Paul Shaffer is founding director of the Log Cabin Literary Center, "the heart of Idaho's literary life." In seven years he has helped implement and develop nationally commended educational programs and community events that expose budding writers to the craft, bring world-class voices into the local conversation and promote writing, reading and discourse on a grand scale-plus, he's a hell of a fisherman.
BW: What makes this job worth it for you?
PS: I have a great staff, and we get to work with writers advocating something that is vital to the way I understand the world, which is story and storytelling. We try to make writing approachable, meaningful, so that less experienced writers who attend a workshop might understand why writing is so important to their lives-not an abstract activity, lofty and removed from everyday activities, but a truly essential part of how we live day to day.
How do you deal with the fact that some people just don't have it in them to be great writers?
We're not going to turn every student into a novelist, but something happens to all of us when we sit down with pencil and paper and reflect on our experiences in order to transfer them to stories. That part of the process has value; every bit as much or more as the story you have at the end. A child who has that experience and understands how to get what's inside outside and onto paper will always have an advantage in life. Communication and self-expression are essential to success.
What is the hardest part of the job?
It would be easy to say fundraising, but that actually isn't the hardest part. To do this kind of work well is to continue to think everyday about how to do it well-not fall into complacency about it, keep asking questions, challenge ourselves to find better ways, more engaging ways to reach students. It's an ongoing challenge to educate the community about who we are and why we're here.
How do you accomplish that last one?
A great entree to our programs is the writer's series at the Egyptian Theatre. If people attended one of those talks, they would understand immediately that writing is not an abstraction. The way [the speakers] engage the world and talk about their experiences carries something for all of us-insight into our own lives and a tremendously exciting way to spend an evening.
If you were stranded on a deserted island, which three books would you bring?
(After much good-natured wincing) Wolf Willow by Wallace Stegner. And there would have to be a poet, probably Walt Whitman. Then fiction-Hemingway or Melville ... So much of what has come since came from their books; having those books brings with it everything that follows.
What defines great writing?
Great writing is alive. It comes off the page and tells you something about yourself and the world.
Have you done any great writing?
That's not a fair question.