The Literary Side of Livingston

Photo courtesy of Explore Livingston

You never know what a town will become. Starting in 1882, when the Northern Pacific Railroad set up its division headquarters, Livingston has become an eclectic mix of artists, outdoor enthusiasts, and entrepreneurs. Their literary community is impressive.

As Elk River Arts and Lectures explain, "Plenty of writers have passed through this corner of the country, and some stuck. Tom McGuane arrived in 1968 looking for the right combination of great fishing, cheap property, and colorful watering holes. He found his sweet spot in the mountains and streams of Park County, where the trout were plentiful, and 24-hour saloons served whiskey ditches to ranch women and long neck beers to cowboys, railroad workers, and hippies, touching off some epic brawls in the streets of Livingston."

The late Jim Harrison called Livingston home for part of the year, and now his daughter, Jamie Harrison, carries on the tradition, having written six novels of her own. Famous authors aside, the literary side of Livingston is energized, robust, and full of conversation.

There are four bookstores in this town of just over 7,500 people. That's a lot of books per capita and well worth spending some time perusing. In addition, two of the stores, Wheatgrass Books and Elk River Books, host regular readings, launch parties, and book signings, and many are attended by fellow authors. The readings are free to the public and a great way to participate in the literary life. There are generally four readings a month, you can find the schedule here.

The non-profit arm of Elk River Books, Elk River Arts, and Lectures hosts a lecture series each school year with writers, artists, and innovative thinkers. These presenters work with Park County High School students during the day, giving free public lectures in the evening.

Also supported by Elk River, the Visiting Writer's Program brings in eminent authors for an extended stay to interact with the public and the local arts community and work with the region's schoolchildren. This spring, 2022, author Michael Pollen will be spending time in Park County, working with the Park County Farm to School Program and the Livingston Food Resource Center, with a public lecture as part of the residency.

The Elk River Writer's Workshop, held annually, brings celebrated nature writers together with students who want to foster a connection with the environment into their writing. Held at Chico Hot Springs, the workshop offers expert panels, student critiques, outdoor excursions, and a chance to gather with faculty and other students.

Author Scott McMillion grew up in Livingston and is now an award-winning journalist, published novelist, and featured essayist in newspapers and magazines around the country. He is the current editor of Montana Quarterly, with his office in downtown Livingston. The author interviewer for the publication, Kris King, has interviewed over 60 Montana writers, gathering stories and anecdotes from their colorful lives. She says of her work, "My last interview was with John McClean, Norm McClean's son, about his beautiful memoir "Home Waters" and while we did a Zoom interview since he lives in DC, I got to have dinner with him and introduce him at his Livingston reading at Wheatgrass Gifts and Books."

It's easy to join the conversation, stop into one of the booksellers, and you'll likely strike up a chat!

Sax & Fryer Co

109 W Callender St

Said to be the oldest operating business in Livingston, Sax & Fryer Co began in 1883 and is still going strong. Carrying stationery, office and art supplies, and a great selection of regional books, you'll also find a hand-crank cash register, and if you're lucky, a glance at owner John Frye's collection of artifacts from pioneers, ranchers, and business people in the area. 

Elk River Books

122 S 2nd St

Specializing in rare and collectible outdoor literature, plus a curated selection of works by regional authors. New and used, including outdoor literature, Montana authors, western and Native American history, arts and poetry, biography, and memoir, plus children's books and cookbooks. 

Wheatgrass Books and Gifts

120 N Main St

While the book selection is excellent, be sure to also stop by the gift shop, featuring Made in Montana gifts, sustainably produced treats, and handcrafted treasures by local artists. Upstairs, the Green Door Gallery features exhibits by local and regional artists. 

Conley's Books and Music

415 E Lewis Street

Conley's showcases a collection of books by local authors, plus assorted music literature books. Conley's also offers private music lessons, instrument repair, rentals, sales, and CDs. They're also a ticket provider for local events such as Red Ants Pants Music Festival and performances at Music Ranch Montana.