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Barbara Harrelson's


Traces Southwest's Storytelling Roots

Photograph of Camino Monte Sol by Scott Christopher

The literary tradition of Santa Fe and Taos is just as impressive, but less well known, than the visual, musical and culinary arts which each year attract visitors from around the world. That storytelling tradition is thriving today, with many prominent authors, along with scores of lesser-known writers, journalists and poets, residing here and around the state. The love of language, books, and reading is very much in evidence in New Mexico, a state of less than two million people, with book-related events and local author appearances occurring ever week. Santa Fe, with a population of about 65,000, has the highest number of bookstores per household in the entire nation, according to the American Booksellers Association.

Local writer and bibliophile Barbara Harrelson has developed a 2-hour walking tour of downtown Santa Fe which explores the history, personalities, the legends and the lore of the area through its stories and its literary landmarks. The downtown tour often includes, access permitting, a visit to the historic Witter Bynner House, now operating as the Inn of the Turquoise Bear, a B & B. An optional route down Canyon Road and Camino del Monte Sol is also possible.

Harrelson, a former language teacher and museum docent (including The Smithsonian Institution), traces the storytelling roots of the three dominant cultures of the Southwest, drawing a timeline to put early literary events into perspective: the "literature" of the Anasazi and the Aztecs; the encounter with Europeans, namely the Spanish, who had already established a kind of publishing industry by the time Cortes entered the Valley of Mexico; the earliest literature of the Spanish Colonial era, including the first book printed in New Mexico by Padre Martinez in Taos; and the books, journals, and letters written by the Anglo-Americans and others who moved west across the Santa Fe Trail.

The tour also includes contemporary regional authors whose works are representative of these diverse peoples, including homage to three noted authors of the Southwest who have died in recent years: Paul Horgan, Frank Waters and Fray Angelico Chavez.

The site of one of the best-known bookstores in Santa Fe's recent history (no longer existing), some of the traditional local "haunts" of writers and artists, along with the homes of several prominent authors from the past, are among the sites included. Harrelson hands out a sheet with recommended readings and the current week's listing of literary events in Santa Fe. For more information, contact Barbara Harrelson barbarah@newmexico.com, (505) 989-4561. Reservations required 24 hours in advance.

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