New Anthology of Montana Women Writers Flies Off Shelves

anthology of women writers

By AARON PARRETT

We Leave the Flowers Where They Are, a new collection of Montana women writers, has just hit the bookshelves of local stores.

The book had its debut at the recent Missoula Book Festival with a showcase event at the Downtown Dance Collective that was so well-attended, the standing-room-only crowd streamed out the door onto the sidewalk of Main street.

The anthology features true stories by 40 Montana women who have all participated in memoir classes or writing workshops with Richard Fifield at the Zootown Arts Community Center in Missoula.

Many of the contributors to We Leave the Flowers Where They Are happen to be seniors, some of whom are making their first appearance in a literary anthology.

While all of the stories are deeply personal, some of the senior writers especially connect their stories to history, reminding us that ordinary lives are often a surprising nexus of important cultural change.

Dolly Browder’s opening story, for example, “Number One,” tells of her soul-crushing legal battle 37 years ago, to make midwifery a legally recognized profession in Montana. Because Browder so skillfully details her harrowing personal struggle, her eventual victory is something every reader will be cheering by the time they finish the story.

Claudia Sanders Brown, who notes in her bio that she has “three children now in their fifties,” penned the essay “No Feet Touching the Floor.” It’s a mesmerizing snapshot of a childhood epiphany she experienced in Butte, Mont., in the early 1940s.

Like many of the essays in this collection, Brown’s story leads readers from a casual opening to an unexpected conclusion that provokes deep thought and stirs the reader’s own childhood memories.

Gladys Consadine’s “Fire” tells the story of a 1971 fire in Powder River County in southeastern Montana that devastated the landscape, killing sheep, including those of the author’s 62-year-old mother.

The story deftly presents three generations of a family all coping with the stress and suspense from the rampaging fire and its enduring influence on them.

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Robin O’Day’s “King Kong Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” is among the standout pieces in this collection, a piece that O’Day read aloud to a packed house at the Missoula Book Festival.

This highly personal story of love, loss, and spiritual awakening is hilarious, irreverent, and deeply serious all at once.

Another story here, “Wisdom,” by Beth Cogswell, recounts a childhood escapade that involved egging an Air Force physician’s house, an unlikely outburst of delinquency. The story reveals the difficulty of a young girl’s coming of age in Great Falls, Mont., in the 1970s.

We Leave the Flowers Where They Are is a book you’ll have a hard time putting down, in part because the stories are so captivating, but also because they are brief enough that, as you finish each one, you’ll tell yourself, “Just one more!”

Most of the stories here are only a few pages long, the result of each author lavishing so much TLC in the workshops.

Each story here feels just right—not a word wasted, nothing extraneous, and matters of timing and insight honed to perfection.

The title of the collection comes from a line in Marylor Wilson’s poem (also included in this compilation), “Familiar Flowers of North America,” which captures the spirit of these profound and honest glimpses of the world through the eyes of “Women across the Big Sky.” Wilson published her own debut book of poetry earlier this year, Summer Lightning, at age 84.

These stories are poignant, sometimes disturbing, but always compelling. It’s a phenomenal addition to the swelling ranks of great Montana literature. MSN

We Leave the Flowers Where They Are is available at bookstores throughout Montana or online at mtstories.com.  One dollar from the purchase of each book goes to Humanities Montana, and another dollar goes to the Zootown Arts Community Center.