The idea for the Whitefish Review came to me four years ago after returning to Montana from a semester of graduate school in New Hampshire. The urban and suburban East is rife with outlets for literary and artistic types, but in the rural Northern Rockies, it's easy for the artistic voice of the region to get lost. I wanted to create a venue to celebrate regional literature and at the same time build a community of artists. It would be both literary journal and public arts project. So I rounded up four friends who love to read and write and we sent out e-mails and placed calls to artists and writers, generated publicity, and posted notes at grocery stores. Our mission is to publish the distinctive literature, art, and photography of mountain culture while nurturing young writers and artists alongside the pros.
I timidly popped a letter in the mail to the longtime University of Montana creative writing professor, William Kittredge, explaining our vision. Two days later my phone rang. Our first issue featured a wonderful conversation with Bill, as well as an unpublished short story he had stashed away. In that issue we also published a poem from an old time ski patroller, as well as stories by high school students just starting to find their way.
In subsequent issues we were sustained by the generosity of authors like Rick Bass, Tim Cahill, David James Duncan, Pete Fromm, Pam Houston, Doug Peacock, and Terry Tempest Williams. Our most recent issue features an interview with John Irving of Vermont, and an essay from the Livingston, Montana fly-fishing guide who took President Obama out to catch trout last summer. We've also run interviews with Drew Bledsoe and Scot Schmidt. The idea is to keep people guessing what's next. "A literary journal you'll actually read," said our friend Tim Cahill.
The Dallas Morning News once wrote, "No American writer since Hemingway has written about man-in-nature more beautifully or powerfully than Rick Bass." So imagine my pleasure in publishing an interview with Rick in our third issue, but also a comment he e-mailed me about how our publication actually helps established writers. He wrote: "The spirit of innovation with Whitefish Review comes from combining the intensely local—Whitefish and northwest Montana—with the intensely global. Publishing nationally-known writers alongside local high school artists is a powerful statement to the community, and helps give the 'established' artists a grounding to a specific community that supports their work."
We've chosen to publish without advertisers and are gambling that there are enough people to support non-profits like ours that contribute to the public good. Regional literature is, after all, art. Last summer we received tax-exempt status and have been on the hunt for grants and additional sponsors. We're thousands of hours and thousands of dollars in debt, but the vision is long-term. Still, there are days when I wake up and wonder why I got myself into this beautiful mess. One potential sponsor asked me that first winter: "You have partners in this?" Yes, I replied. "Good," he said. "Pain is easier when it's spread around."
But great art and literature are often born from pain and raised by lonely self-doubt, too. If the Whitefish Review soothes that ache while giving the Mountain West a voice and celebrating the talented people that live here, then we're accomplishing our mission.