2010 WLA Conference and New Arizona Immigration Law

Greetings from Arizona,

As you may know, last Friday the Arizona State legislature passed an extreme anti-immigrant law. The law, promptly signed by Governor Jan Brewer, allows for drastic measures to be taken against suspected illegal immigrants. This law will lead to racial profiling and is racist, intolerant, and stridently anti-humanitarian.  Many in the state, in the west, and indeed in the nation are shocked by what the Arizona governor calls a “tough” attitude toward “border security.”

There has been some talk among WLA members about the ethical implications of our 2010 conference in Prescott. As WLA president, I believe that there is no more urgent moment for us to come together to counter the oppressive politics of Arizona and other like-minded states who legislate the denial of human and civil rights. I am in this business because I believe in the transformative power of literature; I am certain many of you do, too. In addition to the topics suggested in this year’s call for papers, and the usual rich diversity of topics our members inevitably present on, there is certainly room for papers and panels on the literature of immigration, the globalization of the American West, the contemporary or historical literature of racial discord, of labor, of land and territory. And what better year to honor our Distinguished Achievement Award recipient Luis Valdez, who began his career writing and producing agitprop theater to demonstrate the humanity of Mexican American farm workers? His work on behalf of civil rights in the face of those who seek to deny these rights should be a reminder to us: artistic expression is a powerful force against oppression.

In today’s New York Times, op-ed columnist (click on highlight section for link to the whole column) Linda Greenhouse presents a good alternative to boycotting, which may actually hurt innocent small business owners and divest us of our political voice: “Here’s a modest proposal. Everyone remembers the wartime Danish king who drove through Copenhagen wearing a Star of David in support of his Jewish subjects. It’s an apocryphal story, actually, but an inspiring one. Let the good people of Arizona — and anyone passing through — walk the streets of Tucson and Phoenix wearing buttons that say: I Could Be Illegal.”

I look forward, more than ever, to seeing you in Prescott in October.


Gioia Woods

President, Western Literature Association

Winter in the Blood on Film

Picking up on Mary Scriver’s mention (in an earlier post) of a new adaptation of Jame’s Welch’s novel Winter in the Blood, I’ve looked around for some more information about the film, as I didn’t realize that it was in production. Casting is underway, and the film should begin shooting (in Montana) in July. I’ve pasted in below links to articles about the film.

From “Winter in the Blood Novel to Become Movie” by Elizabeth Batt:

Independent filmakers Alex and Andrew Smith, “The Slaughter Rule” (2002), have teamed up with actor and writer Ken White to turn the novel into a screenplay. The Smith twins attended and graduated from a high school in Missoula, MT and plan on making the movie as authentic as possible by filming it entirely within the state and by adhering to the script as closely as possible.

Filming begins in July, 2010 and auditions are currently underway for Native American actors for small roles and extras.

See also Winter in the Blood Reimagined,” from The Missoulian.

There’s also an official Winter in the Blood film website.

And, finally, an article by Travis Coleman (excerpted below) in the Great Falls Tribune also talks about the casting of the film and visits the site of the casting call earlier this month:

Weston Flamond has big-screen dreams despite coming from a small town with no movie theater.

The 21-year-old St. Mary resident looked to make his dreams come true Saturday by auditioning for a role in the film adaptation of Montanan James Welch’s lauded novel, “Winter in the Blood.”

Flamond does salvage work on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, but that’s not his passion. Acting is what he wants to do, so Great Falls is where he needed to be Saturday. Flamond was among dozens of people of all ages vying for spots in the film, which is set on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.

The auditions at the Civic Center continue today.

“Everyone wants to hit it big I guess, to be found in the middle of nowhere,” said Nathan Bread of Great Falls, who auditioned along with his two children.

Producers were looking Saturday to cast Native American boys 10- to 15-years-old, including a younger version of the film’s main character. Additionally, people with little acting experience could be used as extras.

“We’re also looking for real authentic characters for a lot of different roles,” said Alex Smith, a Montana filmmaker who wrote the screenplay with his brother Andrew Smith and writer Ken White.

