Ravenous readers of books set in the American West are familiar with stories of living life on the edge, off the grid, out of the box. But Karen Auvinen’s memoir, “Rough Beauty,” takes isolation and fortitude to a delightful, and at times terrifying, extreme. It was hailed nationally for its fine writing and landed on several “Best Reads” lists. Auvinen now brings her wild love of Colorado mountains and writing to Western Colorado University’s Graduate Program in Creative Writing, where she has joined the faculty of the Nature Writing concentration.
“I could not be more delighted that Karen is joining our faculty,” said Laura Pritchett, director of the program. “Her memoir reveals a maverick woman who embraces life in extremis, directing an honest gaze at her chosen lifestyle and all that it entails—talk about someone who knows Colorado’s mountains! But she is also very much a teacher, a communal person, someone who wants to come together with others around the written word.”
A Focus on Landscape and Place
Landscape and place are at the heart of everything Auvinen writes, and her work has appeared most recently in The New York Times, High Desert Journal, LitHub, Real Simple, Westword, Cold Mountain Review, Iron Horse Review, The Columbia Review, and The Colorado Sun. She earned an M.A. in poetry from the University of Colorado, where she studied with Lucia Berlin, and a Ph.D. in fiction from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.
She teaches at CU and various writing workshops, including the renowned Fishtrap Summer Writers Conference, and she will now be a regular faculty member at Western.
“I am thrilled to join such a talented faculty working in arguably the most important area in writing today,” she said.
Embracing the Value of Community
“Rough Beauty,” her most celebrated work, starts with great loss: She escapes the wintry isolation of her Colorado cabin for a day only to return to what looks like a “voluminous orange cloth … forming scarlet and orange ripples that flicked and snapped.” Everything she owned—including her manuscripts—were burned, a house fire taking it all.
As she recovers and re-orients herself in the world, she finds the value of community. She hosts spunky “T.S. Eliot parties,” helping when the Jamestown Flood obliterates her town. “Real strength, I’d come to realize, lies not in resistance but in softness,” she writes. “The willingness to go unguarded into a new day.”
Writing About the West
Auvinen is currently at work on a collection of short stories about outliers in the West. These stories, she notes, meet in the wild pockets of the Rocky Mountains to interrogate the romanticized myth of the West. They examine how the old fantasies of independence intersect with the everyday reality of remote terrain, unforgiving weather, and the very real need for community.
“I’d say that all the faculty in the Nature Writing program live in fairly remote places,” Pritchett said. “As do many of our students. Yet we come together on zoom, we believe in community, in the power of literary citizenship, and in the power of the written word.”
What People Are Saying About “Rough Beauty”
“A narrative that reads like a captivating novel… Hers is a voice not found often enough in literature—a woman who eschews the prescribed role outlined for her by her family and discovers her own path.”
– Joan Gaylor, Christian Science Monitor
Learn more about Western’s Graduate Program in Creative Writing.
Author Credit: Tyson Hausdoerffer
Photo Credit: Courtesy