Denver is Jenny Shank’s muse.
“When I was growing up, I can’t remember ever reading a book that was set in Denver,” Shank said. “It made me feel like the stories of my friends and neighbors didn’t matter as much as the stories of people in New York or England, where much of the fiction I read was set.”
Shank, now a resident of Boulder, has had two books published — both are works of fiction inspired by the experiences Shank had growing up in Denver. “Mixed Company” is a collection of short stories that recently won the Colorado Book Award in general fiction. “The Ringer” is a novel set in Denver that was inspired by a 1999 incident during which a man was killed by police executing a no-knock warrant.
Along with being a published author, Shank is a freelancer journalist and she teaches writing at Regis University and Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver.
Teaching writing is rewarding, Shank said.
“I love being a part of somebody’s dream,” she said, adding that several of her students have had books published.
Shank has been writing all her life, and particularly enjoys writing humor and personal essays.
“I love when readers identify with the stories, or it moves them in some way,” she said. “It’s very gratifying.”
Q&A with Jenny Shank
What do you hope readers get out of reading your book(s)?
I hope the stories in “Mixed Company” will entertain readers, make them laugh, make them embarrassed for the awkwardness of the characters, and encourage them to reach out and try to get to know someone who has a different perspective. I also hope in my own small way to preserve the memory of what life in Denver was like during the down-and-out years of the oil bust and court-ordered school busing for racial integration.
In your opinion, why do Denver residents enjoy reading books that are set in their community?
I started writing my Denver stories to fill a gap in published fiction about my hometown. Eventually, many writers started flocking to Denver, but most of them still set their work elsewhere. Finally, during the last decade or so, there have been more great works of fiction set in Denver than I could name. I love reading fiction set in Denver. It gives me the sense that we writers are trying to work out what it means to be from Denver and what the city’s essential character is, while affirming that the stories of our community matter.
For many years, I have been researching the history of Denver’s graffiti artists, focusing on the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when the area that is now called LoDo was an abandoned teenage wasteland of empty factories where street artists reigned. I am working on a novel in which a character who was a graffiti-artist teenager during the ‘90s becomes an architect in contemporary Denver, and she has to decide where her loyalties lie as the city’s rapid gentrification threatens her friends and family.
Where to get the books
The usual online booksellers, the Tattered Cover Book Store, the Boulder Book Store and Matter Books.