Zombies, Vampires, etc.

A few weeks back, there was a call for papers posted for a panel on “The Undead in the West,” and since then, I’ve been on the look out for items that might fall into that category. One of the ways the western as a genre has survived is by combining with other genres, and perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising to find examples of horror westerns, or western horror, which is visible across a range of mediums.

There’s a new comic book series called American Vampire, with Stephen King as one of the authors.

The first issue (May 2010) takes place on two timelines, one in the 1920s (primarily on the set of silent film) and the other in Colorado in 1880 (and this part of the story, “Bad Blood,” is based on King’s script). In the Colorado narrative, a notorious outlaw named Skinner Sweet, who has been captured by Pinkerton agents, is being transported by train. One of the bank executives turns out to be a vampire, and after Sweet’s gang halts the train and frees the captive, the bank exec does what a vampire does, creating all sorts of havoc, and apparently turning Skinner Sweet into one of the undead in the process—and thus the vampire cowboy outlaw.

According to Scott Snyder (another of the writers—the comic is drawn by Rafael Albuquerque) in an editorial in the first issue, “The central question of the series is this: What if vampires evolved over time? Meaning, what if every once and awhile, when a vampire turns someone new, the blood makes something new: a new kind of vampire—with new powers, new strengths, new weaknesses?”

As  Crevecoeur asks in Letters From an American Vampire Farmer, “What is this new man? This American Vampire?”

Skinner Sweet, it turns out, has undergone a kind of Turnerian transformation on the western frontier. As Snyder describes him, Sweet does indeed “become a new of vampire—the first American Vampire, tougher, meaner, born of the American West, with a new bag of tricks.”

So the first book in the series, with its mixture of bank robberies, outlaws, Turnerian frontier philosophy, and vampires, is pretty entertaining.

I also finally caught Zombieland, which came out recently on DVD. Starring Woody Harrelson as a cowboyed-up zombie-killer, Zombieland is an example of the post-apocalyptic western horror farce buddy movie romantic comedy genre. It’s got a little bit of everything, but is especially heavy on the blood and the gore and on putting on vivid display the truly disgusting eating habits and generally poor table manners of zombies.

The zombie virus has spread throughout America, and few humans remain who have not been zombified. An otherwise hapless college student (played by Jesse Eisenberg) has survived by adhering to a strict set of rules. He and Harrelson team up as the film’s mismatched buddy pair. Eisenberg has his rules, and Harrelson just likes killing zombies.

This was actually the first of the post-apocalyptic westerns to open in theaters last year (followed by The Road and The Book of Eli). And if the other two films had come first, you’d swear Zombieland was as much a parody of them as it is of zombie films. Again, we have a Man With No Name. Or men and women with no names. “Stop,” Harrelson states on first meeting his sidekick, “No names.” Instead, they go by their destinations, Columbus and Tallahassee.

The film begins in Texas, and initially the nameless men are planning to travel on eastward to their destinations. An encounter with two sisters (too complicated to explain) results in teaming up the traveling pairs and heading West, to California, to the Pacific Palisades Amusement Park, in search of an innocence the two sisters once knew as children while visiting the park.

But, really, in Zombieland, America has become one big amusement park, and this group of humans crossing the American West has a great time shooting things, knocking stuff over, and breaking stuff. When they finally get to the amusement park, and are surrounded by zombies, it’s all a big game, with multitudes of zombies as targets in a bigger than life arcade. Unlike The Road and The Book of Eli, in which the apocalypse is a disaster to be lamented, the zombie apocalypse turns out to be quite fun, especially if you have a scenery-chewing Woody Harrelson along.

If you’re in the mood for a post-apocalyptic western horror farce buddy movie romantic comedy, then check out Zombieland. It really is fairly entertaining, if also over the top in both its use of gore and its silliness. And there’s a nice moment when Harrelson is trapped alone inside a souvenir hut, surrounded by zombies, with nothing but his guns (his many many guns) and his wits. The scene is simultaneously a parody of the western’s Heroic Last Stand (especially The Wild Bunch) and of the famous scene in Night of the Living Dead when the zombies start ripping apart the cabin where the humans are sheltering. There are lots of slow motion shots of stuffed animals getting the stuffing ripped and shot out of them. Imagine The Wild Bunch with teddy bears.

