CFP for Collection of Essays on Charles Bowden

We are now accepting abstracts for a forthcoming collection of essays entitled, Memories of the Future: Critical Essays on Charles Bowden. We are open to all critical approaches, including feminist, Marxist, critical regionalist, hemispheric, narratological, postcolonial, and ecocritical perspectives. Potential proposals may include, but are not limited to, the following topics:

• The Apocalyptic Southwest

• Connections between Bowden and other writers (Abbey, McCarthy, Silko, etc.)

• Environmental beauty and destruction

• Genre tensions between the essay, the memoir, crime reporting, gonzo journalism, and history

• Literary journalism in the Southwest

• Globalization and the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

• Interplay of text and images in the trilogy of Inferno, Exodus/Éxodo, and Trinity, and/or Juárez: Laboratory of Our Future, and/or Dreamland

• Bowden’s collaborations with Jack Dykinga

• Mexican North and the American West

• Human detritus/”waste” as nature

• Police state(s) vs. anarchism

• Relationships between narcotraficantes and the war on drugs

• Representations of the Mexican Army and/or the U.S. Border Patrol

• Transnational social justice

• Versions of El Sicario (film, articles, and books)

This volume appears almost certain to be the initial scholarly foray into Bowden, and we have already received interest from a major university press. E-mail abstract proposals with a working title and a brief biography or CV by January 15, 2013 to David Cremean (nialmccruimmen@gmail.com) and D. Seth Horton (dshorton@umd.edu). The deadline for final papers will be July 15, 2013. Send any questions or other inquiries to the same emails.

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CFP on Charles Bowden for the 2012 Western Literature Association Conference, Lubbock, TX

We are accepting proposals for a panel or panels on Charles Bowden for the 2012 Western Literature Association Conference in Lubbock, Texas (November 7-10). The theme for this year’s conference is “Western Crossroads: Literature, Social Justice, and the Environment.”  We are open to all critical approaches, including feminist, Marxist, critical regionalist, hemispheric, narratological, postcolonial, and ecocritical perspectives. Potential proposals may include, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Apocalyptic southwest
  • Connections between Bowden and other writers (Abbey, McCarthy, Silko, etc.)
  • Environmental beauty and destruction
  • Genre tensions between the essay, the memoir, crime reporting, gonzo journalism, and history
  • Globalization and the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands
  • Interplay of text and images in the Inferno, Exodus/Éxodo, and Trinity trilogy, and/or Juárez: Laboratory of Our Future, and/or Dreamland
  • Mexican North and the American West
  • Police state(s) vs. anarchism
  • Relationships between narcotraficantes and the war on drugs
  • Representations of the Mexican Army and/or the U.S. Border Patrol
  • Transnational social justice
  • Versions of El Sicario (film, articles, and books)

Please note that our panel(s) will be the first step towards the eventual publication of a scholarly collection of essays focused on Bowden, which we will edit throughout 2013. This volume appears almost certain to be the initial scholarly foray into Bowden, and we have already received interest from a major university press.

E-mail abstract proposals (350-500 words) with a working title and a brief biography or CV by April 1, 2012 to David Cremean (nialmccruimmen@gmail.com) and D. Seth Horton (dshorton@umd.edu).

A Response to David Guterson

In the latest volume of the Crab Creek Review (23.1, 2010), Kelli Russell Agodon interviewed David Guterson, author of six books, including Snow Falling on Cedars.  I received (and am very grateful for) Agodon’s permission to reprint the following exchange on the WLA blog:

[Agodon:] Is there such a thing as a “Northwest writer”? Do you think that writers in the Northwest write differently or are more in touch with place or nature than poets fro other areas? Just as there are certain types of Northwest cuisine, what do you think would make a Northwest writer?

