More New Findings

I’m heading down to South America tomorrow and won’t return until the WLA conference, which this year is being held in Spearfish. This will (probably) be my last update until October.

For those of you gearing up for the conference, check out Ron Parsons’ story, “The Black Hills,” which deals with two old friends competing for the affections of a woman in, you guessed it, Spearfish. It was published in the Briar Cliff Review, Volume 21 (2009).  The issue also contains Sue Erickson Nieland’s short essay on Beatrice Goslin, an understudied Sioux City artist from the WPA era.  These pieces, when coupled together with the fine photographs and artwork that are peppered throughout the issue, situate the Briar Cliff Review as one of the more important regional literary journals.

The Threepenny Review issue 118 (summer 2009) has a wonderfully honest essay by Dagoberto Gilb.  “Father Close, Father Far” is about his dad and his sons, a theme that is also explored in the same issue by Elizabeth Tallent in her story, “The Wrong Son.”  Nice pairing.

Speaking of essays, Harper’s May 2009 issue has a new one by Rowan Jacobsen entitled, “Fast Fish, Loose Fish,” which is about fishing in Alaska’s Yukon Delta.  That same issue also has an absolutely chilling new essay by Charles Bowden, “The Sicario: A Juárez Hit Man Speaks.” His recently published book, Exodus/Éxodo, was recently reviewed by David Cremean in Southwestern American Literature, Volume 34.2 (spring 2009).

Jared Ward’s essay, “Burning the East Gate,” which appears in the spring/summer 2009 issue of West Branch (volume 64), describes a Sun Dance that he attended on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.  One could interestingly compare his essay to Michael Gills’ story that appeared in the second issue of Salt Flats Annual entitled, “White Indians: Sundance.  Zuni Territory, New Mexico.  July, 2005.”

Nimrod International has come out with a special “Mexico/USA” issue (Volume 52.2, spring/summer 2009).

The spring/summer 2009 issue (Volume 7.1) of Utah State’s literary journal, Isotope: A Journal of Literary Nature and Science Writing, contains two fantastic essays: Charles Pfister’s “Migrations: Journeys to the Arctic” (pp. 42-48), and Stephen Trimble’s “Participating in Home: Following Wallace Stegner Into the Heart of the West” (pp. 52-55).

There is an interview with Antonya Nelson in The Cincinnati Review, Volume 5.2 (winter 2009), pp. 139-149, and an extended interview with Louise Erdrich appears in Zone 3, Volume 24.1 (spring 2009), pp. 104-135.  Both writers will appear in the forthcoming Best of the West.

ZYZZYVA 25.1 (spring 2009) is definitely worth reading.  As Harold Junker, the editor, says in his editor’s note, “In this issue, we explore the spectrum of textimage, instances in which text and image collide and collude on the page—from the artist playing with that basic literary unit, the letter, to the writer sketching and doodling in his notebook.”  Readers of this blog might especially enjoy Jane Wolff’s “Delta Primer” (pp. 152-155).  A critique of the issue can be found at New Pages.

I specifically wanted to ask readers of this blog to consider checking out High Desert Journal, an independent journal published out of Bend, Oregon.  Their spring 2009 issue (Volume 9) was simply fantastic.  It contained an interview with Terry Tempest Williams, an essay about the architecture of the Nevada Art Museum, aerial photographs of the American West by Michael Light, and for all of you hemispheric fans out there, a series of portraits about women in Oregon and Mexico.

Finally, for those of you specifically interested in short fiction, the following is a list of recently published short stories set in the U.S. West that were so good, they will be included in the “Other Notable Western Stories of 2009” appendix in the next Best of the West.

Cates, David Allan.  “Rubber Boy.”  Glimmer Train, Volume 70 (spring 2009).  The voice of this story is truly unique.  It potentially expands the borders of the West by linking LA to Vietnam and Baja California. 

Hamby, Barbara.  “Invasion of the Haoles.”  Harvard Review, Volume 26 (2009). A dual point-of-view story about a white woman who marries a Japanese man in Hawaii circa 1959.

Lain, Gary.  “Ho Chi Minh at Spiral Jetty.”  Fiction Internatioal, Volume 41 (2008).  What would happen if Ho Chi Minh visited the Spiral Jetty?

Masarik, Al.  “Barnies.”  Hayden’s Ferry, Volume 43 (fall/winter 2008/2009). A college student falls in love with a prostitute from “The Chicken Ranch,” a brothel sixty miles west of Las Vegas.

Mell, Carson.  “Diamond Aces.”  McSweeney’s, Volume 30 (2009). A young man travels with his hustler father from Tucson to Tempe as the latter consults with the owner of a down-and-out strip club.

Schuett, Laura.  “The Hostages.”  Calyx, Volume 25.1 (winter 2008). A Phoenix family struggles with mental illness.

Volz, Alia.  “The Inn and Out.”  ZYZZYVA, Volume 24.3 (winter 2008). Explores the world of the hourly hotel in a small town in California.

Watson, Brad.  “Visitation.”  New Yorker, April 6, 2009. An expertly told father-son story set in San Diego.

