- Courtesy Ellen Santasiero and Irene Cooper
- "Placed" offers everything from nonfiction essays about food and farms to poetry focused on things seen in the Central Oregon environment.
Conceived of and started before the pandemic, the project and process evolved as 2020 unfolded, culminating in an October 2020 release. I checked in with Santasiero and Cooper about the book—which they'll discuss in a Jan. 23 web event with the Deschutes Public Library.
Source Weekly: Describe the genesis of this book, from pre-COVID to now.
Irene Cooper: A few years ago, Oregon poet laureate Kim Stafford floated the idea to library workshop attendees in Bend. He had a model for a community project with a regional focus. We layered onto that our desire for a book that would reflect Central Oregon as more than a picturesque landscape and recreation destination, as a place where people worked and struggled and strived in ways both diverse and relatable.
Ellen Santasiero: A group of five local writers decided to create the book after Kim Stafford floated the suggestion at a library workshop in Bend. We got along well, we didn't get bogged down with obstacles, we just marched forward. We trusted that the process would yield a print book someday. We put out a call to our networks. As writers we all had robust networks. We didn't just ask writers. We asked people who we wanted to hear from because of their work such as a local farmers and people who worked with social justice. Because we were all busy working and had families, the process was slow, and it even sat for a while. Before COVID hit we had most of the submissions in. Then COVID hit and we were distracted. When BLM [Black Lives Matter] grew, we solicited a few more pieces to reflect some of that reality.
SW: Some of the essays take on a very informational tone, while others are more "poetic." What were the parameters writers were given in order to submit a story or poem?
Santasiero and Cooper: Not too many parameters, except for length. In our call we said, "Our idea is that the Encyclopedia is a composition of entries based on place and phenomena unique to our pocket of the planet, from Warm Springs to Fort Rock to Burns and everywhere in-between. The idea is that each participant chooses a subject and writes an encyclopedic line or two that identifies and defines the subject. Participants then use the rest of their 500-800 words to riff on the subject however they like. Lyric essay? Fabulous. Straight-up history lesson? Terrific. Poem? We should be so lucky. We hope to compile a collection of individual responses that reflect both lightness and latitude, gravity and glee.
SW: What surprised you about the submissions you received?
IC: Maybe not surprising, per se, but definitely illuminating were the intimate nature of many of the pieces, how, even the more scientific entries revealed something of the writer's connection and relationship to place.
SW: Describe a few of the pieces that stand out, perhaps now in the midst of what we have collectively experienced in this past year.
ES: The pieces on social justice, such as one about asylum seekers from Honduras, a piece about growing up bi-racial in Sisters, another on the BLM protests in Prineville last summer.
SW: What did the editing process look like?
ES: We used a light hand. We wanted the writers' voices to shine through. By the time we got down to editing and publishing, our editorial staff consisted of two of the original group of five, me and Irene Cooper. We split up the submissions and line-edited as needed. The most fun was ordering the pieces under the letters of the alphabet and coming up with one word to describe the essence of each piece. It was a blast to do that associative play, and contributed to the kind of slanted perspective—the side door—we were aiming for.
SW: What would you like readers and residents/visitors to know about this book and where to get it?
ES: We hope to add to the growing body of local literature in two ways: 1., by providing stories that, as a whole, begin to represent all of what living in this place means, from its beauty to some of its hard realities, not excluding even the banalities; 2., by placing fiction and poetry side by side with nonfiction accounts. Most readers are accustomed to nonfiction in a place-focused book such as this one. Our collection argues that we can (and should!) perceive and understand a place from a less linear, more imaginative perspective.
"Placed" is available locally at Dudley's, Roundabout Books, Paulina Springs Books, The Bend Store, and The Workhouse, and may be ordered from retail outlets everywhere. Cooper and Santasiero also aim to put out more volumes and will put out a call for submissions when that time comes.
Know Place — Placed: An Encyclopedia of Central Oregon
Sat., Jan 23. 2-3pm
Online event through the Deschutes Public Library
Editors Irene Cooper and Ellen Santasiero discuss PLACED, a composition of writings based on place and phenomena unique to Central Oregon.