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Quills and Queues: Earthy authors celebrate soil

“Dirt: A Love Story,” is a collection of essays edited by Barbara Richardson and featuring 36 talented and thoughtful writers who explore and celebrate our connection with dirt and the earth.

Richardson, along with contributors John Keeble and Ashland writer Jeanne Rogers, will read and discuss their work in “Dirt” at Bloomsbury Books at 7 p.m., Monday, Jan. 11. “The earth, dirt, the land has such great powers of healing, and it’s a constant and tangible reminder of how close we all really are,” said Jeanne Rogers.

The essays are written by a diverse group of dirt lovers including scientists, travelers, Sufi teachers, sculptors, farmers and children of farmers, all of whom are deeply happy with the dirt in their lives. When putting together the anthology, it helped, says Rogers, that Richardson knew a number of writers who loved dirt as much as she did.

“Dirt” opens strong with a forward by award-winning novelist and essayist Pam Houston sharing her abiding joy in the land she lives on. The book is then divided into five sections: “Land Centered” is made up of essays by people whose lives are firmly rooted in the land, “Kid Stuff” explores early relationships with dirt, “Dirt Worship” offers stories of dirt in adulthood, “Dirt Facts” gives us lots of science, and, finally, “Native Soil” talks about the challenges of working with the earth. It’s a fine array of voices, each unique yet resonating with one another. “I think the take away from the book is how connected we are all over the world,” said Rogers. “The dirt is a constant and something we can all relate to on a deep level.”

Rogers’ own essay in the book, “Sinking Down Into Heaven,” shares her lifelong connection to the land, regardless of how far from it she travels. “I talk about my own childhood connection to our farm in the Midwest, and my relationship with land wherever I go,” she said. Rogers quotes another essayist in the book, Elias Amidon. “He says dirt makes us neighbors to each other. That is exactly how I feel.”

The Bloomsbury event, says Rogers, is also an opportunity to reunite three old friends who share a love of land and literature. “I’m very excited to read with Barbara who has been one of my best friends since we met in grad school at Eastern Washington University, and John Keeble was our professor,” said Rogers. “He is one of those professors who really lives what he was writing. He inspired his students and helps them keep their heart in their work,” said Rogers.

Keeble is an award-winning author known for his writing on political and ecological concerns. He has written five novels, including “Yellowfish” and “Broken Ground.” He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for the article “Black Spring in Valdez,” written for The Village Voice about the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Keeble is Professor Emeritus of creative writing and English at Eastern Washington University.

Barbara Richardson is the author of two novels, “Guest House” and “Tributary,” both of which reflect her love of life in the West. Her historical novel “Tributary” won the Utah Book Award in 2013. She writes, in her preface to the book, that people make a mistake looking to the heavens for answers. “Whereas looking to the earth sends clear messages — intricacy, impermanence, solidity, interrelation, humility. You can’t fool dirt … You can’t manipulate meaning as you can from the mirror of an empty sky.”

Jeanne Rogers says Ashland is an ideal place for sharing an anthology on dirt. “I think people here are a lot more aware of the beauty and power in dirt. You talk about gardens or land or dirt, and people just get it,” she said.

Bloomsbury Books is at 290 E. Main Street, Ashland. For more information, call 541-488-0029.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Angela Decker at decker4@gmail.com.