Examining a Woman’s Life in Letters

Drawing on an art form that is rapidly being degraded by technology, author Lee Rostad has brought back to life the story of a remarkable small town Montana woman who lived a passionate and rich life through her letters in the 1920s and 30s.

On Thursday (July 28) at 6:30 p.m. at the Montana Historical Society Rostad will present a free public program based on her recent book Grace Stone Coates: Her Life in Letters.

Coates once advised a friend to “remember that … a stamped, self-addressed envelope is a pulling power that sometimes makes them answer a letter; the envelope lies looking up at them reproachfully every time they turn around, and finally in sheer self-accusation they say something and send it back.”

Rostad has skillfully edited the rich legacy of correspondence to and from Coates and used them to wind together a fascinating biography of a woman who lived out most of her life in the Musselshell Valley.

With her husband Henderson, she moved from Butte to Martinsdale in 1910 and established a general store in what Grace called “an alien land.”

Through her letters and writing Coates created a life that took on a national flair. She immersed herself in poetry, short stories and of course letters, and published two books of poetry and a novel, Black Cherries.

Reaching out from her small town, Coates had a long, personal correspondence with William Saroyan, a young San Francisco writer who later became one of America’s most celebrated writers, who always credited Coates with influencing his work.

She shaped other writers through her reviews and essays in The Frontier, a prominent magazine edited by H.G. Merriam, and regularly exchanged letters with noted Montanans including Charles M. Russell, Frank Bird Linderman and historian James Rankin.

Rostad, who is president of the Montana Historical Society Board of Trustees, also call Martinsdale home and has become a writer and historian worthy in her own right, and uniquely qualified to tell Coates’s story.

The book is an adventure on every page, as Rostad leads the reader to find the person behind the demure housewife who wrote the local news for the county newspaper and often hunted and fished with her husband.

Rostad’s book will be available at the Museum Store, and she will autograph copies after the talk.

Posted by on 07/19 at 08:41 AM






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