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'An earthly heaven for authors'

Timothy Egan recounts the story of photographer Edward Curtis during a celebrated visit to Lake Oswego Reads

STAFF PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE  - Author Timothy Egan regales a Lake Oswego Reads audience with the story of Edward Curtis and his 30-year effort to capture the lives of Native Americans on film before they disappeared.A capacity crowd filled the Lake Oswego High School auditorium last week to hear author Timothy Egan recount the story of photographer Edward Curtis and to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the citywide reading program that brought Egan to Lake Oswego.

Egan’s book, “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher,” is this year’s selection for Lake Oswego Reads. The book tells the story of Curtis’ pursuit of his Great Idea: to capture on film the continent’s original inhabitants before their old ways disappeared.

Library Director Bill Baars welcomed the crowd and reminded them that in 2012, when “Mink River” was the Lake Oswego Reads selection, author Brian Doyle told the audience that “we are all Walugans,” referring to the community’s Native American heritage. Baars said it was appropriate to celebrate that heritage, not only by selecting Egan’s book but also by surrounding it with a month full of readings, lectures, art exhibits and other special events.

Library Director Bill Baars takes a moment to thank Cyndie Glazer for her work coordinating 10 years of Lake Oswego Reads programs. Baars thanked Cyndie Glazer for leading the committee that has organized Lake Oswego Reads events since the program began 10 years ago, and said organizers are thrilled that what they envisioned to be “a reading program that would involve maybe a couple hundred people” has grown to be so popular.

During his presentation, Egan recounted Curtis’ obsessive dedication to his project. He said he was most impressed that with only a sixth-grade education, the dashing, charismatic, passionate mountaineer became one of the most celebrated photographers in America.

Egan reminded the audience that not only was it remarkable that Curtis took more than 40,000 photographs, but that those images — recorded on heavy glass-plate negatives — had to be carried back from the field by horseback and on foot.

In addition to the 40,000 photographs, Curtis and his crew created more than 10,000 recordings of songs, music and speech of more than 80 tribes throughout North America. For 30 years, with the backing of men like J. P. Morgan and former President Theodore Roosevelt, Curtis devoted his life to producing “The North American Indian.” When it was published, the work was hailed as “the most ambitious enterprise in publishing since the production of the King James Bible” by The New York Times.

Egan’s work has also been widely praised. “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher’ won the Carnegie Medal for best nonfiction book of 2012, the Chautauqua Prize for best book of 2012 and was also named a Best Book by Publishers Weekly, The Christian Science Monitor, Amazon.com and The New York Times.

Egan said he was honored his book was selected for the Lake Oswego Reads program.

“If there is an earthly heaven for authors, it has to be Lake Oswego Reads,” he said. “The art, the inspiration, the warmth, the crowds, the appreciation of storytelling and the American literary experience are pinch-me terrific.”

Lake Oswego Reads programs continue through the month of February. For this week’s events, see Page B6. For the complete list, visit www.lakeoswegoreads.org.

Contact Barb Randall at 503-636-1281 ext. 100 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..