writers

Solidarity in the San Juans: Writers Irvine, left, and Houston. (Courtesy photo)

One is the author of the bestseller “Cowboys Are My Weakness,” a New York Times notable book translated into nine languages.

The other wrote “Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land,” which the L.A. Times declared “might very well be Desert Solitaire’s literary heir.”

Both are literary award-winners. “The amazing thing is, they’d never met until recently,” said Daiva Chesonis, the co-owner of Telluride’s Between the Covers Bookstore. It’s surprising, when you consider that both reside not only in Colorado, but the San Juans. (“Cowboys” writer Pam Houston lives near Creede, and Amy Irvine, the author of “Trespass,” near Norwood).

It was their shared correspondence — a writing project for Orion magazine — that brought the two scribes together. Comradeship and creative inspiration, forged in the crucible of COVID-19, kept them together after the Orion project was over. That and a shared publication, just out from Torrey House Press. “They couldn’t stop writing,” said Michelle Wentling, a publicist for Torrey. “It was keeping them hopeful and motivated, and they thought, this could be a book.”

Even before their correspondence, the writers had much in common. As they say in the introduction to “Air Mail: Letters of Politics, Pandemics and Place,” their books “were all, in one way or another, about how the Earth’s wild places saved us, raised us, mothered us, and brought us back to life. We live on opposite sides of the Continental Divide, on opposite sides of the San Juan Mountain Range. The rain that falls into Pam’s high mountain meadow will make its way eventually to the Atlantic Ocean, while the rain that falls on Amy’s high desert mesa will run toward the Pacific. The land between our houses, much of it over 10,000 feet in elevation, is arguably the most beautiful and wildest country in the lower 48.”

Houston and Irvine had begun their correspondence during the state’s lockdown in March, when paradoxically, news of the novel coronavirus arrived pell-mell as the world seemed to grind to a halt. The authors used that time not for “doomscrolling” but digging deeper — and took note of the strangeness: “In a culture defined by Twitter and the 24-hour news cycle, writing letters felt like ritual — intimate, ancient — two barn owls calling across to each other across a starry sky. As the reality of Covid set in, our letters became a life raft of clarity in days filled with increasing numbers of the dead and the incessant dismantling of our government from within. In them, we could rage and cry, hold each other up, and talk ourselves back into agency, back into hope, back into action.”

The hesitation at Torrey Press was that “some of the topics” that Houston and Irvine took on “might be passe by the time this book was published,” Wentling said. “Little did we know: we’re still in the thick of it.”And the authors are here to talk about it.

Houston and Irvine read in Ridgway on Tuesday night, and are in Telluride Wednesday, in two sessions on the Wilkinson Public Library terrace, at noon and 5:30 p.m. (sign up at telluridelibrary.org). “They’re pistols. They’re both on it,” Chesonis said of the scribes’ newfound friendship. “And the cool thing is,” what came out of their friendship is something readers can easily take along everywhere: “It’s a tiny little book. It can fit in your back pocket.” Fiery, galvanizing observations, for a singular time: “We could hear each other’s words, and our own, ringing like a bell, reminding us that the fight to save the Earth is what we were born for,” the authors have explained of their correspondence. “Eventually we could hear your voice too, dear reader, your fear for the future, and your passion for the land.

“Welcome. You are the one we’ve been waiting for. We’ve caught up to a future we could not imagine, but we’ve known all along we were ready.”

“Air Mail: Letters of Politics, Pandemics and Place” is available for purchase at Between the Covers Bookstore in Telluride and the Ouray Bookshop.