[Guterson:] The pursuit of regional identities in the arts is at best a nebulous activity.  It seems to me both arbitrary and useless to categorize writers geographically.  There might have been a time when geography and culture converged in such a way as to make the regional identification of artists a worthwhile practice.  There might have been something fruitful, once, in pondering why a particular art arose in a particular place.  Today, with the exception of the handful of essentially isolated cultures remaining on the planet, human beings have a limited relationship to place, and this is, of course, reflected in the arts.  To be a “Northwest writer” in the 21st century simply means that, like billions of people in other places, your sensibility and view of the world are informed by influences near and far—but mostly far.  Even thirty years ago this wasn’t the case.  There was something quite Northwest indeed about the so-called “Northwest School” of poets that started with Roethke and ran through Hugo, Kizer, Wagoner, Stafford, et. al., but that now seems a thing of the past.  Today we have a lot of writers who live here but who are in no way representative of “place” in the way those poets were.

The common thing to say about Northwest writers is that Northwest writers have a relationship to nature not found in other parts of the United States.  Not true.  It does conform to the national imagery and stereotype about the unknown far corner to assert this, but it is not true.  From a distance it’s as easy to romanticize the Northwest as it is to romanticize the literature produced in it.  But you have to have actually read the stuff before you can say it has a regional resonance, and even then, most of the time you only find resonance because you have a thesis and are therefore under self-imposed pressure to make the world conform to it (pgs. 79-80).

As I see it, the problem with Guterson’s response is that there are very few critics who would nowadays suggest that North American regionalist writing—be it the Northwest, the West, or the South—can simply be defined by a set of unique characteristics.  This is true for all literary categories, not just regionalist ones, for it would be equally difficult to pinpoint the essential qualities that define, say, American literature, women’s literature, African American literature, etc.  Yet, this obviously doesn’t render these categories useless because critics use them in order to suggest linkages between certain texts.  To take one example, the way one might read Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children changes depending on the interpretive context one employs, be it based on genre (magical realism), region (South Asia), or politics (postcolonialism).  These contextual variations are also true for Northwestern writers such as Mourning Dove, Raymond Carver, William Kittredge, and Sherman Alexie.

While I think Guterson is wrong to deny the possibility that the category of the Northwest can provide critical insight into certain kinds of text, I’m not exactly surprised by his resistance to regionalist interpretive approaches; it is yet the latest reminder that many authors remain ambivalent about being labeled as regionalist writers.  No doubt there are various reasons as to why this is so.  Guterson claims that globalization renders regionalism to be an outdated interpretive strategy, but one merely needs to look to the fields of postcolonialism, Border Theory, and Hemispheric American Studies to see that globalization and new regionalism are not necessarily antithetical.  It will be interesting to see if the recent spatial turn in literary theory will alter the way that Guterson and others theorize globalization as a kind of erasure of the local.  Were that to happen, perhaps certain writers wouldn’t be under such self-imposed pressure, to borrow Guterson’s phrase, to resist the regionalist designations that have, in the past, threatened to reduce the number of books they are able to sell in the global marketplace.

Northeast Modern Language Association’s call for papers

From the NEMLA CFP (http://www.nemla.org/convention/2011/cfp.html):
Toni Morrison and Marilynne Robinson: Revisioning the American West: This panel investigates Toni Morrison’s and Marilynne Robinson’s revisioning of the American West and subsequently the tradition of American literary criticism, and, specifically, the longstanding tradition of the hero of the American West. Panelists might want to consider revisions of race and gender within the authors’ respective fiction and nonfiction, confrontations with American literary criticism, and the role of the new American hero. Inquiries or 250-500 word abstracts (and brief C.V.) to Jane Wood at jane.wood@park.edu.

Call for essays

This is a repost from the UPenn CFP:

The editor of 30-40 Years West of Here: Stories from the Sub-Rural West invites contributions for a collection of creative nonfiction essays that explores the implications of living in that often overlooked space/time specific to the West of the 60s, 70s, and early 80s. Partly the result of demographic patterns tied to economic booms and busts, these oddly anachronistic and often isolated neighborhoods sprung up in areas somewhat removed from the nearest towns and adjacent to and/or surrounded by woods, farms, foothills, rivers, and streams. Not part of the Old West or the New, this time/space presented those who lived, worked and played in those eras/areas of the sub-rural West with historically unique and significant experiences.

