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FoCo Book Fest panel discusses immigrant stories in US West

Authors+Teow+Lim+Goh+of+%E2%80%9CWestern+Journeys%E2%80%9D+and+Nina+McConigley+of+%E2%80%9CCowboys+and+East+Indians%E2%80%9D+joke+around+before+the+Infinite+West+Fort+Collins+Book+Fest%2C+moderated+by+Arvin+Ramgoolam+Feb+3.
Collegian | Julia Percy
Authors Teow Lim Goh of “Western Journeys” and Nina McConigley of “Cowboys and East Indians” joke around before the Infinite West panel at the Fort Collins Book Fest, moderated by Arvin Ramgoolam Feb 3.

Colorado is a part of the West and has a rich history, many pieces of which have been forgotten. Three writers and the Fort Collins community added to the growing change of Western perspectives at the Infinite West panel at 7 p.m. Feb. 3 as part of the Fort Collins Book Fest. Though the attendance at this event was smaller than it has been in past years due to the weather, the audience was captivated by the panel’s stories and conversations. 

Nina McConigley spoke on the panel and is the author of “Cowboys and East Indians,” which is the winner of the 2014 Pen Open Book Award, and a play adaptation of the book will be performed at the end of the month at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. 

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McConigley was born in Singapore and came to the United States at 14 months old.

“What I have noticed about the book fest is that it is a great way to bring people together to talk not only about our books but the stories around our books.” –Teow Lim Goh, author of “Western Journeys” 

McConigley was a professor at the University of Wyoming for 13 years and, as of last year, is an assistant professor at Colorado State University teaching creative writing, fiction workshops and a short fiction class.

McConigley said it is important to find a reflection of yourself in the place you live. 

“Growing up in Wyoming was really idyllic in a lot of ways, but I never saw a reflection of myself, like, anywhere where I went; I didn’t see anyone that looked like me,” McConigley said. “I think writers are already natural outsiders and observers, but I think for me, the book was like a really good way to make sense of what it was like growing up.” 

Teow Lim Goh was another speaker on the panel and is the author of “Western Journeys,” which is a collection of stories and essays about her immigration to the U.S. from Singapore at the age of 19.

“Your whole life goes into a work,” Goh said. 

Goh’s writing process is all about finding narratives that have not been spoken about. 

“All of my work is based heavily on research,” Goh said. “It usually starts with a question or an image that comes up over and over again or a story I can’t get off my mind. When something appears enough, I begin to pursue it. I spend a lot of time thinking about it first.”

This book took her 15 years to write and sold well within the Fort Collins community. 

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“What I have noticed about the book fest is that it is a great way to bring people together to talk not only about our books but the stories around our books,” Goh said. 

Her next book will be about the Rock Springs massacre in Wyoming. Goh said above all, she finds putting characters who are both good and bad in her stories makes for better and more realistic writing. 

“One of the most important things to me is to portray both the white miners who were the perpetrators as well as the Union Pacific officers who made the decisions that shaped the economic landscapes — to portray them as human beings who made flawed decisions,” Goh said. 

Julie Carr is an author and poet whose “poems and essays have appeared in journals such as The Nation, Boston Review, APR, New American Writing, Denver Quarterly, Volt, A Public Space, 1913, The Baffler and elsewhere.”

She is currently a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder teaching an English class about poetry in the 18th century. Carr was meant to be the third panelist for Infinite West but could not attend due to weather.

Arvin Ramgoolam, a writer and co-owner of Townie Books and Rumors Coffee and Tea House, moderated the panel. Ramgoolam is based in Crested Butte, Colorado, and was recommended for the book fest by another author at the Mountain Words Festival

“So here I am, cross-pollinating through various festivals in Colorado,” Ramgoolam said. “I love book festivals; it’s a part of my DNA. I have always loved listening to authors, talking to authors and listening to readings.” 

Ramgoolam’s latest works are based on presenting marginalized voices in the American West and people who are underrepresented in the stories.

“Both of them (Goh and McConigley) write in that vein, and so that’s how this panel came to be formed,” Ramgoolam said. 

Katie Auman was the event coordinator and is currently the communications and development director at the Poudre River Public Library District. She has been a part of the book fest every year since its birth. 

“Really, for us, it’s about showcasing storytelling (and) local and regional artists and certainly celebrating reading and libraries,” Auman said. “This year’s theme, One Community, Many Stories, really exemplifies what we are trying to do. We are trying to showcase the variety of stories that make up the greater Fort Collins community.” 

Reach Gwendolynn Riddoch at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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