The Whitefish Review’s Ongoing Evolution

By Beacon Staff

Like any good tale, the story arc for the recent release party of the Whitefish Review was set early when the local literary journal published an essay by Laura Munson in 2009.

Munson was still an emerging author when that issue hit the Flathead, but flash forward a year later to Munson reading from her memoir, which ranks on the New York Times bestseller list, at the journal’s release party last week.

“It was the perfect literary storm,” Brian Schott, the journal’s founder, said.

June 24 marked the release of the seventh issue of the Whitefish Review. The latest iteration of the popular publication boasts works from 34 writers and photographers, 17 of whom are from Montana.

Schott said the review editorial board never specifically plans for half of the journal to consist of Montanans, but it often ends up that way, a phenomenon he described as “organically cool.”

The seventh issue also carries on the Whitefish Review’s tradition of attracting considerable star power, featuring interviews with author John Irving and Munson.

An audience attending the release of the seventh issue of the Whitefish Review listens as author Laura Munson begins her talk in Whitefish. Munson, who is interviewed in the review, read from her best selling memoir “This is Not the Story You Think it is… A Season of Unlikely Happiness.”

Previous issues have included stories and interviews with other notable authors, including Tim Cahill, Rick Bass, Terry Tempest Williams and Doug Peacock.

Schott said he and managing editors Mike Powers and Ryan Friel have been extraordinarily lucky with attracting big names to their publication, but they also make sure to provide a place for lesser-known writers to bloom.

“We take such a huge amount of pride in publishing not only students but emerging writers,” Schott said.

Such was the case with Munson, whose essay, “Raven,” was featured in the journal’s fifth edition. That was before Munson’s essay on handling marital hardships, “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear,” crashed the New York Times commenting section with its popularity and her new book, “This Isn’t the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness,” was published.

Last Thursday, Munson performed a live reading from her book at the Lodge at Whitefish Lake during the Review’s release party, recounting her now-famous struggle with – and triumph over – suffering, to an appreciative crowd of more than 200.

Before she began reading from her memoir, Munson said she views the Whitefish Review and its founders as a source of inspiration, especially for following their passion for creativity.

Schott said it is pleasing to be part of Munson’s journey and to watch her succeed.

“It’s especially gratifying to see someone like that hit the New York Times bestseller list,” Schott said.

The journal’s seventh issue features plenty of engaging, new talent. Stella Holt, a junior at Whitefish High School, recounts being evacuated from Glacier National Park by a helicopter after a nasty fall on a difficult mountain climb in her essay, “Here Among the Mountains.”

Kalispell’s Alexa Schnee’s fiction work, “Coffee Date” is also part of the collection, as is Bigfork High School junior Kate Lamm’s poem, “I Have Decided.”

Other notable Montana authors include George Ostrom of Kalispell, Jim Clarke of West Glacier and Richard Rice from the Bitterroot Valley. Visual artists and photographers include Hannah Bissell of Kalispell, Amanda Guy of Bozeman, Lance Schelvan of Missoula, Greg Thomas of Ennis, and Lindsey Davis Ward of Kalispell.

As with each piece in the seventh issue, the roots of the Whitefish Review lie in irrepressible creativity. Schott originally came up with the concept after his first semester of graduate school at Dartmouth in 2006, where he is pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing.

Laura Munson signs copies of her best selling memoir during the Whitefish Review release party in Whitefish. The review features an extensive interview with the author.

Schott came back to Montana inspired by his classes and coming to terms with life as a freelance writer and photographer in an economic downturn. Many publications were either eliminating or drastically downsizing fiction sections, he said.

“It seemed like Montana needed something where you could publish 5,000 or 6,000 words, where you had a chance,” Schott said.

So he, Friel and Powers hatched the idea of a Montana-based literary journal over beers on the local ski hill. Admittedly, none of the founders had any idea what they were up against, but this naivety gave them a sense of possibility, Schott said.

“I think it was kind of good we went into it blind,” Schott said, laughing.

And starting in an economic downturn has made them that much stronger, he added.

The latest issue shows signs of evolution from previous issues, with a new section showcasing a conversation between writers Bass and Peacock and a second new section featuring essays from Montanans about their interactions with President Barack Obama during his visit last summer.

The journal’s review board received about 800 submissions for the issue, and Schott is confident the publication will keep growing. He is also confident there will be an audience for the publication.

“We have pride and hope people still really enjoy picking up a book,” Schott said.

Copies of Whitefish Review cost $12 and are available at Rocky Mountain Outfitter in downtown Kalispell, Borders Bookstore in Kalispell and Bookworks of Whitefish, or online at www.whitefishreview.org.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.