Wallowa County bookstore owner Rich Wandschneider attended a writing conference in Portland, Oregon, but something didn’t feel quite right. Rich told conference organizer Kim Stafford that it seemed that the event wasn’t really a gathering of Oregon writers, but of “I-5 writers.” Kim agreed, but issued a challenge: “Why don’t you host the next one in Wallowa County?” In 1988 with help from the Wallowa Valley Arts Council, Wandschneider, Stafford and Alvin Josephy, the famous journalist and historian of the American West, a gathering of writers was organized at Wallowa Lake in July with the theme West Coast Writers and East Coast Publishers. The Summer Fishtrap Gathering was born.
So began an annual tradition. Every July, readers, writers, journalists, historians, publishers, and lovers of the arts from all over the world gather at Wallowa Lake to share their love of good writing, challenging conversations, and the American West. The week-long conference has provided hundreds of writers the opportunity to work with the best western instructors and authors such as Ursula K LeGuin, Luis Urrea, David James Duncan, Bill Kittredge, and Cheryl Strayed to name just a few.
Over the next 20 years under founder Rich Wandschneider’s leadership, Fishtrap grew and added programs like Winter Fishtrap, the Imnaha Writers Retreat, writing classes, and lecture series to further the mission to promote “clear thinking and good writing in and about the West.” In recent years, Fishtrap has expanded to include youth programming as well as workshops and readings and lecture series designed for the local community.
In 2006, Fishtrap was one of the original organizations selected by the NEA to pilot The Big Read, a program designed to promote community-wide reading programs. In 2014, Fishtrap launched Fishtrap Story Lab in partnership with Joseph Charter School. Designed to give students the opportunity to tell their own stories with 21st century technology, Story Lab is now available to students throughout Wallowa County.