Three Women at Bruch: HALA in 2016

At the Montana Book Festival last fall, I hobnobbed with a handful of well-known Mposterontana writers in a room filled with literary nerds, author wanna-bes (like me) and a few well-published, notable authors. We were watching Rachel Mindell, the organizer of 2015’s MFB, revel in her success from the podium in a sequined dress. She looked amazing as she thanked the crowd for the overwhelming support, and she inspired me to try harder to make HALA bigger and better. I had questions about how to do that and sought the advice of some others in the room, but after a few glasses of wine and some exchange of ideas the suggestion was made to simply secure a fiscal sponsor with another arts organization in Helena.

I knew immediately it had to be with the Holter.

At HALA, we want the focus to be on  art and not accounting. Perhaps that’s a bit whiny of me, but by working with the Holter we have a win-win situation. HALA supports the Holter by working with staff to enrich what it means to engage with the arts, and we, thank goodness, get the help of the lovely person who does the books and tracks our donations, which is a small task at this point. Oh, and we have an in…

Since the beginning of this HALA journey, Sondra Hines (above in a cute denim apron surrounded by cute nuggest) has been at the table (literally, at every lunch spot in the Queen City) with Corrie and I. She’s been helping us organize, dream and develop events. We’ve been doing it on the fly, when we have an hour to grab lunch and plot our next event away from our day jobs.

Which brings me to 2016, where – for the first time – we’ve already planned most of what HALA will do for the entire year.

This is how we do it: meet at Murry’s on a Sunday for brunch with our sketch/note books. We order strong coffee and yummy food. We think about what we did before and whether or not it worked and what could make it better. We write down all of our ideas no matter how big they are. We spend three hours hashing out what we think is important in the community and what can be done with limited funds. Then we roll out.

2016 is the first time we’ve done annual planning. So I want to share with you what we have planned thus far.

We hope you can join us.
For more information on any of these offerings, please reach out to us at:

2016 Calendar of Events

Updated on 2/2/2016

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Feb. 16 – March 15 (six week long workshop)
Writing for Survival (for girls aged 13-18), Tuesday nights at the Holter
Classes will emphasize the use of artistic expression to make meaning experience. Mediums include journaling, poetry, memoir, collage, and drawing. Topics covered: body image, being female, family history, and violence. Collaborative workshop with The Jan Shaw Home for Girls. We are seeking donors and sponsors. Sponsor a girl you know (or don’t know) for $60.

More writing workshops are being planned for Fall (TBA).

Thursday, March 24th – Flight of Poets 
Montana Poet Laureate Michael Earl Craig, M.L. Smoker, and Kevin Hadduck
Local sommeliers pair wine tastings with the literary works of Montana authors. Community members enjoy an evening literary reading complete with wine pairings.
Free to attend or $25/flight.

Another Flight of Writers is slated for fall. (TBA)

Thursday, April 14th – A Reading of Her Own: Women Bearing Witness
Female-identified writers read short, 800-word (or 8 minute long) memoirs at an open mic night. Readers are planned in advance, but pieces and topics are not screened. The Red Atlas, in back of The Staggering Ox, from 5:30-8 pm.
Want to read? Send us an email and we’ll get you on the list.

Summer 2016 – Community Used Book Sale (TBA)
Proceeds will go to HALA events and workshops. Want to donate some of your used books? We will pick them up. Send us an email at

August / September – Bedtime Stories (alcohol-free, family picnic in the park)
During the last days of summer, we’ll present local authors reading their favorite children’s books. Last year we worked with Lewis & Clark Library and Montana Book & Toy, Co. and held our reading behind The Caretakers Cabin. We are pretty sure we’ll be doing this again, so look for it come summer.

Fall 2016 – Catharsis: A Grief Retreat
We are currently working on organizing a retreat for those experiencing grief. In our culture there is little time to work through personal loss, so we are aiming to create spaces where those who are experiencing grief can be with their grief in community and work through it using art. Workshops will take place over the course of a long weekend. No matter the size, the experience, or the kind of grief, we invite you to explore it through movement, literary arts, visual arts, and community. More to come soon…

Thursday, November 17th – A Reading of Her Own: Women Bearing Witness
Our second installment. One in the spring and one in the fall.
Want to read? Send us an email and we’ll get you on the list.







A First: Love Letters to Helena

Flight of Poets: Melissa Kwasny, Alexandra Teague, and Keetje Kuipers on September 5th, 2015
Flight of Poets: Melissa Kwasny, Alexandra Teague, and Keetje Kuipers on September 5th, 2015

Driving home from A Flight of Writers last week, I had an idea. Poets and writers of all genres so often write about the places they visit. Those places are characters and characters are in those places, and yet sometimes those subjects make it to the page like our lovers make it into our memories. I wanted to give authors that read at our events an opportunity to write a piece for a collection of posts titled “Love Letters to Helena”.

There is great freedom in love and letters, and when tied together these pieces can cross genre – the can be letters or poems, they can be fact or fiction, they can be adoring or deceitful, hateful or genuine. Whatever they end up being is up to the writer.

Philipsburg, Montana.

I remember Richard Hugo’s “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg” long before I ever learned how connected he was to my MFA program and my mentors, and definitely long before I ever thought I’d live in Montana. Though there is so much despair in his words on Philipsburg (and Helena too – look it up), I wanted to visit and experience that gray that crept into all that ailed there. But, now that I’ve been to Philipsburg I can see the contrasting copper of the redheaded waitress in the brass at the brewery.

I’ve come to love Helena. I’m the dreaded city girl who followed her lover back to a hometown. Though I complain about the lack of diversity in our dining options, the rolled-up and vacant streets at the ten o’clock evening hour of a weekend has become a sort of solace. And the swift and forceful gust of pine coming down Park Avenue now smells like home.

395ee8_c13c13cc0de147a6bc6243b4ab772ea1.jpg_srz_p_196_256_75_22_0.50_1.20_0The gust of wind made it into our first contributor’s conscience too. Here is our First Love Letter to Helena by poet Alexandra Teague. 

Click here to open the poem “Eureka Girl Writes to Helena” by Alexandra Teague.

How small are our worlds when they collide like when Corrie Williamson (my HALA! co-founder) suggested we pull Alexandra out from her life in Idaho to read in Helena? Williamson (can’t I use first and last interchangeably?) worked under Teague when she was at Arkansas for her MFA, then Alexandra came to Idaho to teach just as I completed my MFA there.

Oh, synchronicity.

To have her in town to read her work was a gift, and to have this piece from her launches us on a great journey.
A love story, perhaps?

Thank you for your words, Ms. Alexandra. Thank you for coming to Helena, Ms. Teague.

Buy more of Alexandra Teague’s poetry from your local independent bookstore (Montana Book and Toy, Co.) or from a book store like Powell’s Books. Click here to be taken to a page where you can place an order directly for more of Teague’s work.