Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

Innovia Foundation

By Garth Meyer
Gazette Reporter 

From a trip for firewood to an acclaimed debut novel: Emily Ruskovich to visit for "Everybody Reads"


November 1, 2018

Emily Ruskovich

Emily Ruskovich

The summer after Emily Ruskovich got her Master's Degree, back home visiting Hoodoo Mountain, Idaho, she went with her parents in a truck to a clearing to retrieve a stack of firewood.

"I felt this place had a memory," she said. "I had a very, very unsettled feeling. I felt it knew something I didn't."

The feeling stayed with her and she began to write a short story.

In 2012, three years later, the untitled piece was about to be published in a collection by Random House when its editors asked Ruskovich to hold off. This is a novel, they said.

Ruskovich considered it, her story collection was scrapped and she went back to the keyboard.

She kept after that feeling from the place on the mountain, which had become characters, which became a situation to uncover.

Ruskovich knew the landscapes because she was raised in Athol, Idaho, Oldtown and on 40 acres on Hoodoo Mountain near the town of Blanchard, north of Rathdrum, where her parents and three siblings first lived in tents. They built a barn, then her parents had a house built.

Her father taught English for 37 years in the Coeur d'Alene School District.

Emily, after going to junior high at Priest River, went to the Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy for high school, where she graduated in 2004 in a class of 32.

"It was the perfect place for me," Ruskovich said. "Filled with students for whom it was cool and fun to be smart and care about things."

She was a writer before she could write – dictating stories to her parents as a young girl.

"I never really considered being anything but a writer and a teacher," said Ruskovich, whose first job was making hamburgers at a Wendy's in Coeur d'Alene.

In fourth grade, her teacher read aloud a poem she wrote about a hedgehog. In sixth grade, a teacher left a Post-It note, shaped like a pumpkin, on her desk saying they should talk about her writing, that she thought she should be published.

Her mother stayed at home.

"She is intense, kind, so funny, so quiet, so odd," Ruskovich said. "It's hard to articulate her because I love her so vehemently. My parents wanted my siblings and me to have the space and time to just play. We played for years and years... I was given an imagination. I played with dolls much longer than most girls. I could just fall into a world with my sister at the drop of a hat."

"Idaho," published in 2017, has been named a New York Times Editor's Choice and Idaho's Book of the Year, among other accolades.

Ruskovich is now an assistant professor of creative writing at Boise State, living an hour away in the pine trees outside Idaho City with her husband and daughter.

Her path to a praised debut novel also includes three years at the University of Montana, where she got a degree in Creative Writing, then a Master's in Creative Writing from the University of New Brunswick before going to the Iowa Writer's Workshop for a Master's in Fine Arts. A fiction fellowship followed at the University of Wisconsin.

Ultimately, the subject of "Idaho" is something unspeakable that happened in that place on the mountain.

"It isn't the violence that was of such interest to me, it was just the given of the novel," said Ruskovich. "What interested me most was the way people endured. I think of 'Idaho' as a love story more than anything else."

Events Wednesday-Friday

Next week for "Everybody Reads," from Lewiston to Colfax, Ruskovich will give presentations on the book and her writing processes Nov. 5-8. Whitman County appearances include Wednesday, Nov. 7, at the Dahmen Barn in Uniontown at 12 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 8, at the Colfax Library at noon (with lunch optional), and 7 p.m. Thursday at Neill Public Library in Pullman.

To RSVP for the Colfax lunch, call 397-4366.

In its 18th year, "Everybody Reads" is a program that encourages residents from across the region each year to read one featured book, discuss it with others and attend an author event.

Grant organizations supporting "Everybody Reads" include the Institute for Museums and Library Services, The Washington State Library, the Idaho Humanities Council and Humanities Washington.


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