Wallace Stegner and the Changing American West:
Reimagining Place, Region, Nation, and Globe in an Era of Instability
-A Call for Papers and Other Creative Work-
Center for Western Lands and Peoples
Wallace Stegner Chair in Western American Studies
College of Letters and Science / Montana State University, Bozeman
By the time of his death, Wallace Stegner (1909-1993) had become the epitome of the politically engaged western American writer able to express himself across a range of genres, from fiction to history, autobiography, and essays. In books such as The Big Rock Candy Mountain, Wolf Willow, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, Angle of Repose (Pulitzer Prize), and The American West as Living Space, Stegner brought to life and illuminated the West like few other authors. Of uppermost concern to Stegner were issues of transiency and community, landscape quality and degradation, family life, the importance of place, and the need for ways of living that foster stable social bonds and stable economies within the realities and constraints of western environments.
Twenty-five years after his passing and on the eve of the 110th year of his birth, we seek to assess the state of the North American West and its study through the lens of Stegner’s life, work, and legacy. We invite proposals for essays that revisit and reinterpret Stegner, but more broadly, we welcome proposals for work that reconsiders and reimagines Stegnerian themes and issues in light of the political, economic, and ecological tumult of our times. We seek insights from across disciplines, genres, and forms. Although we emphasize the written word, we seek contributions from the visual arts as well. What aspects of Stegner’s life and work have enduring value? How do contemporary issues of Indigenous sovereignty, gender inequality and feminism, immigration, the status of refugees, extreme economic disparities, and changes to the Earth System, especially global warming, alter our understanding of the West and the ways that Stegner envisioned it? How might our efforts to grapple with these issues compel us to reimagine the western past? How might Stegner and his work—critiqued, revised, updated—help us negotiate our unsettled present and point us toward alternative futures?
Contributions selected for this project will be presented at workshops and public events at Montana State University, May 9-11, 2019, and will be edited and included in an anthology of essays and illustrations. Please send 300-word abstracts to firstname.lastname@example.org by November 5, 2018.
Mark Fiege (email@example.com)
Professor of History
Wallace Stegner Chair in Western American Studies
Montana State University
Susan Kollin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Professor of English
Director, Center for Western Lands and Peoples
Montana State University
Mary Murphy (email@example.com)
Professor of History
Co-Director, Center for Western Lands and Peoples
Montana State University
For more information about the conference, click on the link to go to the full description of Western Literature Association Conference 2018.
Percival Everett: theory, philosophy and fiction
organized by the ERIAC Research Center (ED 4705)
at the University of Rouen
on May 2ndand 3rd 2019
Percival Everett’s work has been delighting its readers with engaging plots, rich with suspense and surprises. The diverse gallery of his characters offers many an opportunity for sympathy, identification, empathy, criticism, amusement or estrangement. One of the feats achieved in Everett’s work consists in blending sometimes complex theoretical and philosophical backgrounds into his (breath-)taking plots, thus granting further degrees of satisfaction to the attentive readers. The extra layers thus admitted into the reading experience, variously perceptible according to the readers, contribute to the singularity of Everett’s style. Despite the variety in genres, tones and topics from one book to another, all are marked by such tension between realism and theory, illusion and metafiction, all happily resolved in Everett’s unique literary pieces.
Theory and more specifically philosophy feed his narratives, and visibly appear through quotations, of authors’ names, words and sentences, and inform the structures of his novels and stories. Literary criticism, its excesses and deviations are targeted in erasure, for instance, through a parody of S/Zand the absurd behavior of the representatives of the Nouveau Romansociety, as well as in Glyph, in which Roland Barthes is given the part of an inveterate seducer. Mathematics and more precisely logics widely inform Everett’s work, as perceptible in Glyphfor instance, through baby-genius Ralph’s calculations and speculations. Percival Everett by Virgil Russellincludes mathematical formulae (pp.127, 129), refers to Russell, while mathematical symbols even offer their structures to the title of Everett’s poetry collection Re: f(gesture).