White, Lowell Mick.  “Wildlife Rehabilitation.”  Southwestern American Literature, Volume 34.1 (fall 2008). A quirky story, deeply rooted in Texas, about a man who has recently lost his wife.


South Dakota #1

. . . . or at least Nora Roberts’s new mystery novel set in South Dakota, Black Hills, is #1  atop the New York Times Bestseller List.

As I haven’t read the novel, I wonder if anyone out there who has would share some thoughts. A quick internet search reveals a mix of reviews (Trash! Loved it!), but since the WLA Conference this year is headed for South Dakota, I couldn’t resist the urge to see if anyone wants to comment on Nora Roberts writing about South Dakota.

U.S.-Mexican War in Popular Literature (CFP)

“The Significance of the U.S.-Mexican War in Popular Literature: A Roundtable Discussion”

Society for the Study of American Women Writers Annual Conference, Philadelphia (October 21-24, 2009)

What do we gain by foregrounding the significance of the U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848) in our analyses of popular literature by and about women?  The Texas Regional Study Group of the Society for the Study of American Women Writers (SSAWW) will host a roundtable discussion that addresses this question at the upcoming SSAWW Conference in Philadelphia (October 21-24, 2009).  The purpose of the roundtable is to explore the ways in which the U.S.-Mexican War was portrayed and deployed in domestic novels, sentimental novels, sensational literatures, captivity narratives, and other popular literatures as a means to affirm, contest, expand, and constrain conceptualizations of national identity.  We seek several roundtable participants who can offer 5-6 minute papers that might consider the following related questions:

• How does the presence of the U.S.-Mexican War in popular literature both hide and expose the nation’s imperial goals and the ideologies of Manifest Destiny?  In what ways does this literature reveal women’s diverse roles in and relationships to American border expansion and nation building?

• How did the influence of the U.S.-Mexican War and the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo function to reconfigure categories and hierarchies of race, ethnicity, and gender in the United States?  How does popular literature attempt to establish, question, or maintain these categories and hierarchies?

• In what ways does the impact of the U.S.-Mexican War contribute to the cultural work of already highly taught and studied texts?  And what new texts can we find by considering the influence of this war on women writing popular literature?

• What are some classroom approaches and resources for teaching the U.S.-Mexican War as a cultural, political, and historical context in order to help students develop more nuanced interpretations of pre-Civil War popular literature?

E-mail a 250-word proposal and a one-page CV to Randi Lynn Tanglen at by August 15, 2009.

Randi Lynn Tanglen, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of English

Austin College

Emmys and the West

The nominations for the 2009 Emmy Awards were announced recently, and some  shows with western settings received nominations in major categories, including Holly Hunter in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series category for her role as Grace Hanadarko in TNT’s Saving Grace, one of the two highly enjoyable tough western women in law enforcement series currently airing (the other being In Plain Sight, with Mary McCormack as witness protection agent Mary Shannon)

Hunter’s performance (and her accent) as Grace can seem a bit over the top at times, but I do like her portrayal of Grace as a woman-behaving-badly-but-reluctantly-trying-for-redemption. Saving Grace also effectively uses its Oklahoma City setting, fulling integrating the setting  into the plots and the characters’ stories. And, Saving Grace also offers Leon Rippy (Tom Nuttall from HBO’s Deadwood) as Earl, the tobacco-chewing angel shepherding Grace down the road to redemption.

Also, Big Love, HBO’s “polygamy loves company” series, received a nomination for Outstanding Drama Series. Big Love is set in Utah, but I haven’t, at this point, been a regular watcher of the series. I would be curious to hear from others who are more familiar with the series what you think of Big Love‘s use of its western setting.

Failed Westerns: Trending Topic

A trending topic on Twitter these past couple of days has been Failed Westerns, where, basically, people tweet parody titles of famous westerns. So, rather than Gunsmoke, we might have had the failed title Incensesmoke; rather than Have Gun, Will Travel, we might have Have Guppy, Will Travel; rather than My Darling Clementine, we might have My Darling Chlamydia. Well, you get the picture. Below is a sample of tweeted titles (if you are on twitter, just search #failedwesterns for the thousands of tweeted titles out there):

LehmannPhoto Raw Hide & Seek

LehmannPhotoThe Mime Josey Wales

Boas72 Hang ‘Em High…A Little Higher…Higher…Now A Little To The Left

elaineewing Pasty Rider, Rooster Cockburn, Two Tools For Sister Sara, Jeremia’s Johnson

The Good, the Bad, and The Mildly Unattractive But Nothing A Few Whiskeys Can’t Fix. #failedwesterns by LocoOnSoco
Matthew 3:10 to Yuma #failedwesterns by PonderPatron

From multiple tweets:

High Plains Dry Cleaner

High Plains Hipster

High Plains Snifter

High Plains Tea

High Plains Musical

There’s a whole (everchanging) list of tweeted failed westerns available as well. Click here for the The Best Failed Westerns List.

