In the introduction to his book, Prepared for the Worst (Hill and Wang, 1988), British-American journalist and critic Christopher Hitchens recalled an idea of Nadine Gordimer's that had impressed him. The Nobel Prize-winning novelist, he recalled, had once said or written that "she tried to write posthumously."
"To write as if editors, publishers, colleagues, peers, friends, relatives, factions, reviewers, and consumers need not be consulted... What a just attainment that would be, and what a pristine observance of the much-corrupted pact between writer and reader," Hitchens wrote.
Diana Forgione and Dig Reeder, co-founders of the Death Rattle Writers Festival, feel the same way. A similar sentiment underlies the festival's name.
As Forgione told Boise Weekly in 2014, "The death rattle is a medical term for when you die and you regurgitate that moment of death and you grow. ... Your throat would literally rattle up this reverberation. The written word is a reverberation of our soul."
Despite this intimation of mortality, Death Rattle won't breathe its last gasp anytime soon. The festival will return for its third and biggest year on Thursday, Oct. 6, kicking off a three-day book fair and events for poetry, flash fiction, non-fiction, one-act plays, graphic novels, hip-hop and singer-songwriters at various locations in downtown Nampa.
According to Reeder, inspiration for the festival came when he was living in Pocatello and attended the Rocky Mountain Writers Festival in Evergreen, Colo. When he and Forgione moved to Nampa, they both had the idea to hold a similar event there.
"Basically, we're walking downtown and it's the middle of summer and we're just like, 'All of our friends write. Why is there nowhere for us to produce this work or publish it or do anything with it?'" Forgione said. "We just kind of said, 'Let's just start a writers festival.' Because that's the normal thing to do."
Sarcasm aside, the couple saw a cultural gap that deserved filling.
"Nampa and Caldwell both get forgotten when it comes to arts of any kind," Reeder said. "Great artists and writers of all kinds live out there and are totally underrepresented by their cities. They don't have any funding for that kind of stuff. Ada County has a lot more funding for artistic programs and grants. Canyon [County] has none; there are no artistic grants that I know of handed out on a regular basis."
Still, Forgione acknowledged that Downtown Nampa Association Coordinator Morgan Treasure "has helped us exponentially" in setting up this year's festival. Death Rattle has also attracted prominent supporters from the literary scene in the Treasure Valley. Rick Ardinger, executive director of the Idaho Humanities Council, provided the $250 needed to organize the first festival back in 2014. VOLT author Alan Heathcock, Naked Me author Christian Winn and Idaho Writer-in-Residence Diane Raptosh all gave readings that first year as well.
"I will say that I appreciate the exuberance and dedication of these young writers heading up the festival each year," Raptosh wrote in an email. "I think they are to be commended for spreading the word about the word—both spoken and written."
This year, Death Rattle's organizers decided to expand on the idea of giving space to underrepresented views and voices. The 2016 festival's keynote speaker is Seattle-based poet and educator Quenton Baker, whose work focuses on the complexities surrounding race in America. Also, the schedule for Friday, Oct. 7 includes a showcase for LGBTQ poets.
"I would say the majority of our spotlights this year are people of color or in the queer community. ... We live in a place where the majority is white, and unless your work is fuckin' fantastic, I don't really understand why we're bringing in more white people," Forgione said.
"It's a nationwide conversation," added Death Rattle board member Alex Yann. "What we're doing is we're highlighting a lot of inequity that I think can be understood on a micro level with our artistic community."
Death Rattle's organizers have plans beyond the festival itself. Eventually, they want to get their own venue for readings as well as a lending library for local and Northwest authors. One way or another, they'll keep working to make writing more accessible to the average Treasure Valley resident.
"Everybody has the capacity for writing," Reeder said. "That's one of the simplest and most evocative and profound art forms existing in humanity. ... The fact that that's considered pretentious and stuffy and exclusive in American culture is really upsetting to me. Because that's an art that almost everyone can do."
Six private homes will be featured in this year's tours, and preservationists say the North End neighborhood is the true attraction, with some of the oldest trees in the valley surrounding homes built in multiple architectural styles dating back to the early 1900s.