Many a passage throughout Everett’s works consists in playful logical arguing, as ironically emphasized through numerous logical links and markers. Dialogues especially bring out the ambiguities and logical discrepancies in communication, hence the numerous opportunities for misunderstanding. At the heart of such playful dialogues, sometimes verging on the absurd, Everett’s studies in Language Philosophies pervade his whole oeuvre, partly turning it into a playfield. The great names of Language Philosophies run throughout his work: Wittgenstein, Austin, White, Russell, Frege appear in Glyph, The Water Cure, Percival Everett by Virgil Russell, to name but a few. According to Everett himself, fiction allows one to try out language structures much more efficiently –and enjoyably-than in readymade, artificial dialogues, disconnected from any actual situation or context. Yet in his fiction many a dialogue, in its forms and structures, is redolent with those artificial test samples, as in The Water Cure, Percival Everett by Virgil Russell, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, with its ontological quiz set by the protagonist’s first name, “Not Sidney”.
More generally Everett’s whole oeuvre abounds in puns, jokes and witticisms. Overtly or more insidiously the many ways in which language escapes its user’s control are being explored, to enhance the infinite possibilities for ambiguity, misunderstanding and creativity offered by language. The distorted passages in The Water Cure bring to the fore the vulnerability of meaning and language while exposing some of the main principles upon which reading and communication rely, mostly anticipation, thus opening ways for prejudice to deviate the speaker’s/writer’s originally intended meaning. Such wide philosophical questions are raised in Everett’s work, through both its topics and forms, with the question of responsibility looming in the background, so to speak, as well as that of the canon and more largely of norms.
Some of the following questions may be pursued:
How do theory and philosophy inform Everett’s narratives in their topics and structures, at the macro- and micro-levels both? How does such massive presence inflect the nature and definition of fiction, allowing for a renewal of the genre? What is the specific part played by metafiction in his work? How does it contribute to blur the limits between tones, genres and possibly art forms while questioning the very creative process? More largely, the emphasis may be laid on the making of books, and the various sources of inspiration flowing into them. To what extent and in what ways do Everett’s writing and painting relate, and what forms does the quest for abstraction take in each? What can narrative and fiction in general bring to the theoretical and philosophical fields?
Alain Badiou has emphasized the necessity to reconsider the relationships between philosophy and art at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, after the didactic, Romantic and classical schemes have proved to no longer be able to define the relations between art and philosophy. Badiou’s concept of “inesthétique” may offer an angle of approach of the specific place of philosophy in Everett’s art: “By ‘unaesthetic’ I mean a specific way for philosophy to relate to art, itself understood as a source of truths, so that philosophy in no way claims to take art as an object of philosophical study. Against aesthetic speculation unaesthetics describes the strictly internal philosophical effects generated by the independent existence of a few artworks.”
Indeed the reflection carried out in common during the conference may keep as an aim the attempt to bring forth some of the truths produced by Everett’s work, or at least some of the main phenomena observable in the work, as related to our perception of and being in the world. Among them, one may try to highlight both “the ambivalent role and the absolute singularity of the literary fact” (Jean-François Favreau, Vertige de l’écriture, 8), as well as its subversive power. Indeed Everett’s work brings to the fore the nature of the artistic writing as resistance, according to Foucault’s view of literature as “some kind of monster as well as a resource, but also as a formidable resistance”, the “permanence of some subterranean trend in Western thought that has been kept aside by the ruling order” (Favreau, 9). The conference will ultimately have as one of its ambitions to explore the complex interactions between the canon and the margins, creative practice and critical thought, art and philosophy.
Abstracts should be sent to Anne-Laure Tissut (firstname.lastname@example.org) by September 30th2018
Dear WLA Members,
We hope summer is treating you well, and we look forward to welcoming you to St. Louis in October! To that end, we want this conference to be open to as many as possible, so we are extending the proposal deadline to July 1, 2018.