To be sure, vestiges of this particular “West” remain visible—though somewhat hidden in many cases—in cities such as Salt Lake, Boise, Boulder, Spokane, Yakima, Denver, Reno, Rapid City, and Bozeman (and, some would suggest, the formerly sub-rural suburbs of Midwestern cities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul). Where new, carefully planned suburbs packed with earth-tone houses and manicured lawns have filled in the open areas that once separated the relatively small, scattered neighborhoods and isolated, single streets, one can still find split-level houses, half-acre yards, solitary horses, and the inevitable detritus that accrues over time in big yards near small garages.

Eliding categories such as “Old West” and “New West,” these “neighborhood” are seldom studied critically or recaptured creatively, which is where you come in. This proposed collection calls for essays from various critical and creative vantage points that return readers to this time/space and thus shed light on its lasting significance.

Essays may consider and explore, but need not be limited to, these topics:

• The mix of old and new, urban and rural/wild
• Sports and the outdoors
• Childhood/education (broadly understood)
• The ideological and/or political repercussions of living there and then
• Stories comparing today’s suburbs with yesterday’s sub-rural subdivisions
• The romantic, mythic Old West and its role in this time/space
• The material culture specific to this West
• This time/space and how it nurtured risk-taking and cultivated adventure seeking
• Architecture and landscaping of this era/area
• Community then, community now
• How these 60s, 70’s, and early 80s houses and neighborhoods seem to co-exist with their contemporary surroundings
• The implications of the subsequent “development”—of the transformation to the New West—on this other, over-looked West
• How living in neighborhoods connected to cities by highways and half-formed zoning plans shaped those who, in the words of Wallace Stegner in Wolf Willow, were imprinted by this place/experience

If you are interested, please send a 250-300 word abstract to Colin Irvine at irvinec@augsburg.edu by July 15, 2010. (For the sake of full disclosure, it needs to be acknowledged here that a publisher has not yet been secured for this proposed collection; however, the editor—who has previously edited a collection of essays published by Greenwood Press—will pursue one should sufficient interest be represented in the form of the abstracts.) In the subject line, please write “Old West New West.” Thank you.

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.

New Findings

Mississippi Review 36.3 (2008) has a great issue on the history and current state of literary magazines.

The spring 2009 issue of the Sewanee Review once again has an essay by Ed Minus reviewing the previous year’s volumes of Best American Short Stories, Best American Essays, and Best American Poetry.  Minus is unafraid to share his criticism, which is partly why his essays are usually quite delightful to read. One wishes, though, that he would expand the series within his purview to include New Stories from the South and, dare I say, Best of the West: New Stories from the Wide Side of the Missouri.

Gargoyle issue 53 (2008) has published Susi Klare’s “At the Intersection of Heaven and Hell,” a story about a narrator who attends Burning Man while trying to emotionally come to grips with their child being in Iraq.  The ending is nicely done and Klare gets credit for trying to distill the wildness of the festival into a controlled narration. I happened to attend Burning Man a couple of years ago and was particularly intrigued as to how everyone seemed to imply that the Black Rock desert was extremely dangerous.  “This is the desert man, you could die,” was a mantra I heard numerous times, the idea being that if you simply wandered far out into the desert without water, you wouldn’t make it back.  Klare seems to be picking up on this in that she links this desert with Iraq and the war going on there.  I thought the metaphorical linkage between the danger of both deserts was somewhat forced, but it was nevertheless an interesting “problem” in that it once again illustrates how we continue to misread the desert, interpreting the physical dangers of arid landscapes in metaphysical and/or existential terms.

 Shenandoah has published several interesting pieces lately.  “A Hunter’s Story,” by Jerry D. Mathes II in the winter 2009 issue (58.3) is about more than simply hunting; the narrator, unable to earn a living in rural Idaho where he has grown up, will soon move his family to Nevada where he has found a job.  The hunting trip serves as a kind of goodbye that is made all the more poignant by the author’s clear familiarity with this particular landscape.  The spring/summer 2009 issue (59.1) has a decent story by Geoffrey Becker entitled “Imaginary Tucson,” which explores how isolating it can be to try and carve out an academic career. There is also a wonderful essay by Mary Clearman Blew.  “Shadowing” details how she came to be the dean of nursing at Northern Montana College.  These two pieces nicely complicate one another and should be read together. Hats off to the editor, R. T. Smith, for publishing them in the same volume.