There’s a lot of repetition of names (e.g., Pasty Rider), and I figure that the readers of the WLA Blog could do better–if only because we actually know more westerns than the few that keep getting repeated. Feel free to use the comment link to post your own Fail Westerns.

The Road and Theorizing the Post-West

From Neil Campbell:

Theorising the postwestern

I’m interested in David’s comments on the ‘post-West’ and felt moved to include a brief extract from my work-in-progress on Post-Westerns. It begins (at least in this section) to comment on and define how the term might be applied.
EXTRACT: “The problem of the meaning of the prefix ‘post’ is critical to this discussion of what I am calling ‘post-Western’ cinema for contained within the debates surrounding it much is revealed about the relationships of the Western to its ‘past’ , ‘present’ and ‘future’.  Commenting on the use of ‘post’ in post-colonialism, Stuart Hall argues for it as a continuum, as ‘not only “after” but “going beyond” the colonial, as post-modernism is both “going beyond” and coming “after” modernism, and post-structuralism both follows chronologically and achieves its theoretical gains “on the back of” structuralism’ (Hall 1996:253).  A similar logic can be usefully employed to discuss the relations and tensions between the Western and its ‘post’ forms as both ‘going beyond and after’ its earlier ‘classic’ structures and themes. To borrow the phrasing Hall uses, ‘It is because the relations which characterised the “colonial” [read classic Western] are no longer in the same place and relative position, that we are able not simply to oppose them but to critique, to deconstruct and try to “go beyond” them’ (ibid.:254). The ‘post’ never just means the ‘past’ as in the term ‘post-Western’, but rather ‘a process of disengagement’ from the system it is in tension with, in the full knowledge that it is ‘probably inescapable’ from that system as well (ibid.:246).  Thus Westerns and post-Westerns ‘never operated in a purely binary way’ but always interact, overlap and inter-relate, as argued earlier, in complex dialogical ways.”  This may help in moving closer to how the post-Western functions – certainly in texts like ‘The Road’ (maybe) or, in my case, in films like ‘Down in the Valley’ or I’d argue ‘No Country for Old Men’ (with its irony and deep yearning and loss).

Anyway enough … the post-western ideas are in my ‘Journal of the West’ article on Down in the Valley (Post-Western Cinema: David Jacobson’s Down in the Valley; Winter 2008) and forthcoming elsewhere … the book is in process …

[Editor’s Note: I moved this from the comment section into a post for easier access and reading]

McCarthy’s The Road

From David Cremean, comments on Seth Horton’s earlier post (see below for the original post):

I see The Road as an exploration of what would truly be “Post-Western” in terms of Western Civilization. Setting-wise, it’s an “Eastern,” beginning in media res in the Appalachians (arguably the first West for the Anglos) where the father and son have apparently come to from the northern eastern midwest. After Knoxville, they head further east, back to the ocean that brought Anglos here and ultimately spawned life itself. McCarthy carefully builds in numerous Western tropes (here I mean as in the genre, not the civilization), though. I noted some of these tropes in my review of the novel for WAL.

I personally tend to distrust most “post-” designations as, well, neither very useful nor very accurate, as too trendy and too easy. That brings me back to McCarthy’s Trilogy and No Country: certainly they represent a changing West, and certainly they show the difficulty of living by (mostly the best of) the “Western Code(s).” But they aren’t really post-Western, or even close. As I’ve sketchily but I’d say sufficiently argued above, McCarthy only takes us there in The Road (arguably as much fantasy/fairy tale as anything else), and even there does so in a fashion that still maintains the necessity of certain human realities that are perhaps most aptly put together in the Western genre–the need for violence against evils, for pragmatics, for moralities beyond law and order, freedom, etc.–while rejecting other “Western” manifestations such as the biggest one in the book, cannibalizing (which it also intimates both in the novel and in McCarthy’s ouvre is exactly what our society is doing to itself, ala Charles Bowden). In short, much of what that cannibalization rejects is the code(s) of the Western genre, however objectionable we may find some of its specifics. We are a “culture of death.”

So No Country culminates this mess, with The Road as a sort of anticlimax. The Trilogy clearly portrays the values of suffering and code-living (while including its pratfalls and goofs), the value of life itself amid the terrible existential realities, and suggests we need a return to those Faulknerian and so forth “timeless verities.”

I hope these quick thoughts (long pondered) produce some big-time debates here. But I must be back to WLA preparations. . . .

From Seth Horton (earlier post):

In a recent interview with the A.V. Club, Harold Bloom clarifies what he meant when he called Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian the ultimate Western: “It culminates all the aesthetic potential that Western [regional] fiction can have.  I don’t think that anyone can hope to improve on it, that it essentially closes out the tradition.”

Most readers of this blog would take umbrage at Bloom for this last sentiment, and his view on McCarthy seems to be a rehashing of the argument that he does for the west/southwest what Faulker did for the south. A more interesting reading of Bloom would be to question what McCarthy accomplishes with the books that follow this apparent closing out of the western tradition.  Might we, in other words, read McCarthy as a bridge from the west (Blood Meridian) to the postwest (The Road)?