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The Crested Butte Center for the Arts and the Telluride Institute’s Talking Gourds Poetry Program gave this year’s Karen Chamberlain Award for lifetime achievement in Colorado poetry to teacher, poet, and mayor Aaron Abeyta of Antonito at a ceremony during the Mountain Words Literary Festival, May 27.

“Aaron won our hearts with his first book, Colcha (Univ. of Colo. Press, 2001), said Talking Gourds co-director Art Goodtimes who introduced Aaron Friday night. “Colcha won both an American Book Award and a Colorado Book Award in 2002.”

In introducing Abeyta, Goodtimes cited Aaron’s work as a teacher of poetry, professor of English, political leader, football coach, and a perennial presence at Western Colorado University’s annual Headwaters Conference in Gunnison each fall.

After receiving the award, Aaron performed a letter/poem in praise of books. The piece begins in the San Luis Valley where his family has lived for generations – writing as he was from the banks of the Conejos River.

“Language is water that carries me simultaneously forward and into the past,” read Abeyta. “The river becomes this mirror that is both truth and the shimmer of the half remembered; slow, flat water, which heals and forgives. The river is what I try to save. I believe the river is better than all of us; it knows how we love, and it urges the broken parts of us healed, and that is why I am writing this letter; I believe books, language, and the perfect word hold that same power.”

The full text of the piece is available online here:

“We are delighted to name Aaron as this year’s Chamberlain Award winner,” noted Brooke Harless MacMillan, Center for the Arts Artistic Director. “He has been an inspiration and north star for many writers in Colorado and the West, and has worked long and hard in support of the craft of writing and literary arts. We are deeply honored to present the award to Aaron this year.”

The Karen Chamberlain Award is named for the late poet from the Roaring Fork Valley who also worked tirelessly as a writer and a promoter of poetry events in Colorado. The award has been given out annually since 2014. Previous winners include the late Reg Saner of Boulder, the late Jack Mueller of Log Hill Village, the late Bruce Berger of Aspen, Mark Todd of Gunnison, Veronica Patterson of Loveland, the late Chris Ransick of Denver, Art Goodtimes of Norwood and Kate Kingston of Trinidad.

For more information about both programs visit these websites:

Larger photo by Noland Blunck available upon request

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