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In Focus

Idaho’s Rick Ardinger

By Sarah Kliff | HUMANITIES, January/February 2006 | Volume 27, Number 1

In 1976, Rick Ardinger and his wife Rosalind started producing a literary publication, The Limberlost Review. Each copy of the review was folded and stapled on the couple's kitchen table. In 1985, the Ardingers added a letterpress to their venture. They purchased the press and lead type for five hundred dollars and didn't have a clue about how to operate the machine.

"I thought if it lasted four issues it would be a success," says Ardinger, "but we liked doing it and we used the grocery money to pay for it."

Twenty years later, The Limberlost Review has transformed into Limberlost Press, an independent publishing company that has produced books by John Updike and Sherman Alexie. Ardinger, now the executive director of the Idaho Humanities Council, returns from his office to hand-produce four to five books each year in editions ranging from four to eight hundred copies.

"When people look at the books they can tell a difference; they see a difference," says Ardinger. "When they run their fingers over the page, they can feel the bite of the type and the page. It's something that you don't just read and pass on. I always like to think that our books are something people will keep, and they do. It's kind of like they're little literary heirlooms."

A Massachusetts native, Ardinger moved to Idaho to pursue a Masters of Fine Arts degree in creative writing and quickly acclimated to the local writing scene. Along with running Limberlost Press, he has edited an anthology of local writing, When the Morning Light's Still Blue: Essays about Idaho, and published his own poetry.

As the Idaho Humanities Council's executive director, Ardinger's interaction with the writing community has only increased. Book publishing is no longer a weekend activity--over the past five years, it has become an integral part of the council's work. In 2001, the council started publishing a four-book series of writings by Idahoans that focus on the four ancient elements--water, fire, earth, and wind. The council began the series with the collection Written on Water, and in 2005 released Forged in Fire.

"I think the landscape does influence character, it really does," Ardinger says. "It's inevitable that the region and landscape, the mountains, the rivers, the deserts, and the wide open spaces really do have an impact on the kind of work that many writers do."

Idaho's wide open spaces, however, also challenge the council. Idaho has a population just over one million, which is dispersed throughout a state the size of New England. Ardinger believes education to be an essential tool to reach the population. The educational programs take a number of shapes-activities range from a speakers bureau with three hundred engagements each year to traveling exhibitions. Since Ardinger's appointment as executive director in 1996, the council has made an annual teacher's summer institute its focus. The weeklong institute invites elementary and secondary school teachers from around the state to share curriculum and study with scholars. The presidency of Thomas Jefferson, contemporary Native American literature, and the political history of Idaho since World War II have been among the subjects discussed over the past ten years.

"We've had as many as forty teachers but we try to keep it down to about thirty. We want to preserve that seminar feeling," says Ardinger. "The scholars stay for the full week so teachers really get to know them, they get to know each other, and there's a great camaraderie between teachers all over the state."

Ardinger believes these institutes to be so integral to humanities education that in his first year as executive director he established an endowment to ensure the yearly availability of funding.

"For the most part, it's been real grassroots support of one hundred, two hundred, three hundred dollar contributions," says Ardinger.

All of these donations have helped the council raise eight hundred thousand dollars of its projected one million dollar endowment, which Ardinger hopes will ensure a place for the humanities within Idaho schools.

"I think of the humanities as really vital, says Ardinger. "I think reading is extremely vital. It's not a colorful add on to an education that we add if we've got time for it or if we need an extra credit. It's just an essential in an education."

About the Author

Sarah Kliff, a junior at Washington University in St. Louis, was an intern at NEH.