Understanding Our Place: Conference Proposals, Conference Theme, Conference Site
St. Louis’s Old Courthouse, where the Dred Scott case was initiated. Along with the Gateway Arch and the Museum of Westward Expansion, the Old Courthouse comprises the Gateway Arch National Park (which, until 2018, was called the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial). The linkage of these sites is a reminder of the intricate relations between U.S. imperialism and histories of enslavement.
Please submit proposals for individual papers and complete sessions to ConfTool. Remember that ConfTool accounts don’t carry over from year to year, so if you haven’t created a 2018 account, you must do so before you submit your proposal. Remember that we welcome critical and creative writing proposals on any aspect of literature and culture of the North American West—but we’re also happy to receive submissions that tie to this year’s conference theme: “Indigenous Hubs, Gateway Cities, Border States.”
The Saint Louis Art Museum is housed in the only World’s Fair building—the “Palace of Fine Arts”—designed to be permanent.
The 2018 conference will be held at the historic Chase Park Plaza hotel, constructed in 1922, located in the city’s Central West End neighborhood. The Central West End was home to some of St. Louis’s most well-known writers: T.S. Eliot, Tennessee Williams, Kate Chopin, and William S. Burroughs, for example, all lived in the neighborhood. Today, it is a walkable area teeming with restaurants and shops, including the independent bookstore Left Bank Books. It is also adjacent to St. Louis’s 1,300-acre Forest Park, the site of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (which popularized the ice cream cone and Dr. Pepper as it celebrated U.S. imperialism), and today the St. Louis Art Museum and the Missouri History Museum.
Chase Hotel (early 1920s), by W.C. Persons. Missouri Historical Society Collections.
As a site for jazz-age partygoing among well-heeled St. Louisans, our conference site was featured on the front page of the New York Times on January 2, 1923, when an article described a riot that ensued when federal agents sent to enforce prohibition law raided the “fashionable Hotel Chase” on New Year’s Eve. A “barrage of chairs, glassware, plates, knives and forks were hurled promiscuously,” the Times noted. “Women became hysterical” while the “rumpus was in swing” until the “officers retreated.” “One woman,” a police sergeant reported, “had me by the collar as we were leaving.”
We can’t promise that level of excitement, but we can promise an exceptional conference line-up that examines the literature and culture of the North American West from creative and challenging angles, asking critical questions about what constitutes region and role it has played in shaping culture, identity, and power.
Looking Forward to the Program: Special Events and Guests
Everett’s 2015 short story collection, Half an Inch of Water, based in Wyoming, “paints a vibrant picture of the West that layers itself subtly but assertively over the prevailing mythos of the lonely white cowboy,” according to a review in the Los Angeles Times.
Percival Everett counts among his many accolades two Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction. He is the author of around 30 books, many set in the American West. These include the parodic genre western God’s Country, as well as Suder, Walk Me to the Distance, Watershed, Wounded, Assumption, and the recent short story collection, Half an Inch of Water. No contemporary African American author has represented the black western experience in such extensive, nuanced, and complex ways. Everett is currently a Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California.
José E. Limón’s American Encounters requires we consider—perhaps now more urgently than ever—the following vision: “I wish to imagine the possibilities of a transformation of [the relationship between Greater Mexico and the United States], so that all children who live today along the Texas border can once again enjoy the waters of the Rio Grande—so that all of the children of Greater Mexico and the United States may play along the border and beyond, carrying their Mexico and their United States within them, . . . crossing this frontier at their pleasure, in equality, and in a peaceful and plentitudinous light of day” (José E. Limón, American Encounters: Greater Mexico, the United States, and the Erotics of Culture [Boston: Beacon Press, 1999], 6).
