New book of essays captures deep feelings of Utah

Thursday , July 03, 2014 - 3:28 PM

OGDEN -- Kase Johnstun still remembers when he first went hunting, as a young boy, with the men of his family.

“I don't hunt anymore, but even if you take hunting out of my life it's still those moments with my dad, uncle, grandfather and brothers that I really cherish, and the mountains of the Wasatch Front gave that to me,” said Johnstun.

His description of that day, and the feelings associated with it, are in an essay included in the book “Utah Reflections: Stories from the Wasatch Front” (The History Press, 2014; $19.99).

“Really, it is the first time I remember doing something just with my dad and my uncle alone when I was a child,” Johnstun said. “I think there's a big group within the population that do hunt in Utah, and they know how those mornings feel - those crisp fall mornings in Utah. I wanted to put that piece in because it really dives into that family tradition that a lot of people share, who live along the Wasatch Front.”

The book, a collection of non-fiction essays inspired by people and places along the Wasatch Front, was the idea of Kase Johnstun and his wife Mary Johnstun. The couple live in Ogden, but Kase contributed to a similar book about Washington when they lived in Tacoma.

“Our main goal, as we were collecting stories and gathering pieces, was to essentially capture somewhat of a time capsule, so that if somebody would read the collection we put together 20 or 100 years from now they'd say, 'Oh, this was what this area was like, how it looked, the kind of people that were in it, and the kind of stories that were told,' ” said Mary. “ I think we really succeeded on that.”

The Johnstuns brought in Sherri Hoffman as the third editor of “Utah Reflections.” Hoffman, who's working on a Ph.D in creative writing at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, attended Weber State University and Pacific University, as did Kase Johnstun. Together, the three reached out to writers who are Utah-based, or have a known connection to Utah.

Among the more well-known writers who contributed pieces to the book are Pam Houston, a professor at UC-Davis whose stories have been published in “Best American Short Stories,” environmental writer Terry Tempest Williams of Utah, Utah poet Katharine Coles, and Oregon author Stevan Allred.

The editors also did a lot of research about local writers, and invited several to submit essays.

“We did want it to be representative, geographic-wise,” said Mary, via Skype during the couple's visit to Spain.

Because there weren't stories submitted about Utah or Cache counties, the editors sought out writers from those areas. They also realized they didn't have many essays reflecting the presence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints along the Wasatch Front, so a call for submissions was put out at Brigham Young University and through an LDS culture podcast.

“I feel what we have is above and beyond what we anticipated, as far as getting some amazing writers and new writers,” said Mary. “We got a really incredible mix of people.”

In some of the essays, the place is the driving force, the Johnstuns said. In others, the story is the focus with Utah as the setting.

“Kase's piece is really great,” said Mary, describing the story as short and sweet, and a good example of the kind of writing they wanted to include in the book. “We were looking for really strong essays, that really told a story with a lot of good descriptions and storytelling, and were beautifully written.”

Kase Johnstun says the essay he wrote is not his favorite in the book.

“I love Jana Richman's piece,” he said. “I think it's just gorgeous.”

Richman, of Escalante, wrote a history of the women of her family, who lived in Tooele.

The Johnstuns also enjoyed the humorous work of Salt Lake City writer Lynn Kilpatrick, in which she shares her fear of dying from drought or earthquake in Utah. Kase also appreciated a short essay in which climbing Utah's mountains is a metaphor for tackling the larger things in life, written by Jack Mathes McCarthy of the U of U's Environmental Humanities program.

Chadd VanZanten, of Logan, was one of the locals invited to share his view of life in Utah.

“I was working on an essay about Cache Valley and fishing in winter, and it seemed like a good fit,” he said. So he sent it in and it became the final story in the book. “The essay's about fly fishing, but like most essays about fly fishing, it's really about other things.”

VanZanten often writes about fly fishing in the Intermountain West.

“This is where you want to be, if you fly fish,” he said. “Cache Valley, in particular, has some spectacular small streams and gorgeous mountain valleys to fish. You could spend a lifetime, and some people do, figuring those places out.”

VanZanten received a copy of the finished book and said the essay by Terry Tempest Williams is worth the entire price, but there were many other works that are of interest.

“The subject matter kind of ranges broadly, but it's all kind of related to Utah, and it's just a very, very nice piece of work,” he said.

The official launch of “Utah Reflections: Stories from the Wasatch Front” will be held at 7 p.m. July 22, at The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, in Salt Lake City. Several of the writers will be on hand to answer questions and read from their essays.

The book reflects not only the writers' feelings about Utah, but those of the editors as well.

Kase Johnstun grew up in Ogden, and then left for college.

“Utah's home - the home that I thought I'd never come back to,” he said. “Now we have a little boy, and we're excited to raise him back in Utah. It feels more like home, now that he's with us, than it ever has.”

Mary Johnstun grew up in Kansas, but fell in love with Utah because of its beauty and mountains.

“It's so unique, as far as the people and this culture, and the way they interact with nature,” she said. “It's just a beautiful place all around, that is like no other in very many good ways.”

Contact reporter Becky Wright at 801-625-4274 or bwright@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @ReporterBWright.

Get the Standard-Examiner Advantage.

Popular Stories for Books