Denver Bar Association
December 2006
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Denver’s Best of 2006

by Greg Rawlings

While the major cultural story in Denver in 2006 was the completion of the new addition to the Denver Art Museum, a number of other stories deserve mention.

On the literary front, William Haywood Henderson released Augusta Locke (Viking Adult, 2006), his third novel. As with his previous novels, Native and The Rest of the Earth, this fine work is defined by descriptive writing of the highest order and characters that readers simply will never forget. My favorite aspect of Henderson’s writing always has been his ability to put his readers into a natural setting and make it entirely come alive; that and the resilience of his characters makes his novels must-reads. While not an outright masterpiece like The Rest of the Earth, which is easily comparable to the best work of Cormac McCarthy, "Augusta Locke" with its indomitable female characters and singular nature writing is a book you will open time and again, even if just for the sentences it contains — sinuous, detailed paragons of the form.

As for Nick Arvin, one of America’s hottest young writers, the paperback release of his World War II novel, Articles of War, (Anchor, 2006) should widen his readership considerably. This acclaimed short novel concerns the fish-out-of-water character Heck Tilson, an Iowa farm boy in Europe after D-Day. While critics have compared the work to Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, it seems to me that Arvin has written something more comparable to European writers like Knut Hamson or even Albert Camus. There’s a reason Esquire magazine picked this as one of the 10 best novels of the year upon its hardback release in 2005.

It also is notable that Arvin, along with Henderson and a number of other excellent writers, teaches at the Lighthouse Writer’s Project, one of Denver’s shining cultural glories. I highly recommend the fiction workshops, which have helped me a great deal in my ongoing effort to forge my own strange tales into solid literary novels.

Photo of Astrophagus
courtesy of the band.

Photo of John Common
courtesy of Sarah Cass.

The Denver music scene keeps turning out wonderful bands that are making wonderful records. Formerly known as The Moths, Astrophagus released "Casualite" (Helmet Room Records, 2006) this year, its first national release. Dark, somber, intense: this is an album for late-night drives or draughts of absinthe. Jason Cain keeps improving as a songwriter and the band seems to get tighter every show. See Astrophagus at one of its gigs at the Hi-Dive or The Walnut Room for some serious midnight music.

John Common’s album "Good to be Born," has been called the best Denver record in many years by Westword and it certainly is quite good. Common writes alternative country — indie pop music that’s as catchy as, say, the Jayhawks or the Pernice Brothers. The band members play like they mean it, and with the right push, these guys could be on the radio in the near future. And I don’t mean KBCU.

As for a good place to catch a meal before hitting the clubs, Steuben’s, a relatively new joint on 17th Avenue, has been knocking out first-rate comfort food. Try the nightly specials like fish and chips or treat the kids to some macaroni and cheese. The cocktails are generous and the staff aims to please. With its spacious interior of loft-like design, this is the place for people watching and blowing your diet.

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