Ken Waldman wrote his first poem while in graduate school in Fairbanks, Alaska, around the same time he started playing the fiddle. He had always been a writer, but he found his three art forms—writing, poetry, and fiddle-playing—started to influence each other, he said: his musical ear helped him develop a rhythmic, simple style in his poetry, he said.
“I’m not flashy,” Waldman said. “I play old-time Appalachian fiddle tunes that are more like the old square dance music … I think my writing similarly is unadorned, and even my poetry is not flowery—it’s pretty simple, but it can bear repeated listening or reading.”
For years, Waldman has made a living with his unique performances that merge Appalachian-style string-band fiddle music, poetry, and storytelling. On Thursday, June 16 at 6 p.m., he will perform at the Grand County Public Library.
Waldman’s performance is part of his new book tour—while he will be playing the fiddle and reading poetry, he’ll also share excerpts from his new book, “Now Entering Alaska Time,” published on June 1. The book explores the story of characters looking for love and meaning in Alaska—Waldman worked on it for over 30 years, he said.
“It’s my newest book, but in a sense, it’s my oldest,” he said. He started the book in 1989 as a short story set in Fairbanks, Alaska. As the story progressed, Waldman found himself writing more and more pages: it turned into a novella, then a full novel. He wrote the conclusion almost ten years after starting the book, he said—but he kept tinkering with the story, the writing, and the characters until he found a publisher in 2020. The book was inspired by his time living in Alaska, he said.
The book is Waldman’s twentieth. He’s written 16 poetry collections, a memoir, a children’s book, and a creative writing manual. He also has over nine albums of fiddle music.
Waldman will pass through Moab on his way from Nevada to Colorado. His summer book tour will also take him through Washington, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. His performance is solo, he said, but “who knows—I might run into somebody who will be able to join me,” he said.
“It’ll be one part concert, one part literary reading, one part travelogue program,” Waldman said. He intends for his performance, and his storytelling, to be able to transport the audience to another place and time.
“It’s like taking a trip to Alaska, without having to leave Grand County,” he said.
Waldman set up the event at the library when he was driving through town in January: he left a note with the library, he said, saying he was interested in performing. After having to reschedule a few times, he finally set a date.
“Moab’s a special place,” he said.
The free event will take place on Thursday, June 16 at 6 p.m. at the Grand County Public Library (257 E. Center St.).