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Why Rachel King set her award-winning story collection in a Boulder County sausage factory


Short story collections with a shared narrative thread are having a moment in the Colorado literary world.

With Rachel King’s Bratwurst Haven winning the 2023 Colorado Book Award in the Literary Fiction category this summer, that makes two in a row for linked collections. Her recent win follows Wendy J. Fox’s What If We Were Somewhere Else, which took home the same award last year.

“As a reader, it’s nice to read something where the story stands alone, and you can set down the book,” King says. “But then you can come back to the same world, which is something people really like about novels. It has the best of both worlds.”

King’s book follows a string of characters connected to a sausage factory set in a fictional Boulder County town. Most of them are down on their luck and operating in tough circumstances, but that’s not to say the stories don’t have an uplifting quality.

King lived in Colorado from 2012 to 2016, working for Perseus Books Group in Boulder, and living in Lafayette and Louisville. Her boyfriend, now husband, had worked in sausage factories and would come home and talk about his job. That’s how King started setting her stories in that world. 

The author soon began to broaden the scope and sketch out other characters, like the bartender Cynthia, who develop relationships with the workers in Bratwurst Haven. But wherever her writerly eye wanders, King explores fundamental issues related to labor, capital and solidarity. 

“A lot of these characters have not chosen to do the work that they’re doing; they’ve more fallen into it,” King said in an interview with Boulder Weekly earlier this year. “And a lot of it is low-wage work, but they’re not necessarily people who have always worked for low wages. Something I was exploring specifically was, ‘How do people in low-wage jobs support one another, or not support one another?’”

Bratwurst Haven,’ a linked story collection set in a fictional Boulder County town, won the 2023 Colorado Book Award for literary fiction.

How the sausage gets made

In the title story, the daughter of the factory owner decides to try her hand at starting a food truck selling sausages. She intended to call the business Bratwurst Heaven, but the sign painter mistakenly wrote Bratwurst Haven.

“The title is indicative of the collection in the sense that some of these people work at the sausage factory. Some of them don’t; they just live in Boulder County,” King says. “They sometimes use work as a place to escape things, but also a place to meet new people and have a refuge.” 

The food truck thread of the story came partially from King’s own struggle trying to make it as a freelance writer after moving back to Oregon and working part time at a library.

“Some of my trying-to-start-a-business type of feelings, I put in that story,” she says. King now works as the editorial production coordinator of a membership magazine for infusion nurses.

The publisher of Bratwurst Haven, West Virginia University Press, tends to gravitate toward books focused on a specific place. The differences between regions is something King has thought a lot about over the years. When she moved to Colorado, she found some similarities to her upbringing in Oregon.

“There was something about the culture that felt like I was coming home. And I kept trying to figure out what it was because I grew up in Western Oregon and the landscape’s very different on the Front Range,” she says. 

To interrogate that idea, King asked herself: Does being a Western American mean anything? “Some days I think it does,” she says. “Some days I think it doesn’t.”

Despite that ambivalence, King sees some key differences between Coloradans and Oregonians. In her estimation, people in Colorado are more outgoing. King pointed out that there’s differences even within Boulder County, “which is something that I explored in my collection, because it’s definitely not about people you would think of when you think of Boulder nowadays.”

The next project for King is a historical novel about a traveling women’s basketball team in the 1930s, the All American Red Heads.

In the meantime, she’s still basking in the glow of her recent honor.

“It means a lot to me to win the Colorado Book Award,” King says. “I’m a harsh critic of myself, of my own work, and other people’s work. To know other people who are harsh critics thought it was good, that means so much to me. And to have it represent Colorado and the people I got to know in my time there, that means a lot, too.” 

ON THE PAGE: Bratwurst Haven by Rachel King is available now via West Virginia University Press.