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Hearth: A Global Discussion on Community, Identity and Place

  • The Wilma Theater 131 South Higgins Avenue Missoula, MT, 59802 United States (map)

The Montana Book Festival is proud to present Hearth: A Global Conversation on Community, Identity, and Place with visiting panelists and contributors to the collection, Gretel Ehrlich, Debra Earling and Christopher Merrill. This event is FREE with festival button, or $5. Buttons are $15 and can be purchased beginning on Thursday, September 27 at any venue, or at either bookstore (Fact and Fiction or Shakespeare & Co.) for the duration of the festival.

Hearth is a multicultural anthology, edited by Susan O’Connor and Annick Smith, about the enduring importance and shifting associations of the hearth in our world.

A hearth is many things: a place for solitude; a source of identity; something we make and share with others; a history of ourselves and our homes. It is the fixed center we return to. It is just as intrinsically portable. It is, in short, the perfect metaphor for what we seek in these complex and contradictory times—set in flux by climate change, mass immigration, the refugee crisis, and the dislocating effects of technology.

Featuring original contributions from some of our most cherished voices—including Terry Tempest Williams, Bill McKibben, Pico Iyer, Natasha Trethewey, Luis Alberto Urrea, and Chigozie Obioma—Hearth suggests that empathy and storytelling hold the power to unite us when we have wandered alone for too long. This is an essential anthology that challenges us to redefine home and hearth: as a place to welcome strangers, to be generous, to care for the world beyond one’s own experience.


Susan O'Connor is an environmental and arts advocate. She has served on the boards of several art museums, including the Menil in Houston, Texas. She has also been a board member of the Orion Society and the American Prairie Reserve. She cofounded several nonprofits including Pacific Writers Connection, Ala Kukui: Hana Retreat, Ohana Makamae, and Families First both in Boston and Missoula. She is a coeditor, with Annick Smith, of The Wide Open: Prose, Poetry, and Photographs of the Prairie, which included such notable writers as Peter Matthiessen, Richard Ford, Gretel Ehrlich, and James Harrison with photographic portfolios by Lee Friedlander, Lois Conner, and Geoffrey James. She presently lives in Missoula, Montana with her husband Roy and three black Labradors.

Annick Smith is the author of Homestead, In This We Are Native, Big Bluestem, and Crossing the Plains with Bruno. She produced the prize-winning feature Heartland, and was a founding board member of Robert Redford's Sundance Institute. Her travel and nature writing, short stories, and essays have appeared in Audubon, Outside, Islands, Travel + Leisure, Orion, the New York Times, Story, and National Geographic Traveler, and have been widely anthologized. in 1989 she was coeditor with William Kittredge of The Last Best Place: A Montana Anthology. She was also coeditor with Susan O'Connor of The Wide Open: Prose, Poetry and Photographs of the Prairie. She lives on a homestead ranch in Montana's Blackfoot River Valley. 


Debra Magpie Earling is Bitterroot Salish and a member of the Flathead Nation. She is the author of the novels Perma Red, which received the American Book Award, and The Lost Journals of Sacajewea. Her work has also appeared in Ploughshares and Northeast Indian Quarterly as well as several anthologies, including Talking Leaves: Contemporary Native American Short Stories and Montana Women Writers: A Geography of the Heart. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, she is now the Director of Creative Writing at the University of Montana in Missoula.  

Gretel Ehrlich is the author of fifteen books, including The Solace of Open Spaces, a record of her first years living on the Wyoming range, cowboying, and herding sheep; and A Match to the Heart, a memoir about being hit by lightning on her ranch. Her most recent book, Facing the Wave, received the PEN Award for Nonfiction and was nominated for the National Book Award. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, three National Geographic Expedition grants, and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Ehrlich has traveled by dogsled with subsistence Inuit hunters at the top of Greenland for twenty years, and as a result has written extensively about climate change. 

Christopher Merrill has published six collections of poetry, including Brilliant Water and Watch Fire, for which he received the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets. He has also edited many volumes and books of translations, as well as six works of nonfiction, among them, Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars; Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain; The Tree of Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War; and Self-Portrait with Dogwood. His writing has been translated into over thirty languages, his journalism appears widely, and his honors include a Chevalier from the French government in the Order of Arts and Letters. Merrill serves as director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, on the US National Commission for UNESCO, and in April 2012 President Obama appointed him to the National Council on the Humanities. He lives in Iowa

Later Event: September 30