only touring guitarists or classically trained dancers might embody.
I know somewhere a guitar is silently weeping for him.
There are writers who make their craft seem so effortless that the words read as smoothly across the lips as velvet on the fingertips. He was eloquent but not over-the-top using words that had no relevance. That’s because what Stewart wrote about was, and is, important. Promoting the arts and revealing the process that goes into creating their different messages and avenues is why we were both dedicated to A&E reporting in our magical and creative valley.
This place will forever be his resting place.
When I found out Sunday that Stewart was gone, by suicide which no one could have predicted, and that his words would no longer grace the pages of the newspapers in our valley, I felt as if I had been robbed. It wasn’t something monetary or materialistic that was taken. It was something intangible and irreplaceable. His words about the creative souls and artists of all types who live in or visit our valley are now suspended in history like a Monet hanging in a museum. I will only be able to look back on his writing with admiration and hope I can write to his level.
One with spirit, grace and grit.
I never fully thanked Stewart for his work at the craft, and helping me be a better writer over the years in the Roaring Fork Valley. I hope he knew how grateful I was for the assignments I received from him during Aspen’s comedy festivals that helped me meet and interview many famous, as well as up-and-coming, comics I still know today. I was honored to write about my experiences hanging with the funny people and learning how, as a new stand-up comic, to make people laugh. Stewart was not only a hard-working journalist but a smart editor whose talent hopefully has rubbed off on me as I keep at the craft I love so much. I hope I can continue his legacy as a superb writer and keep his passion for the arts alive.
And may I never forget the time in my life I came to know Stewart Oksenhorn’s name.
— April E. Clark pleads with those considering suicide or dealing with depression to seek immediate help by calling the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK, the valley’s Mind Springs Health 24-7 Crisis Line at (888) 207-4004, or the Aspen Hope Center at 925-5858. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.