About 50 people packed the Josephy Center on the evening of May 15 to hear a reading by multi-award-winning author and Fishtrap instructor, Craig Lesley. The author has an extensive background in the Wallowa Valley and several of his books feature the Wallowa Valley as a backdrop. Lesley currently resides in Portland, where he is writer-in-residence at Portland State University.
Lesley spent most of his earlier years near the town of Madras, and he still dresses the part of a rural East Oregonian arriving at the May 15 engagement in a flannel shirt and denim. As the Josephy Center was celebrating the 1950s, Lesley read from several of his works, concentrating on the theme of “Growing Up in Eastern Oregon in the Fifties.”
Lesley spent well over an hour on his readings and answering questions from a genuinely moved Josephy Center audience. Afterward he agreed to sit down for a short interview with the Chieftain concerning his ties to the Wallowa country.
Lesley originally became acquainted with the area through several visits to an uncle’s elk camp on the Imnaha River. In the early 1980s, Lesley read at the Bookloft and later became connected with Fishtrap from its very beginning in 1988. He read from his works then, but starting in 1990, he began teaching at Fishtrap writers workshops, which he continues to do.
“It was a great way to come back here, and I really like it. One thing that’s interesting is that I’ve never really felt like writing a Portland story. I just don’t know how to handle a big city, and I’ve always grown up and lived in small places,” Lesley said.
When writing books with the Wallowas in mind, Lesley doesn’t visit the area once and shape a book around it. “I’ve taught at Fishtrap about eight times, and I came back a lot because I like the country and people so much. I really like the students I’ve had here at Fishtrap as well,” Lesley said.
Because of family obligations, Lesley hadn’t visited the Wallowa Valley in about six years. Regardless, people in the community remember Lesley well as at least a half dozen people stopped by to chat with him during the interview.
Lesley compared Wallowa County stays to a golfer’s preference for playing on a familiar or “home course.” “Enterprise and Joseph are my home course as a writer,” Lesley said.
Retirement from writing is not in Lesley’s plans. “I don’t think I will. I’m writing slower than I used to, and I can feel the difference, but I still have stories. I have unfinished stories of several varieties, some going all the way back to college, and some being set up in this country. I’m still interested in the outdoors,” Lesley said.