And there’s even more to come in terms of the undead west, including a forthcoming movie adaptation of the “weird western” comic book hero Jonah Hex.

The Hernandez Brothers (CFP)

ImageTexT Special Issue: The Hernandez Brothers


Guest Editors, Christopher Gonzalez and Derek Parker Royal

For nearly thirty years the Hernandez brothers (Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario) have created comics that have expanded beyond superhero and sci-fi, bringing so-called “alternative” comics to the fore. Their fictive worlds are as sprawling and complex as Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, and more scholars are beginning to take a closer look at their comics, specifically Love and Rockets. In keeping with this interest, ImageTexT will devote a special issue to the works of the Hernandez Brothers. This volume will seek to explore a multitude of theoretical perspectives that may further illuminate the brothers’ oeuvre. Possible topics may include, but are not limited to:

• Their influence on other graphic novelists, alternative comics, or mainstream comics
• Representations of the Latino/a subject
• Depictions of violence and trauma in their work
• Issues of gender, the body, and the sexual subject
• The act of consuming (eating, addiction, pornography, etc.)
• The significance of the telenovela as a metaphor for reading their comics and as a possible stylistic influence
• Any aspect of the non-Love and Rockets stories, e.g., their work with larger publishers such as DC and Dark Horse
• Their uses, or deconstruction, of Magical Realism
• The growth or evolution of prominent characters (Luba, Fritzi, Hopey, Maggie, etc.)
• Their possible influences on text-only authors such as Junot Díaz
• Comics and the political subject
• Narrative theory, narration, and narrative techniques of the Hernandez Brothers
• The Hernandez Brothers’ place and/or legacy (either as individuals or collectively) in the comics medium

All essay submissions should not exceed 10,000 words, including notes. Contributors should format submissions based on the MLA Style Manual, 3rd edition, and use endnotes. Authors will be responsible for securing copyright permission for all images used.

Address all inquiries, and submit all completed manuscripts, to the guest editors at gonzalez.283@osu.edu. Please include the words “Hernandez Special Issue” in the subject heading.

Deadline for final manuscript submission is
December 31, 2010.
Abstracts and queries submitted by November 19 are highly recommended.

ImageTexT is a peer-reviewed, open access journal dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of comics and related media published by the English Department at the University of Florida with support from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. For more information on ImageTexT, please visit http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/.

On Fool For Love

FOOL FOR LOVE: A Reflection

by Mary Scriver

Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” is supposed to be a “lesser” Altman film. I didn’t see it in the theatre since I was circuit-riding in Montana when it was released nor do I remember ever having a conversation with anyone about it. There are only five reviews on imdb.com. Compare that with “Children of Men” which has over a thousand comments and rising. Why is that? I suggest that the people who understand this movie don’t ever read or write reviews or even talk about them. They are experience-based, not print people. Maybe Shepard, Altman and even Quaid and Basinger are the same. Certainly it’s got to be true of Harry Dean Stanton. This is a philosophical movie, but it is Euripides as interpreted by through the ideas of that Redneck Renegade Penelope Reedy and might have been better titled “The Blood Runs Like a River Through my Dreams.”

It’s not for the ironic and sardonic crowd that wants character dissection nor is it for the “glorious West” crowd. I was interested to see that Ed Harris was in the first production of the play version. “Pollock” is a very close relative to this drama about irresolvable emotion arising from being too tightly wound together, isolated and exposed in a terrifying cosmos of a landscape, outside of the directions and consolations of civilization, and paying for the sins of the fathers. In the end the victims only escape, taking their burdens with them to the next bleak motel in the middle of nowhere.

My two genetic “source” families were uptight, hard-working, rural people with Anglo genes, who were motivated by the need to preserve themselves from this under-culture. They never asked themselves, “what do I have to lose?” because they were grimly determined NOT to lose family, job or home. There was no drinking, which is the quickest way (until drugs) to drop into that subterranean place where people knife their best friends, rape their wives, beat their children half to death, never have enough to eat, always evade whatever authorities come to suppress them — never eliminate them. But they were not church-goers. Family was their religion.

