Fishtrap panel

Writer Molly Gloss (“Jump-off Creek,” “Hearts of Horses”) describes her mentor, Ursula LeGuin’s, teaching style while Scott Russell Sanders (right) and Luis Alberto Urrea listen. The panel marked the closing of this year’s FishTrap Gathering, and a year dedicated to LeGuin’s work.

Fishtrap goes out with a bang.

Ellen Morris Bishop

Fishtrap’s week of workshops and week-long gathering went out with a bang Saturday night as thunderstorms rolled out of the Wallowas and descended on Wallowa Lake while The Gathering paid homage to award-winning writer and Fishtrap mentor Ursula LeGuin. Securely ensconced under a big tent at Wallowa Lake Lodge, Fishtrap attendees watched a screening of “Worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin,” an upcoming, hour-long American Masters PBS documentary about LeGuin’s life and writing. Words of wisdom from LeGuin herself in the film included “I never wanted to be a writer. I just wrote.” And “Every story must make its own rules. And then break them.”

Three of Fishtrap’s workshop faculty, Molly Gloss, Scott Russell Sanders, and Luis Alberto Urrea, who had all been mentored by LeGuin, shared their experiences and memories. Sanders related that in the 1990’s when LeGuin was taking a walk with him while staying at his Indiana home, she stopped, looked at him and said, with some degree of quiet amazement, “There’s water running under here.”

“She didn’t mean it like there was something seeping under the sidewalk,” he said. “She meant water moving freely, deep underground.” And LeGuin was right, he said. “I told her that, yes, it was limestone country, and that there were caves and underground rivers beneath the surface. She was extraordinarily perceptive of her surroundings.”

LeGuin could be a demanding teacher, but she was good at working with writers who were just starting, Gloss said. “She would always find something, maybe just one thing, that was lovely, and she’d say “This is beautiful.” And then she’d find one thing to change that would improve the story. Those students always left feeling inspired.” For the gathering attendees, it was a banner evening.

This year’s gathering and workshops provided one of the best ever experiences for attendees, said Fishtrap Executive Director Shannon McNerney. “It was wonderful,” she said. “We had a great diversity in our participants—different ages, different cultural backgrounds. That may have been partly because of the workshops we offered—they included Chicana writers, younger writers, and different kinds of workshops. Our Fellows were also really diverse, and came from a pretty large geographic area.”

McNerny also touted the support and involvement of the community in Joseph and Wallowa County. “Our youth workshops had 28 students, and half of them were from Wallowa County,” she said. Most of those students received scholarships. And Joseph Charter School provided transportation for the students. “Everyone did what they could to help,” she said. “We are so very thankful for that.”

The positive vibes also extended to Fishtrap Gathering and workshop participants. “My favorite quote from one of our attendees, McNerny said, is “This place is heaven, and if heaven isn’t like this, I don’t want to go there.”

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