José E. Limón is the Notre Dame Foundation Professor of American Literature Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and the Mody C. Boatright Professor of American Literature Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin. His interdisciplinary work brings together literature, anthropology, and folklore in studies of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, Greater Mexico, and American regions and nations broadly conceived. Among his books are Dancing with the Devil: Society and Cultural Poetics in Mexican-American South Texas, Mexican Ballads, Chicano Poems: History and Influence in Mexican American Social Poetry, American Encounters: Greater Mexico, the United States, and the Erotics of Culture, and Américo Paredes: Culture and Critique. He is currently working on a book titled Neither Friends, Nor Strangers: Mexicans and Anglos in the Literary Making of Texas.
The plenaries by these Distinguished Achievement Award winners, while certainly the centerpiece of our conference, are not the only events of note.
Mural at Ponderosa Steakhouse, W. Florissant Ave., Ferguson, MO. 2014. 6’x8′. Image courtesy of COCA—Center of Creative Arts. Photo © Michael Kilfoy.
On our opening night, we will be screening and discussing the film Whose Streets?, which documents the activism that grew from the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, Jr., in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. This will be followed by a discussion moderated by Jonathan Smith, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement at Saint Louis University and a scholar of African American literature.
During the conference, we will hear from Teresa McKenna, a foundational scholar in Chicana feminist studies and Associate Professor Emerita at the University of Southern California, who will read from her memoir.
We will learn about the possibilities of public humanities collaborations from Sara L. Schwebel, Professor of English at the University of South Carolina, who has collaborated with Channel Islands National Park on a digital humanities project for K-12 teaching organized around the children’s book Island of the Blue Dolphins and the indigenous woman, whose isolation due Spanish colonial policies of reducción and trade, inspired it. Professor Schwebel’s talk will lead nicely into presentations by the WLA/Charles Redd Center K-12 Teaching Award winners on Saturday.
East St. Louis poet, scholar, and activist Eugene B. Redmon will read from and speak about his work at the 2018 WLA Past-President’s lunch.
We will also engage local borders when we hear from poet, scholar, and activist Eugene B. Redmond during the Past-President’s lunch on Thursday. Dr. Redmond, along with fellow East St. Louisan Katherine Dunham and St. Louisan Maya Angelou, was an architect of the Black Arts Movement in the region. From his earliest poetry, Redmond has been a place-based poet. A poem titled “Carryover,” for example, which he read at East St. Louisan Miles Davis’s funeral, proclaims, “I have been tattooed for life: / A thought called EAST SAINT LOUIS / Is etched on each Island of my Brain.” “EAST SAINT LOUIS will rise!” It “Will rise from the muddy gutty Mississippi. / Will rise disguised as AFRICA” (in Gerald Early, “Ain’t But a Place”: An Anthology of African American Writings about St. Louis [St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 1998], 481).
The ancestral Mississippian city of Cahokia is directly across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Monks Mound, pictured here, is the largest structure on the site and is the largest earthen mound north of Mexico. St. Louis was once nicknamed “Mound City,” but today only one mound within the city limits has escaped destruction: Sugarloaf Mound, which was purchased by the Osage Nation in 2009. The tribe hopes to preserve the mound and develop an interpretive center to teach St. Louisans about their city’s history from an indigenous perspective.
We’re terribly excited for the Friday plenary, “A Reading for the Mound Builders” organized by Chadwick Allen, and featuring writers LeAnne Howe, Phillip Carroll Morgan, and Allison Hedge Coke. This will dovetail with a planned Saturday excursion to Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, the center of the largest pre-Columbian civilization north of Mexico.
Candice Ivory, the “Queen of Avant Soul,” will perform at the 2018 WLA banquet.
And we’re delighted to be honoring the WLA’s 2018 award winners at the banquet on Friday night, where the “Queen of Avant Soul,” the fabulous Candice Ivory, will be joining us to perform. Today a St. Louisan, but with roots in Memphis, Tennessee, Ivory is immersed in the gospel, blues, jazz, and soul traditions of both places. We let her know that the WLA likes to dance!
In Closing, In Friendship, In Appreciation
If it wasn’t clear from the above, we are delighted to share this conference with you, our dear colleagues and friends, who have done so much to push our field in new and exciting directions. This is a preview of what’s in store—but there’s even more to come!
