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Park City Library Kicks Off Humanities Book Festival

Park City Library

The annual fall Utah Humanities Book Festival at the Park City Library kicks off this week. Events include presentations from local authors and a visit from John Branch, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist and author of “The Last Cowboys”.

During September and October, the Park City Library celebrates local, regional and national authors. On Tuesday at 6:30, former Navy SEAL and Park City resident Jack Carr will speak about his new thriller “True Believer”, a story about a string of terrorist attacks.

On Thursday at 6:30 is the annual Wasatch Back Local Author Night. Panelists include Bonnie Bedford Park, Bill Humbert, Carly Bennett Stenmark, Liz Yokubison and Beverly Hurwitz.

Finally, on Friday at 4:00 pm will be John Branch. Branch is a sports reporter for the New York Times, mostly writing feature pieces and investigative work. He’s spent time in Park City covering stories around winter athletes. Branch’s new book had him spending time in Southern Utah.

“The book I wrote, called “The Last Cowboys” is all about the Wright family based there in Utah,” Branch explained. “They are the Kings of saddle bronc riding. Several Wright boys have won World Championships they're still dominating the sport of rodeo and they have a small ranch operation outside of Zions National Park. The stories are really about their quest to use rodeo and ranching to really build a legac y for future generations of their family.”

Branch says he got the idea for the story from a former editor, who had followed the rodeo circuit.

“In sports nomenclature he basically said they’re like the Manning brothers of rodeo,” Branch continued. “Actually, they are much more successful than the Manning’s are in football. I said well it's a great story and the more I dug into it the more I loved the story. So, I wrote a story about them for the New York Times and then we expanded it into a book.”

The Wrights live in Milford and Beaver Utah. Their ranching operation is located near Zions National Park. Branch says they are one of the last bastions for a dying way of life.

“I think what they represent is a culture that has been part of our pop culture, if nothing else for decades, but is a fading vestige,” Branch said. “That really has to do with the way the West is changing, the way our culture is changing. Not a lot of people compared to a few years ago are making their livings on horseback. Ranching has become a very difficult occupation, given everything from public land use, to climate change, to cattle markets. Certainly, rodeo is probably the toughest way to make a living of any sports that I've ever covered. So, yeah, these guys represent I think a fading vestige. One of dignity and nobility and certainly part of American culture, but it's a tough way to make a living.”

Branch says the Wrights deal with the same issues facing much of the West especially in regard to public lands.

“Bill Wright, who is the patriarch and has a couple hundred head of cattle, he runs most of his cows on public lands,” Branch explained. “So, he's dealing with all those same issues, which is a constant worry about what the BLM or the Forest Service or the feds generally will do. Whether or not he can continue to build and grow an operation, knowing that they may turn around and change it borders of Zion, or as national monuments, or decided their permits are better used for oil and gas, or for recreation. There's a million different pressures and uncertainties.”

Branch is the author of two books and also won a Pulitzer Prize for his New York Times article Snow Fall, about a deadly avalanche in Washington. More information about Utah Humanities Book Festival events at Park City Library can be found here.

KPCW reporter David Boyle covers all things in the Heber Valley as well as sports and breaking news.
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