Some pretty remarkable people call Western Montana home. The beauty of our landscape, bountiful recreation, a supportive arts community, and the call of the wild draw folks from far and wide. We’re spotlighting some of these extraordinary people, giving you the chance to get to know them, their work, and their favorite things in Glacier Country. First up is Laura Munson, the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of the novel Willa’s Grove and the memoir This Is Not The Story You Think It Is.
Laura has been published in nine countries and has been featured in the Vanity Fair, Elle, Redbook, Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly and many other newspapers, magazines, and online venues globally. Her short work has been published in O. Magazine, the New York Times Modern Love column, the New York Times Magazine Lives column, Huffington Post, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, and many others. She is the founder of the acclaimed Haven Writing Retreats and Workshops, located in Whitefish, Montana, and has worked with more than a thousand people from all over the world. She also runs the Haven Foundation which offers partial scholarships for her programs, ensuring that those in need can participate. Laura speaks and teaches on the subjects of empowerment, creative self-expression, and the language of change at conventions, universities and schools, writing retreats/workshops, and wellness centers, and has appeared on Good Morning America, The Early Show, NPR, and many other media outlets across the globe.
We had fun asking Laura questions about her writing career, and about living in Montana.
Q. Have you always lived in Western Montana?
A. I’m originally from Chicago, but I’ve lived in Whitefish, Montana, for 30 years, and both my children are native Montanans, so at this point…I feel like a local. Plus I’ve raised countless horses, dogs, goldfish, a very naughty cat, and a very good rat.
Q. When did you know that writing was what you wanted to do as a career?
A. I have written in my journal and in letters all my life, but it wasn’t until my senior year in college that I realized I was a writer. I started a novel on a whim, and never stopped. It’s an obsession, really. I have many novels sitting in my office closet. Some of them are good. Some are exercises in learning. But I’ve sat at the intersection of heart and mind and craft, that is the writing life, with all my might since 1988.
Q. Does the essence of where you live impact your writing? Do you find inspiration in the landscapes, nature, and people in Western Montana?
A. Montana is a character in both of my published books. I didn’t set out to do that, but this place grabs your heart and won’t let it go. It’s the air I breathe and so it shows up in my work. In fact, the book I’m working on right now begins and ends in Montana so I guess the answer is yes. Montana impacts my writing. That said, I don’t consider myself a “western” writer. But in truth…I am a western writer because I live here. Place is central to how I understand the world. And this wild place has been my best teacher. I always say that we don’t go “out in nature.” We are nature. Montana has been my teacher in this way most of all.
Q. Tell us what inspired you to begin your Haven Writing Retreats?
A. I started Haven Writing Retreats because I was on the speaking circuit and over and over again I heard: “I want to write. But I don’t have a voice. Somebody already did it better than I ever could. It’s self-indulgent at best. Who would want to hear what I have to say, anyway. It’s all been said before…” And I realized that there was a deep need for people to find their unique and essential form of self-expression. The written word is the most powerful tool that I know to help people find their way to just that. I always say, “Writing is my practice, my prayer, my meditation, my way of life, and sometimes my way to life. Haven helps people in all of those ways. I believe that writing should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of preventive wellness. And if you want to write a book…I can help with that too. But what I’m really up to with my writing programs is to help people with their self-awareness—to bridge to themselves so that they can bridge to others.
Q. What is the most inspiring thing you’ve heard from someone attending your writing retreat in Montana?
A. “This is the best day of my life.” (A judge from California, sitting on the stone wall at Dancing Spirit Ranch, looking into the peaks of Glacier National Park, just before evening class.)
Q. What is your favorite Montana wildflower?
A. Calypso Orchid. It’s like a jewel emerging from the forest floor through the detritus of winter.
Q. When you have a visitor, what’s one place you always take them?
A. Well of course, Glacier National Park. But there are a lot of wonders to behold around here, like the Whitefish Trail and any number of mountain lakes and rivers. So many great restaurants, shops, cafes, and galleries. My father was a train man, and so I always take people to our Whitefish train depot. When I was a child, he used to take us to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago and show us the model train exhibit that tracked the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle. When I brought my son there as a little boy, he said, “Mom! Look! Here we are!” And sure enough, there was a tiny model of our depot. I’d seen it all my life, but Montana wasn’t on my radar. I didn’t even know where Montana was as a child. But now I know: it’s home. Sometimes I wonder if the train is actually what pulled me here in some mystical way.
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August 30, 2021