This past weekend, the City of Kanab played host to a celebration of southern Utah, and a showcase of local talent. Writers and poetry enthusiasts alike joined together at Kanab Middle School for the second annual Writers of the Purple Sage Retreat.

Hosted by the Center for Education, Business, and the Arts (CEBA), the two-day event featured poetry recitals, panel discussions, and editing workshops designed to enhance local arts education, as well as call attention to the rich literary heritage of the community. The objectives of the retreat align with the long-term, community development goals of the local organization.

“We want to foster and promote that and provide educational opportunities for locals in Kanab,” explained Kelly Stowell, current Director of CEBA. “Rural communities have a lot to offer. We want to highlight our community, and we want to preserve our heritage and culture. Writing is a big way we do that.”

The retreat draws its name from an influential western novel by Zane Grey, entitled Riders of the Purple Sage. In the early 20th Century, the adventurous author reportedly traveled to the west to rope mountain lions on the Kaibab. Eventually, Grey’s travels led him to Kanab, where he found his creativity invigorated by the local community and unparalleled beauty of the southern Utah landscape.

”Riders of the Purple Sage…was based on [Grey’s] experience in Kanab and people he met,” said Stowell. “He found a lot of adventure out here. Kanab was the backdrop for a lot of his inspiration for his writing.”

The Writers of the Purple Sage Retreat emphasized the talent of several authors who, like Grey, feel a strong, almost spiritual connection to this unique area of the west. Several of the event’s keynote speakers declared their connection to southern Utah, many being locals who currently live in Kanab and the surrounding areas.

Attendees were given the opportunity to hear from an all-star lineup of writers, which included former Utah Poet Laureates David Lee and Rod Miller, as well as Katharine Coles, the current Poet Laureate for the state of Utah.

David Lee attracted a crowd of enthusiastic attendees Friday evening during a poetry recital in which he highlighted some of his favorite poems. Lee, nicknamed the Pig Poet and renowned nationally for the western sentiment of his poetry, entertained the audience by reciting his one-of-a-kind writings.

Current Poet Laureate of Utah Katharine Coles opened the Saturday session of the retreat, delighting the audience by sharing her acclaimed contemporary poetry. Coles recounted several personal stories that have influenced and inspired her writing, ranging from complicated sciences to local tornados, and from loving house-pets to icebergs in Antarctica.

Also in attendance at the retreat was Kane County Poet Laureate Doug Keller and several prominent cowboy poets, including Sam Jackson. Jackson, who is the founder of the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo (NCPR), an event that galloped into Kanab earlier this fall, conducted a panel discussion about the usefulness and importance of poetry competitions.

Attendees were thoroughly entertained by the presentations of outstanding local poets, however this year’s Writers of the Purple Sage Retreat offered far more than great entertainment. Writers were also able to sit in on several discussions led by poets who have been successful in the publishing world and can offer advice to aspiring local writers.

Another resource available to aspiring authors at the event was a walk-in creative writing clinic. The program titled “Poetry for the People” and hosted by Dixie State College’s Department of English, was open to anyone attending the Writers of the Purple Sage Retreat. Faculty members and student editors of Dixie’s literary journal, The Southern Quill, were on hand to assess creative works and provide instant feedback and general writing advice.

Local authors were also able to utilize free display tables to highlight or sell their original literary works. According to Stowell, this free service was provided happily, as the intention of the event wasn’t to make money; rather, event organizers instead sought to showcase the talent of local authors, as well as promote arts education within the community.

“There’s a bigger goal here,” said Stowell. “We want to raise the bar for communication and writing, and provide opportunities to do so in a backdrop that’s inspirational.”

For more information about the annual Writers of the Purple Retreat and other upcoming CEBA events, individuals may contact Kelly Stowell at either (435) 899-0443 or stowell@dixie.edu.