Writers’ Tribute to Denver is Intersection of Past and Present; Fiction and Journalism

“It’s commonly said that a newspaper is fresh in the morning and fish wrap by the evening,” writes John Temple, the former editor of “Rocky Mountain News” (dubbed “The Rocky” by subscribers) – a daily award-winning newspaper published in Denver from April of 1859 to February of 2009.

At the time of its closing “The Rocky’s” circulation was upwards of 250 thousand people. The paper has won four Pulitzer Prizes since 2000, including one in Feature Writing and Feature Photography. After the demise of “The Rocky,” Denver officially became a one-newspaper city leaving “The Denver Post” as its sole large-circulation daily paper, which it remains to this day.

“The Rocky” was as old as Denver itself – the first issue being printed on a press hauled by oxcart from Omaha, Nebraska at the start of the Colorado Gold Rush. Reportedly, the first issue of “The Rocky” was printed just 20 minutes ahead of its then-rival: “The Cherry Creek Pioneer.” The paper went on to serve as the city’s primary news source for just shy of a century and a half before closing its doors.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the city of Denver and as a proper send-off for the state of Colorado’s oldest newspaper, Temple and former Books Editor for “The Rocky,” Patti Thorn, enlisted the help of some of Colorado’s most accomplished fiction writers for a creative tribute project.

Twelve writers in total, including one contest winner, comprised a series of short stories for the newspaper published over the course of the paper’s final three months – each set in a different decade of Denver’s history starting with the 1860’s and featuring at least a mention of one of the city’s oldest and most iconic streets: Larimer Street. After “Rocky Mountain News” folded, Fulcrum Publishing out of Golden collected the stories and published them in a volume entitled “A Dozen on Denver.”

Authors who participated in this timeless collection include Laura Pritchett – who has been featured in the PULP before. Her contribution, “The Color of the Impression” takes place in the 2000’s era of Denver and paved the way for one of her most recent works: “The Blue Hour.”

Other authors include Connie Willis: one of Colorado’s most renowned science fiction writers having received six Nebula awards from the Science Fiction Writers of America and ten Hugo awards from the World Science Fiction Convention. Despite her specialty in the genre, Willis’s story in “A Dozen on Denver” has little to do with science fiction. Set in 1920’s Denver, Willis opts instead to highlight the increased agency afforded to women in particular by investments in land and property in early Denver with her story entitled “New Hat.”

One story by Manuel Ramos – winner of the Colorado Book Award and the Chicano/Latino Literary Award – celebrates the cultural diversity of Denver, painting it as a land of opportunity for immigrants in the 1950’s with his story, “Fence Busters,” featuring baseball cards, bar fights and even an appearance by Jack Kerouac.

For the final installment in the series, “The Rocky” held a contest asking readers for original stories set in Denver’s future. Out of over two hundred entries, the winner of the contest ended up being Robert Pogue Ziegler: an aspiring author from Paonia who debuted his first novel, “Seed,” in 2011 – two years after winning the contest. Ziegler’s story in “A Dozen on Denver” entitled “Heirlooms” imagines a dystopian future for the capital city.

In it, a mother ailed by mysterious disease and her young daughter struggle to survive in the surrounding decimated landscape on the outskirts of the city. The title of the story takes on a bit of a double meaning – ‘heirloom’ referring to both the vegetables that the two plant to combat the genetically modified crops that have taken over in the wake of the apocalypse, and also the passing down of the seeds of those plants from mother to daughter to symbolize the continuation of the next generation and to ensure her daughter’s survival after she’s passed.

Typically, journalism and fiction are considered mutually exclusive mediums of storytelling. But this book serves as a unique and lasting testament to the ways in which both journalism and fiction work together to communicate the current state of a community as well as what it was like in years past.

Because of the stories in “A Dozen on Denver,” the final issues of “The Rocky” were far from fish wrap. Rather, the collected works paint a picture of how Colorado’s capital came to be, imagine what it was yet to be, and – preserved in the archives of the newspaper that was there for it all – to act as a lens through which future generations can examine the forces that shaped Denver into what it is today.