Most importantly, of course, is the tremendous compendium of critical and creative work on the North American West by you—the membership. So please do submit any remaining proposals by July 1, 2018. Thank you for all your contributions—we cannot do this conference, and we cannot do our work in western literature, in all its diversity, without you.
Michael and Emily
Your 2018 WLA Co-Presidents
My favorite Western of the year thus far has to be The Rider, a film about Native American rodeo performers that takes place in the contemporary western setting of South Dakota’s Lakota-Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation. The film centers on Brady Blackburn, beginning in the aftermath of a head injury suffered in the rodeo ring, and the story is based on the events experienced by rodeo performer Brady Jandreau. Just to underscore the documentary-like elements of the film, not only does Brady the actual rodeo performer play Brady the fictional rodeo performer, but the rest of the Blackburn family is filled out by other Jandreau family members (by Brady’s sister and father).
Among other things, this is a film about recovery from traumatic brain injury. The film is low-key and closely observational of how Brady recovers (and how he doesn’t). In much of the film Brady is by himself, and he’s a compelling screen presence, even as the character is constrained, low-key, quiet. There are several really good scenes of Brady training horses, hanging out with horses, riding horses, or just watching horses. The low-key Brady really comes to life around horses, and the transformation is amazing. His interaction with horses is emotional, psychological, animated, communicative, vibrant.
Without horses, Brady is half a person. Several scenes of Brady stocking shelves in a convenience store contrast sharply with the vibrant scenes involving horses. The risk of further brain injury makes horse riding (and just being around large animals) dangerous. Other side effects of the injury take their toll throughout the film. His friendship with another injured former rodeo performer, Lane Scott (who plays himself in the film), is as therapeutic for Brady as it is for Lane. Still, nothing in Brady’s life brings him to life as much as his time spent with horses (although, in his interactions with Lane, Brady is closer to the person he is when working with horses than he is with any other humans).
The film is written and directed by a Chinese filmmaker, Chloé Zhao, and it actually reminds me of another contemporary Western by a Chinese filmmaker, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Like that film, The Rider asks: how do you exist when you have to live your life without the thing you love? can you?
CFP for a special issue of Western American Literature on “The Politics of Public Lands in the Contemporary U.S. West.”
October 2016 ended with dramatic irony on the Western political stage:
Bundy family members were acquitted after occupying Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for over a month; simultaneously, unarmed water protectors in South Dakota were treated as rioters, shot with tear gas and water cannons, and arrested for engaging in unarmed political action on behalf of clean water and the protection of indigenous lands. Since then, the Trump administration has sought to shrink several national monuments, undermining the Antiquities Act of 1906 specifically and environmental protections more generally. Debates about how to value, use, and manage public lands in the American West are as high-profile and controversial as ever, and perhaps even more divisive. How has literature responded? What are the roots of these conflicts? What solutions can engaged scholarship help imagine?
The journal Western American Literature seeks original scholarship for a special issue on public lands in the U.S. West. Essays might address:
• indigenous responses to the notion of public lands or to attempts to degrade or colonize native homelands, and unusual political coalitions formed in response to these threats
• affective, legal, cultural, spiritual, recreational, and/or historical claims that literature makes on/for public lands
• masculinity in the West as (re)negotiated in relation to public lands
• recent (re)inventions of the frontier in literature and popular culture
• problems that climate change creates for public land management and potential solutions articulated by environmental justice literature and scholarship
• movements to diversify public land management agencies such as the National Park Service
• movements to decolonize public lands
• historical roots of contemporary conflicts surrounding public lands
• new narrative forms emerging to address public lands in the twenty-first-century West
Please send proposals of 400-500 words to Jennifer Ladino at email@example.com by June 30, 2018. Depending on the number and quality of submissions, this special issue might feature three standard-length (6,000-8,000 word) articles or a larger number of shorter pieces. Full-length essays will be due November 15, 2018.