Feb 28, 2024 Meeting: Shelley Read, Author

Shelley Read joined us this morning for coffee to share her incredible adventure as the author of the international best seller, Go As a River. If you haven’t read this local (and world-wide) favorite yet, it’s available at Old Rock Library (although it may be on hold!) or Townie Books on Elk Avenue. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy ASAP.

Shelley is a 5th generation Coloradoan who grew up visiting family in the Gunnison Valley, learned to ski by the age of three at CBMR, and eventually moved here full-time with a teaching position at Western in 1991. A life-long writer, Shelley shared a memory of writing a 66-page short story at the age of 9 in response to a homework prompt for a 2-pager! Along with writing, Shelley loves camping, whether with friends and family or in solitude, and her favorite place to spend time in the woods is up the East River Valley. It was there on a solo overnight at the base of Belleview that she first encountered the character of Victoria Nash.

For those who have read the book, the story of the doe will be familiar. While sitting around her fire that evening, Shelley watched a doe venture into the meadow followed by two fawns. The first fawn was healthy but its sibling was significantly less so, and Shelley recalled connecting with the doe and wondering how she would keep both babies alive through the winter. On her way up Belleview the next day, Shelley kept returning the powerful experience and realized she was seeing it through the eyes of someone else. That someone eventually made herself known as Victoria Nash, a young woman from Iola, Colorado.

Over the next 12+ years, a story of displacement, resilience, and love grew out of that first encounter with Victoria and her doe. Shelley came to know Victoria and her neighbors, friends, and family through short scenes she would jot down between lectures, campouts, raising her two kids, and life in general. While researching the Blue Mesa Dam and the resulting displacement of the Towns of Iola, Cebolla, and Sapinero, Shelley knew she didn’t want to leave out the history of displacement prior to these settlements. Thus came the character of Wilson Moon, who Shelley intentionally kept mysterious, feeling it wasn’t her place to tell that story but unwilling to leave this important piece of history out of her novel. While Go As a River has strong overtones of romantic love, the overarching story is about the love of land, the importance of home, and compassion for the human condition.

The centerpiece of the peach symbolizes each of these important components. Well known to be a fragile and difficult fruit to grow, Shelley explained that everywhere she goes one of the first questions she’s asked is whether we really grow peaches in Colorado. Despite no actual history of Iola-grown peaches, Shelley landed on the peach for its ability to grow against the odds, its need for generational knowledge and expertise, and its resiliency in a-typical and new soils. Peaches were special to Victoria, something that held her family together despite everything.

Shelley also shared the incredible tale of publishing Go As a River. From sending her manuscript to the two Colorado-based literary agents she could find back in 2017 to immediately being accepted by one (no word from the other, and we all wonder how regretful they must be now!). Nearly three years later, Shelley was signed by a publishing company in NYC, and even before her book was published here in the States, it was being translated into over 30 languages and published world-wide! This very week, the Ukranian edition is arriving on shelves, publishers sure that it will bring hope and courage to their people who have been going through immense hardships the last three years. Fortuitously, Shelley shared that Go As a River was released exactly one year ago today in bookstores around the US.

As Shelley wraps up her US tour this year and preps for a European tour, the book is also being adapted for the big screen in Hollywood. It’s been a whirlwind for the Colorado native, but she was all smiles as she shared that yes, there is another one on the way (and all of us in the room erupted in cheers).