Writing Together, Writing Apart: Collaboration in Western American Literature

Writing Together, Writing Apart: Collaboration in Western American Literature

Writing Together, Writing Apart: Collaboration in Western American Literature

Writing Together, Writing Apart: Collaboration in Western American Literature


In this study of collaborative writing in western American literature, Linda K. Karell asks broad and fruitful questions about how writing in general is produced. By examining "collaboration" both as a process and as a product, she challenges the definition of an author as an individual genius who creates original works of art in isolation.

From a collaborative view, what was a fairly direct cause and effect scenario (individual author + inspiration = original literary masterpiece) becomes something much less clear. An individual is always located within a shifting context of texts from which he or she draws to produce- often with substantial and varied support from other writers, editors, spouses or partners, and institutions- a work that will be termed "original." Collaboration insists on recognizing this oft-hidden contribution of others as an important component of meaning, something our traditional understanding of the author persists in ignoring or displacing.

Karell provides a close analysis of the various means by which writers work with others to produce their final literary products. Methods include traditional joint writing practices such as ghostwriting or "edited" texts, as in the case of Mourning Dove and ethnographer Lucullus McWhorter; the incorporation of existing diaries or letters from other writers, for example, Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose with Mary Hallock Foote; and dual-authored texts such as those produced by Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris. By challenging the seductive myth of the solitary writer within the context of the myth of the independent westerner, Karell makes the compelling argument that collaboration is an inescapable part of writing.


Our debt to tradition through reading and conversation is so massive, our protest or private addition so rare and insignificant, —and this commonly on the ground of other reading, or hearing—that, in a large sense, one would say there is no pure originality. All minds quote. Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment. There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands. By necessity, by proclivity and by delight, we all quote.


For those who privilege the notion of the solitary author, literature characteristically provides vicarious pleasure even while distancing the writer from the reader; literature provides voyeuristic seeing, possessive knowing, or teasing seduction. For those who interest themselves in collaborative writing, literature is reimagined as a place where people meet, where they must negotiate their differences, where they may contest each other's powers, and where, while retaining bodily borders, they may momentarily, ecstatically merge.

Holly A. laird, women coauthors

Perhaps the nature of culture is collaboration.

M. thomas inge, "COLLABORATION and concepts of AUTHORSHIP”

Wo events from my life illuminate my interest in collabora- Ttion. Somewhere around 1996, after I had taken my first faculty position at a land-grant institution following a short stint as an administrator at a private university, I found myself living in a deteriorating, cramped apartment. Our notoriously tight-fisted . . .

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