“Its sheltered situation, embosomed in mountains, renders it good pasturing ground in the winter time; when the elk come down to it in great numbers, driven out of the mountains by the snow. The Indians then resort to it to hunt. They likewise come to it in the summer to dig the camash root, of which it produces immense quantities. When this plant is in blossom, the whole valley is tinted by its blue flowers, and looks like the ocean when overcast by a cloud.”
Captain Benjamin Bonneville, 29 June 1812
Perhaps things have changed less in the Grande Ronde Valley since 1812 than elsewhere in the United States, but one thing has remained constant: La Grande and the valley that gives it its name is as much a source of cultural importance now as ever. And as such, the low residency MFA in Creative Writing underscores La Grande’s and Eastern Oregon University’s longstanding role as the cultural and literary hub of Northeastern Oregon, connecting the region with many of the country’s finest poets and writers.
Eastern Oregon University is the cornerstone of literary arts programming in northeastern Oregon, housing the award-winning fine and literary arts magazine, basalt. Our thriving undergraduate creative writing program, now in its 5th decade, produces and publishes Oregon East and sponsors the long-running Ars Poetica Literary Reading Series.
La Grande is also the home to the popular Eastern Oregon Film Festival, as well as WordCraft of Oregon, a small and literary press dedicated to avant-garde, experimental, and mainstream literary publishing. Photographer Minor White established his WPA-era studio on Depot Street in La Grande, the Vaudeville-era Liberty Theater, currently under renovation, was and will soon again be a vitalizing presence in downtown. Pulitzer Prize winner Nard Jones, historian Alvin Josephy, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, artists Morris Graves, Jim Lavador, Wes Mills, and Agnes Martin all found inspiration in the complex relationships forged among the undulating hills and shadows surrounding the Grande Ronde Valley and the vast mountain wildlands beyond. The region is also host to the annual Fishtrap Writer’s Conference at Wallowa Lake near Joseph, Oregon, easily connecting the literary efforts of diverse programming in the region.
The Grande Ronde Valley is the gateway to Eastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains and the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Unlike the familiar Cascade Range of western Oregon, the Wallowas are the western outliers of the Rocky Mountains in Oregon. Surrounded by the Blue and Wallowa ranges, La Grande is the center of the Grande Ronde Valley, a fertile, working landscape that annually offers a harvest of sunflowers, mint, cherries, and grains, diversifying the swath of blue Captain Bonneville described when camus flowers covered the valley floor. The region boasts unsurpassed livestock and wildlife, wildlife and forest research stations like the long-term elk experimental study-station at Starkey near La Grande, white-water rafting, hiking, trout and steelhead streams, bike routes among Oregon’s most scenic backroads, and easy access to some of the Rockies’ best powder skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country trails—no frills and no long lines. If you cherish solitude in a natural setting to fuel your creativity, this is your center of the universe.
The Nez Perce, Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes have hunted and harvested in the Grande Ronde Valley since before the establishment of the Han Dynasty in China. The tribes continue to have a vital cultural role and economic presence in the region, with essential projects and programs in tribal histories and culture at the Tamastslikt Institute, Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, fish and habitat restoration, and gaming. Some of the region’s best live music is offered by the Wildhorse Casino in Pendleton, and the annual Pendleton Roundup (rodeo) and the Eastern Oregon Word Roundup (book arts, poets, writers, workshops) are a scenic 45 miles from La Grande, over the Blue Mountains in Pendleton.
The Oregon Trail passed through La Grande, with wagon ruts still visible in the foothills west of town. In addition to the Euro-Americans who settled the region as ranchers, farmers, miners, loggers, and entrepreneurs, Chinese entrepreneurs, herbal doctors, and laborers forged a distinctive mark on northeastern Oregon’s vital irrigation systems necessary for the region’s early mining and agricultural development, its sustaining business growth, and the health of all citizens in the region. Japanese agriculturalists lent their skill and their labor to the long-standing development of the region, too, and there is great and vital work to be done to honor the roles of all people who helped to shape the distinctive qualities of the area. If you value the real over the resort, the precious gift of ambient silence for your creative work, the ability to hear and smell the wind in the pines, and the opportunity to build a community of writers in which you are an essential part, then join us in the low residency program at Eastern Oregon University. A working landscape; a real place; EOU in La Grande.