In the prairie west official force, denial and avoidance sometimes reached the proportions of “Children of Man,” the latest trendy dystopic movie, but on a frontier as big as the American West used to be, you just moved on. Still, these Shepard characters are “fugies” (refugees) as surely as the blacks, Arabs, Asians, and otherwise identifiable masses in the dystopia film who crowd the world so much that they must be drowned in batches as soon as they are no longer able to work.

Maybe these “Fool for Love” people are “fugies” from respectability, but the real point and art is that the play resists interpretation. It is “fugie” from neat moralizing, an illumination of the irresolvability of love/hate, equally intense, not opposite to each other but opposite to indifference. One of the five commenters on imdb.com said that he had turned to the database in hopes of finding out what the darn thing meant — but it doesn’t “mean”, it just is. If you want a resolved “Christian” version of this, go see “Tender Mercies.”

The black river Styx pulling down, down, down under the bleached dry grass of the American West flows through here but not so much in the small towns. You need to find the little crossroads bars where the failing ranchers, the fetal alcohol syndrome boys, the vengeful infected women gather to play out their games while the shabby buildings collapse into their own stench. Much of the reputation of the original Montana literature (at least back to post-WWII) is based on this stream of cultural subconsciousness. Richard Hugo knew it well and often towed his students, including James Welch, into small bars in unknown places. Hugo had lived it in Seattle (White Court, really) and — like others — had mastered life there well enough to move West. But he missed the fertility of raw life.

It was James Welch, Sr., the writer’s father, who lived out a mild version of this love/hate tension, marrying and having children with two women, both named Rose, and juggling two vocations, hospital administration and welding. I’ll be very interested to see what happens with the now-casting film of Welch’s “Winter in the Blood,” which dips into that dark river.

Since writing in general became academia-based, the river of blood has sunk down like the Oglalla Aquifer being drained. The reservations have their despairing corners but they aren’t even in bars anymore. (You can’t smoke in bars in Montana.) You have to find where the street people hang out and they feed a circle of predators too dangerous to mess with. Even sand-war veterans are well-advised to stay away. Crime trumps war.

These days the vampires are pretty and one Republican is running for President as Vlad the Impaler, converting evil to ridicule. Most people are into denial — there is no river. Druggies are either road-kill or rehab clients. If your adopted deeply disturbed orphan threatens to burn you out, just send him back where he came from. You don’t have to put up with that. You’re a consumer. You pay taxes. Money can compensate for all evils and losses.

One of the deep sources of hope in the American West is Christian and Native American at once, that is, the deep tribal conviction that a powerful, skillful man will come along and perform the “stunt” of getting sense out of it all, making order, redeeming the father (not the PEOPLE, the FATHER) who started the evil in the first place with his greed for love, his failure to abide by the rules. The man who lives in a junk heap (we could walk to a good example from here) and finally accepts his fate in Hell by walking into the fire.

Not that I would ever recommend any of these strategies to anyone. I would rather talk it through, alchemically resolve the experience of evil into something else. No doubt in his private life Sam Shepard did exactly that. Whether Bob Altman did or not is open to question. He sure looks like Bob Scriver. It’s not just the Van Dyke beard. It’s his heart looking out his eyes.

Justified: Lord of War and Thunder

Raylan Givens returned to Kentucky for this week’s episode of Justified, “The Lord of War and Thunder.” Raylan has some father issues, as you might expect for a U. S. Marshal whose father has a criminal past (and possibly present). It was good to have a Raylan-centered episode, but from a western perspective, this episode is not one of the ones with many western elements. Even the references to specific genre westerns that have been present in many episodes were few and far between here. Although, we do learn that as a child, when Raylan went to his aunt’s house (usually, to escape his father), he took advantage of her cable television to watch Rawhide and Have Gun Will Travel, and I can only applaud his extremely good taste in television westerns.