Shann Ray is a professor at Gonzaga University. He holds MFA degrees in poetry and fiction along with being a licensed clinical psychologist. He is also a former college and professional basketball player.
His latest novel, “American Copper,” has been acclaimed by famous authors like Sherman Alexie and Dave Eggers.
Professor Alan Weltzien’s “Dances with Words” series has been bringing writers like Ray to the University of Montana Western for 15 years.
“I try to mix it up in the series, have non-fiction and poetry too. I usually try to program four a semester. It’s a big pleasure for me,” Weltzien said.
This is the longest running series at the university and a passion project for Weltzien. On a shoestring budget, he has managed to entice a steady flow of acclaimed writers to visit the campus. Many of the writers even dine and lodge at the professor’s personal home during their stay in Dillon, Mont..
“The writers really enjoy coming here because this is the opposite of Missoula where there’s a wannabe writer on every other block, and they think they’re really profound and great and blah blah blah. There’s a surfeit of writers there. We don’t have a surfeit of writers in this town,” Weltzien said.
Rick Bass, John Maclean, and Craig Leslie are among the many great writers who have read at the Cup, Montana Western’s own coffee shop and literary venue.
As much as he loves the series, Weltzien has been displeased with the attendance in some past events:“The college’s support of this in terms of participation is always disappointing. A lot of people go to ballgames, but very few people come to something like this. A reading is just too weird.”
On why people should be excited about a literary reading, Weltzien said, “As I’ve aged in my career, I more and more value the ‘out loud’ even with prose. If you can perform text with your voice, that’s the best.”
“I tend to think that (now this is not always true) but the majority of the time, writers are the best performers of their work. When you hear the work out loud, it gets realized in ways it doesn’t when we read it silently.”
“The spoken word is the heart of the matter.”